In The Witch (2015), the script is written with Shakespearean construction (lots of thou's, and thee's and hast's), the actors were told to speak in a heavy Yorkshire accent, and a lot of the vocabulary is archaic (as well as some chunks were apparently 1:1 accurate as to what would be said at the time).

It takes place in early colonial 17th Century, circa 1630s.

What language would they speak in reality? How accurate is The Witch?

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    Not enough hard fact to post as an answer, nor am I any expert at Shakespearian English, though I am well-versed in Northern English - I see nothing wrong with the family being recent migrants from England but imo only Ralph Ineson gets the accent right - everybody else is like listening to Game of Thrones, where 'the North' is also badly mangled. A lot of the "theeing & thouing" really shouldn't have quite so much differentiation, it's usually all just pronounced as "tha", whether it's spelt thee, thou or thy [contd...]
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Nov 6, 2016 at 11:26
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    [...contd] the latter would tend towards "thi" rather than "tha" but not by much. Even Ineson falls into the overprununciation trap a lot.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Nov 6, 2016 at 11:26
  • @Tetsujin I'm well versed in contemporary English dialects and accents, no worries there, but my question is regarding the state of English in the early 17th C (circa 1630). Would they be speaking a modern form of Middle English? Would it be different in New England, even though they only just diverged? And ultimately, how accurate is The Witch? My guess is: highly inaccurate, at least the pronunciation/accents, but I'm more interested in the language than pronunciation (i.e. screenplay) Commented Nov 6, 2016 at 12:40
  • More speculation, but for them to still have distinctly Yorkshire accents, then they had to be relatively new to the country, or the children never met anyone else from whom to pick up any other accent. By 1600 the great vowel shift was pretty much complete so at least no-one had to attempt to work with that added difficulty when writing it. One further consideration is that almost no-one who was educated ever wrote in the speech patterns of the poor; & when they did it wasn't likely to be well-researched. I'm guessing it's a hollywoodisation of 'correct' at best.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Nov 6, 2016 at 12:49

1 Answer 1


I saw this movie when it came out and went to a screening with the director, and a question was asked about the dialogue. It is not authentic, it's based on present day Yorkshire accents. They tried very hard to make everything in the film as authentic as possible for the location and the period, but he explained that the decision was made not to attempt to reproduce how colonial English might have sounded (which is nothing like present day English or American dialects--English dialects hadn't become non-rhotic yet) because it would've made the film nearly incomprehensible to audiences. He gave the example of how the word "knife" would've sounded, with the k still being pronounced at that time, ending up something like "ka-noifey", so you can see how struggling to decipher the language might have distracted from the substance of the film.

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    Was that at Fantastic Fest? You're very lucky, and I am very jealous of your experience. Thanks for the good answer, I'm hoping it's a true anecdote. Commented Oct 23, 2018 at 17:08

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