7

There are many movies and TV shows that depict characters from historical eras who would not speak English, but do for the sake of the show's audience. In those cases, they tend to use an old English dialect to mimic how the characters would have spoken in their own language.

For instance, if a movie is meant to take place in ancient Japan, the characters will speak in an English dialect, using English slang and such, even though the people of that era spoke ancient Japanese and didn't use the same slang or have the same accents as the characters in the movie.

Another example would be a show like Spartacus. The characters are either Roman or from tribes in the surrounding areas. They likely would have spoken Latin or Greek, but the characters speak English in a way that sounds ancient, but is clearly not how they would speak during the Roman Empire.

Is there a word for that?

  • Is the "not speaking their native language" part important? Many "period drams" will have (native) English-speaking characters use an "old fashioned" form of English: sometimes accurately reflecting the speech-patterns of the time, but sometimes just because using "modern day slang" would sound odd. Do you want a word/term for "using antiquated speech" (in general), or specifically for characters whose native language isn't English? – TripeHound Sep 28 '18 at 14:03
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    @TripeHound I think the non-english speaking part is important, but I suppose it could be any language. What it comes down to is that it is hard to apply the speech-patterns and dialect of a different language, especially one that is ancient, so they just make the characters speak in some sort of old-english dialect. – bsayegh Sep 28 '18 at 14:15
  • I'm afraid I don't have an answer to hand either way, I just thought it worth clarifying whether you wanted a word for "using old speech-patterns" in general, or "non-English-speaker using old speech-patterns". I suspect there's more chance of there being a word/term for the general case. – TripeHound Sep 28 '18 at 14:18
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    Not so relevant to the Japan one as the Ancient Rome one, but I wonder if some of this comes from trying to mimic the translation style of, say, latin, greek, or hebrew. Ancient texts are often translated in an old fashioned, King-James-Bible-ish kind of way. So as viewers, we kind of expect it and might lose immersion if they use modern 21st century slang. – MMAdams Sep 28 '18 at 17:16
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    @JamieClinton Who would have thunk it? – bsayegh Sep 28 '18 at 17:58
11

TV Tropes calls this The Queen's Latin.

This trope is used in film and television fiction set in the past (or a fantasy counterpart culture heavily based on the past) where characters speak with British accents, even though the film is not set in Britain and the characters are not British.

The most common convention . . . is to employ formal English parlance. Depending on the antiquity of the era portrayed, the characters may lapse into a form of Early Modern English, or its contrived cousin, Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe.

Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe, of course, is a related trope involving the attempt to make English sound old-fashioned or Medieval, without actually doing a good, authentic job of it.

The use of plain ol' American English (or any other language of the target audience) by characters who should speak some other specific language is probably an example of Translation Convention or possibly Aliens Speaking English (that's specifically space aliens, not foreign nationals).

  • Note that while all these labels are very much on point and descriptive, I do not recognize them as common labels (nor the phenomena as commonly known) despite the tropes being common on reflection. TV Tropes is constructed rather than organic (does that make sense?). Which is to say that a non-native speaker (or really anyone) who uses these labels should be aware that they are not commonly known. Also, note that the huge variety of ancient/medieval rhetorical tropes at Silva Rhetoricae, while well-known to scholars, are also not particularly well-known in general. – Mitch Sep 28 '18 at 15:43
  • @Mitch I agree that The Queen's Latin isn't a common term, but I think it's transparent enough that people would easily understand in context. However, I actually think Ye olde English(e) (without the Butcherede and with or without the final E) is a commonly used term that arose "organically" from the (mis)use of the phrase "ye olde". I didn't bother to elaborate on that since it's only tangential to the OP's question. – 1006a Sep 28 '18 at 16:08
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    1006a: I tend to find that TV Tropes uncovers true patterns, but re transparency the labels can run hot and cold (sometimes they work for me other times not) and rarely have I heard them before. I'm just cautioning people that they are not well-known and so may or may not be understood. (or in other words, I don't disagree.) – Mitch Sep 28 '18 at 16:24
  • Fair enough. I can add a disclaimer to the answer, if you think it would be better there. (Also, I would upvote an obscure rhetorical term if there is an appropriate one. I vaguely recall hearing somewhere that it was once a convention to substitute French for any other "foreign" language in English drama or literature—or maybe the Romans substituted Greek? something like that—but I can't find any record of that now.) – 1006a Sep 28 '18 at 16:30
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    Consider that if there WAS a vocabulary word for this, TVTropes would have used it on the page which describes and explains what they mean by "The Queen's Latin". – Beanluc Sep 28 '18 at 20:09

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