8 Responses to A Lesson in Quaker Lingo

  1. Caroline Maun

    Wonderful and engaging — I’m looking forward to reading this.

    • admin

      Thanks, Caroline. I’ll let you know when it’s available. Meanwhile, I am much impressed with your book. It’s scholarly and fascinating. I’m so proud of you.

  2. Chel Avery

    There was a reason Quakers used “thee” and “thy” long after the rest of the population switched to “you.” During the time of early Quakers, these terms were used when talking to family, close friends, children, and servants, whereas “ye” was used for nobility and other high ranking people and in formal occasions. Quakers objected to this distinction, and used the same term for everyone, regardless of social class. (This was considered very rude at the time.) Also, “ye” was a plural term, and Quakers tried to be truthful — to call one person “ye” was exaggerating truth in order to serve the person’s vanity, which would not be good for their souls. — Of course, in time, most English speakers began using “you” for everyone, and the distinctive Quaker language no longer made a point, so it eventually died out.

  3. There is another reason there’s no “thou” in Quakerese — the same reason there’s no longer any “ye” in Modern English: The majority of early Quakers, especially those that removed to North America, were from northern English. As anyone who has spoken with them knows Geordies and other northerners speak a significantly different dialect of English than Oxonian or Queen’s English — and it was ever so. In fact, they are more alike today than any time in the last 10 centuries.
    Northern dialects, which were more strongly influenced by Norse during the Viking and Danish rule, have a simpler grammatical pronoun structure: no subject/object forms. The form called objective is used in all positions.
    . So standard Middlesex English said:
    thou hast, he hath seen thee
    ye have, he hath seen you
    . But Northern English said:
    thee has, he has seen thee
    you have, he has seen you
    Which one looks like Modern English? So if people complain that Quakerese is not correct KJV English, they are right. But they are wrong when they say it’s wrong. It’s a completely different dialect and closer to how we speak today — in fact if the singular/plural affectations of French nobility (vous = s or pl, nous le roi) and classism had not wiped out the distinction, we might still be speaking with “thee has”. But in the end the Quakers’ desire to wipe out class distinctions was satisfied by the language moving to make everyone noble/upper class. THey lost on the singular plural question, though. The irony of Quakerese, which leads me to use it with those who know it, is that it started out as a way of levelling, making people closer to one’s own status, and ended up leaving all non-Quakers outside in the 19th C. when Quakers started using “you” outside of Meetings. I’ve had the experience of being with a family that has “thee’d” for 15 generations and reminding them “I’m a thee also, you know.” A phrase that can be found in old Quaker writing…

  4. Ruth Cadbury

    Quakers in the US still use “thee”and “thy” – well they did 35 years ago when I stayed with family near Philadelphia. Looking forward to seeing the book out.

  5. Laura Armstrong

    Am researching my ancester, Noble Butler, my 5th great grandfather, and found your site and book! This is so exciting. I’ll continue to read your website and look for your book on Amazon. Hope it’s there! My children will love it, specifically my 9 year old son.

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