How Far Back In Time Could You Travel And Still Understand English?

How Far Back in Time Could You Travel and Still Understand English?

Video: Time travelling back into the past is almost always a bad idea. Everybody is racist, everything is dirty and you'll probably get some terrible disease and/or get stabbed with a sword that everyone is carrying but you. The world is generally dumber and worse off. And on top of that, you might not even be able to understand the English they're speaking. Languages change over the years and what was English before sounds like a foreign language to English speakers now. Like, could you translate this English from The Canterbury Tales from 1389?

Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote

The droghte of March hath perced to the roote

And bathed every veyne in swich licour,

Of which vertu engendred is the flour;

That's just a little over 600 years and I'm lost. I mean, I recognise some words. Sort of. Not really, I just see familiar letters. Yestervid shows us how far back in time we could go where we can still understand English in the video below.

Basically, we're definitely screwed on slang (batty fang means a beating, pigarlik is bald), totally screwed on pronunciation in certain eras (tea is pronounced tay), and absolutely have no chance at Old English (where this is the beginning of the Lord's Prayer: Fæder ure þu þe eart on heofonum).

WATCH MORE: Science & Health News


    Here's a funny thing. Go back and read Hobb's Leviathan from the 1600's in it's original form. One thing you notice after a while is that words seemingly the same are spelled differently from time to time, you'll find italics, boldface - a total mishmash of verbiage. Now do something few scholars seem to do and read it out loud, pronouncing each letter

    Remember, English was originally a phonetic language.. that's why you hear the term 'learn your letters' exists - if you knew the letters and the sounds they represented, you could read anything. Cwen may look weird and it will sound odd until you realize that word is what queen looked like before we Francified everything and bunged in letters where they weren't needed so it looked more fancy and sophistimicated..

    Sure, most of us don't know the 'y' in ye is supposed to represent the 'th' sound but the presses of the day did not have the correct symbol so ye folk back then gist (just) put in whatever yey had to make it work ;) There are a few traps, but I suspect it wouldn't be that hard to comprehend. Mind you, the language has been created over the years by invaders and the addition of many, many foreign words so the land's 'english' is only a recent thing anyway.

    So back to Hobbs - reading his book aloud you'll quickly realize the differing spellings actually represent different accents - cwen may be queen, but cweon is an accented version of the same word, probably mocking the actual accent of a prominent person of the day.

    Yeah...kinda screwed. No point in trying to explain nuclear power to some idiot speaking latin.

      It'd be fun to bring something with you from the future though. Like a flashlight, will drive them insane and they will think you are some sort of wizard and then burn you at the.. o wait.

        Besides being burnt alive you'll also mess with the fabric of time, technology evolution, and end up inspiring people - not good imo.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now