Having just written my first novel, in which Richard III visits the 21st century, I needed to let the reader see a contrast between him and modern people, partly in the way he spoke. I quickly found that this wasn’t as easy as I’d thought, so my Richard has a great facility for languages and soon learns to speak in modern parlance! However, I did have to use ‘Mediaeval speak’ for a few chapters and I came across a few snags.
For example, the words ‘hath’ and ‘hast’ and other verbs – do you put ‘-eth’ on the end or ‘-est’? I was fairly confident about my title (Richard Liveth Yet) as it was a quotation, so that must have been right. But some of my Mediaeval sentences didn’t flow so well and I wasn’t sure how correct they were.
And what about ‘Ye’, ‘you’, ‘thee’ and ‘thou’?
After doing some research, I found a few web pages that address these problems. I’m sure some of you, maybe all of you, already know this, but I didn’t – at least not all this information, so here goes:
‘Thou’ and ‘thee’ were the subject and object forms respectively for the second person singular pronouns where ‘ye’ and ‘you’ were the plural forms. ‘Ye’ was later dropped completely, and ‘you’, also used as a polite form for the second person singular, eventually replaced ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ too.
But from 1470 – 1650 or thereabouts, ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ were the Mediaeval equivalent of the French ‘tu’ and ‘toi’ – i.e. not only signifying the singular form, but also a more familiar or less respectful form of address.
Along with ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ came the possessive forms ‘thine’ and ‘thy’, used in the same way for the second person as ‘mine’ and ‘my’ were (and still are) for the first person singular. In addition, ‘thine’ was used before a vowel or a non-voiced ‘h’. (E.g. thine orange, thine honour, thy wife).
Not only that, but thee and thou had their own endings for present tense verbs: -(s)t (e.g. thou hast, thou lovest, thou shalt). And the third person singular also had its own ending in –th (e.g. he giveth, she loveth, it goeth, etc)
Hence ‘Richard liveth yet’, but ‘thou livest yet’. I’d better get on and do some editing!
If you want to see a couple of useful tables regarding this, click here.