Just think of the difference in the English spoken by someone from the U.S. and someone from England. We understand each other but may not understand some words, phrases, or idioms. Also consider the difference in the English spoken by someone from New England and someone from the deep South. In that case we understand each other but sometimes accents may affect understanding. I believe there may be a similar effect with our modern English and the older English (or any other language) our ancestors wrote and spoke.
Also consider the change in word definitions over time. In my lifetime I've seen many words change (or add to) their meanings. When reading an old newspaper, letter, or journal, don't assume that all the words have the same meaning now as then.
Here are just a few brief thoughts about our language and our ancestors' language(s)
- Same word, different meaning
- Same word, different sound (accent and/or different spelling or spelling variation
- Different word, unknown meaning to us
- Different idiom, common to our ancestors, new to us
- Same word, different spelling (may involve accents)
- Same spelling, different meaning
I've written several posts about this idea and how it relates to the search for our ancestors.
- Accents, Spellings, and Surnames
- Webster's 1828 Dictionary of the American Language
- Learning a New Old Word in an 1862 Will
- Accents and Name Variations
Judy G. Russell at The Legal Genealogist often shares legal terminology found in old documents, then translates and explains it for her readers.
And for a treat and an illustration of my thoughts above, you may enjoy Jennifer's post, Lost in Translation: Words and sayings, and what did Mammy say to the milkman?. You'll laugh and you'll learn.
This post is a contribution to Alona Tester's Family History Through the Alphabet challenge. Thank you, Alona, for creating and hosting the challenge.