Elizabeth Ist coat of arms

Elizabethan Language

Queen Elizabeth Ist

"Queen Elizabeth Ist"

Elizabethan Language

Why was the Elizabethan Language and Vocabulary different to many of the words in the modern English language that we use today? Why were words spelt differently in the Elizabethan language? Why does the language in Elizabethan manuscripts seem so difficult to interpret and translate?

There are many reasons why we have problems interpreting and translating the Elizabethan language. It is little wonder that we need an Elizabethan language guide to assist with Elizabethan Language translations.

Translation of the Elizabethan Language
The reasons why translation of some of the Elizabethan language is problematic:

  • Many words used in the Elizabethan language are  no longer in use. Other words have replaced them or the original meaning and use of the words are no longer required
  • An amusing example of words now 'extinct' in the modern English language is 'gong'. The Elizabethan word 'gong' meant dung. The men whose job was to empty and dispose of the waste from the privies (toilets) were called 'Gong Farmers'.
  • The Elizabethan alphabet contained 24 letters, as opposed to the present day alphabet of 26 letters
  • In the Elizabethan alphabet the letters "u" and "v" were the same letter as were and "i" and "j"
  • The "j" was usually used as the capital form of the letter "i" in the Elizabethan alphabet
  • The letter "u" was used only in the middle of a word, and the "v" was used at the beginning.
  • Another letter which resembled a "y" was used to represent the "th" sound. The word "the" was therefore written in a similar way as "ye" would in the modern day
  • The written form of Elizabethan Numbers also cause confusion in translation
  • Numbers were frequently written in lower case Roman numerals, with the last "i" in a number written as a "j". For example - viij March

The above explanations provide valuable information for those wishing to try the translation of an Elizabethan document.

Words in the Elizabethan Language
The number of words used in the Elizabethan Language were constantly developing during Elizabethan times - their vocabulary was expanding. The average number of words used in a 'commoners' vocabulary during Elizabethan times was less than 500, compared with at least 7,500 words that are used in modern day English. Elizabethan writers and playwrights invented new words. William Shakespeare invented many of the words that he used in his plays. Shakespeare is credited with contributing more new words to the English language than any other single person - approx 2,000. Some of the many new words he invented to enhance the Elizabethan language and vocabulary are as follows:

Accused Addiction Amazement Arouse Assassinate Blushing Champion Circumstantial Compromise Courtship Countless Critic Dawn Epileptic Elbow Excitement Exposure Frugal Generous Gossip Hint  Impartial Invulnerable Jaded Label Lonely Luggage Majestic Negotiate Obscene Premeditated Puke  Scuffle Torture Tranquil Varied and Worthless

Elizabethan Language and Education
The Elizabethan language and vocabulary had not been formalised. New words were being invented. Elizabethan dictionaries were not available. Elizabethan words were therefore written in a variety of different formats. The name of William Shakespeare provides an excellent illustration of the confusion that this caused. The name Shakespeare was spelt in an astonishing variety of ways during Elizabethan times including Shakspere, Shakespere, Shakkespere, Shaxpere, Shakstaff, Sakspere, Shagspere, Shakeshafte and even Chacsper. Shakespeare himself always wrote “Shakspere.” However, in many formal documents his name generally appears as Shakespeare. Interestingly, another derivation of the name "Shake-speare" appears on the First Folio of Shakespeare's plays.

Elizabethan Language Guide - An Elizabethan Dictionary
The translation of words in the Elizabethan language and vocabulary requires a Modern English to Elizabethan English Dictionary. The following link provides access to an Elizabethan dictionary for an easy to follow Elizabethan language guide. The translation and definition of the Elizabethan words and meanings used in the Elizabethan language make the literature of the era, including the works of William Shakespeare much easier to understand. Click the following links for a guide to the Elizabethan language via an Elizabethan Dictionary.

Elizabethan Online Dictionary
Old English Letters
Elizabethan Insults
Elizabethan Education - Schools and Universities
Elizabethan Dictionary
Elizabethan Era Index

Privacy Statement

Cookie Policy

© 2017 Siteseen Ltd