Creating a Dialect
Dramaturge interviews Bernadette Pryde, Lecturer in Voice at USQ. Her role in The Crucible was to create a dialect that may have been spoken by the Puritans.
Elle - What was involved in creating the dialect that the townspeople in The Crucible speak?
Bernadette - Usually if actors have to learn a dialect for a play they will listen and mimic people who speak with the dialect. So, if you have to play an Irish character you will try to copy the speech habits of people from Ireland until you can speak your lines comfortably in the Irish dialect. For The Crucible the process was very different. You see, the way people speak changes all the time, and over the centuries we have added new words to our vocabulary and we have changed the way we pronounce things. We do not know how people spoke in Salem in the 1600's, but we do know that the language would have sounded different from the way we speak today. This meant that the actors couldn't simply find Puritans to listen to and mimic until they felt confident using the dialect. So, we had to create a dialect.
To do this, firstly we researched the characters' history. From this we found that a good deal of the Puritans originated from East Anglia in England. Secondly, we searched for information about how the people of East Anglia speak today. We then compared the East Anglian dialect with the Boston dialect spoken in Massachusetts today. At this point we decided on which vowel sounds in the language could sound the same as the way we speak today and which vowels needed to be altered to sound more like a cross between an East Anglian and a Boston dialect. Investigations into the geography and the climate of the Salem region told us that the people would have been used to a rather harsh and chilly environment. This information helped us decide on how the consonants should be pronounced and what the tune of the dialect should sound like.
So the townspeople's dialect should sound familiar to a modern audience but somehow different. It hopefully gives the listener an insight into how the English language may have sounded centuries ago, before the evolution of the American dialects we hear so often on radio and television today.
Elle - Are there differences in the way that the officials from Boston speak as compared with the townspeople?
Bernadette - Yes. We decided that the high status characters, like the Judges, should sound like they have ties to the upper classes in England. As supposedly learned men originating from Britain we recognised that they wouldn't sound like the farmers from East Anglia. So, the Judges speak, in what we call, Received Pronunciation, which is a form of English speech that is used by people like the Royal family, scholars, and up until fairly recently, BBC newsreaders. Of course, the other dialect that is different in the play is the Barbados dialect used by the character Tituba. Both the Received Pronunciation and the Barbados dialects exist today so the actors using them could listen and mimic people who use these dialects in order to prepare for their roles.