Created By: arbiter099 on May 29, 2013 Last Edited By: arbiter099 on June 1, 2013

Ye Olde Linguistic Lockout

Older works can be harder to read sometimes

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Page Type:
Trope
Do We Have This One?? An Audience Reaction, not a trope.

Example Book is an amazing old classic of literature, and you've seen the story a million times in adaptations or re-imaginings but now you want to go back and experience the original for yourself. There's one problem: it was written almost 200 years ago. The words are in the same language, but the phrases and diction look almost totally alien to you.

Because Language Marches On and the words that we use today are very different from the ones of our forefathers, the way that we use them to tell stories has also become very different. This can cause quite a headache whenever you want to go back and enjoy those old stories, but the way they were written just gets in the way. Commonly caused by Flowery Elizabethan English and Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness.

See also, Get Thee to a Nunnery, Have a Gay Old Time, and Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe which is a deliberate attempt at inflecting language that might cause this effect.

Examples:

Community Feedback Replies: 21
  • May 29, 2013
    DracMonster
    Get Thee To A Nunnery and Have A Gay Old Time would be subtropes.

    • The Tale Of Genji, which is School Study Media in Japan, is written in Heian-era court Japanese, which is almost as far removed from the modern language as Latin is from English. The problem is exacerbated by the Heian tendency to refer to almost everyone and everything indirectly or by euphemism.
  • May 29, 2013
    Marz1200
    • Because of this, many printings of Shakespeare's play today come with side-by-side "translations" into modern English, or at the very least footnotes explaining the puns.
  • May 29, 2013
    MorningStar1337
    You might want to add religious and mythical texts (The Bible, The Trojan Cycle, et cetera.) because those are written in Latin (a dead language) Greek (Not dead but likely to be incomprehensible to non native and people who prefer to transliterate the Greek alphabet to the Latin one [like alpha=a beta=b and so on] instead or actual translation) or Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe (self explanatory)
  • May 29, 2013
    arbiter099
    I'm not sure if dead languages would count (being that no one speaks them by definition) but the essence is that you already speak the language, but drift in culture has made older pieces in the same language almost seem like another one. For context, The original Beowulf wouldn't count because Middle English is a totally different beast from modern English to the point of actually being a different language. A translation of the poem however, would count since, in theory, you should know what all those words mean, but they just don't jive somehow.
  • May 29, 2013
    LordGro
    There are different reasons for, respectively stages of lockout:
    • Massive linguistic change: You don't recognize the words, text looks like gibberish.
    • Archaic words: You understand much of the text except for certain words that are no longer in use (and possibly mean things that you don't know, because they not longer exist)
    • Shift of meaning: You recognize all the words, but they mean different things. If you don't realize this, it may look to you like the story makes no sense.
    I agree with arbiter099 that there is a point at which "linguistic lockout" is inevitable. Old English is (at least) as unreadable to a speaker of modern England as is Latin to an Italian. I don't know about Middle English, though.

    I am not quite sure whether matters of style (e.g. extreme use of indirect references and euphemism) are correctly lumped under linguistic change.
  • May 29, 2013
    herbides
    Two examples of contemporary fiction that use this as a trope would be

    • David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas(2004) which is a novel consisting of six different interconnecting stories that range from the 1800s to the post apocalyptic future. Mitchell lamp shades linguist change between the stories. Both The Pacific Journal of Adam Edwing which is set in the past and An Orison of Sonmi-451 and Sloosha's Crossin' an' Ev'rythin' After which are set in the future are riddled with alien phrases and dictation.
    • In Amitav Gosh's historical novels Sea of Poppies (2008) and River of Smoke (2011) which take place in India, Eastern and Southern Asia during the Opium wars, features characters speaking multiple, sometimes mutually incomprehensible dialects of old-timey English as well as pidgins of other languages.
  • May 29, 2013
    arbiter099
    ^ sounds like Antiquated Linguistics and Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe to me. This isn't meant to be "the author writes in a flowery or intentionally outdated style" but "the reader has trouble reading something that, when it was written, would be perfectly understandable to the author's contemporaries if they spoke the same language."

    A book written today, in the style of an 1800s writer wouldn't qualify however accurate it may be, but an authentic 1800 novel would.
  • May 29, 2013
    spacemarine50
  • May 29, 2013
    arbiter099
    ^but the whole point 'is' Real Life examples of a meta sort, as an Audience Reaction. The number of places in fiction where characters mention this is pretty slim compared to actual people getting annoyed.

    Unrelated to ^, is there a similar trope/reaction for video games where outdated game design gets in the way of enjoying it? It would have to be its own page, but related to this one for written works.
  • May 29, 2013
    reub2000
    I'd go with actual Old English for the title.

    I'm also seconding spacemarine's motion, since we'd end up simply with a list of every book written before the 16th century. In Universe Examples Only.
  • May 29, 2013
    arbiter099
    Hm...counterargument accepted, I was worried if this should even list examples at all being what it is. Now the better question, can anyone name examples of characters having trouble reading something that's old from their perspective?
  • May 29, 2013
    MorganWick
    What would be the point of this trope if it were limited to in-universe examples?
  • May 29, 2013
    arbiter099
    Yeah...my brain is really waffling today, sorry. The Shakespeare and Genji examples are exactly what I was thinking of myself, a reader potentially having trouble....
  • May 29, 2013
    spacemarine50
    Might also list works or types that usually result in this trope (Shakespeare, the Bible...). But still keep out the complaining.
  • May 31, 2013
    DracMonster
    Since this is an Audience Reaction, it's automatically YMMV anyway. "This is difficult to read" isn't really flame-bait material, I can't picture this page having natter problems honestly.
  • May 31, 2013
    MorningStar1337
    Agreed. Trolls have other things to attack then old language problems.
  • May 31, 2013
    reub2000
    It's not trolls that I'm worried about, it's repetitive examples. I expect most of them to be follow some variation of "modern readers have problems reading this work". Also this is omnipresent, as it will apply to any work with verbal content after a few centuries.
  • May 31, 2013
    XFllo
    I would prefer this as YMMV and audience reaction.

    Honestly, I cannot think myself about many characters who would do this in-universe. It seems to me if there are Genius Book Club or Bookworm tropes employed, the authors are ok with any books and they just mostly show it without characters' discussing it.

    Or are there any characters like that? If yes, it would be interesting to list this phenomenon both ways -- in-universe and audience reactions. We have such pages, e.g. Germans Love David Hasselhoff pages.

  • June 1, 2013
    Antigone3
    Going off Morningstar's suggestion of the Bible as an example -- not a linguist or a Bible scholar, but my understanding is that "Church Latin" differs just enough from the Latin you learned in school (unless that school was a seminary) that it can be hard to understand. I took a semester of Ancient Greek in college, and it was specifically the language of Aristophanes and Sophocles; had I continued, I would not have been able to read the koine Greek of the New Testament.
  • June 1, 2013
    Melkior
    In the spirit of the trope and since it's already been mentioned...
    • Most people now consider the Authorised Version (King James Version) of The Holy Bible to be this, with it's use of antiquated language and words. for example:
      • "Thee", "thou", "thine" and "verily" are no longer used in contemporary English.
      • The well-known (and incomplete) Biblical phrase "suffer the little children" is often misunderstood these days to be referring to making children suffer, but in contemporary English it actually translates to "have patience with and permit the little children". (The full text, as spoken by Jesus runs "Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.")
  • June 1, 2013
    glisglis
    This might work in-universe. I can't think of anything now, but maybe a few works will come to me. Maybe you might want to work on the definition a little or make it up for grabs so that it can be expanded. Right now it just sounds like you're creating a list of books that are hard to read for some people.
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