I was generally happy with Thief 3, but there was just one thing that made me twitch. Whoever did the script and/or script editing for the first two games had an ear for language. Whoever did the third game did not.

Garrett speaks modern English, with an American accent. Sensible, since the game was developed by an American studio that had limited funds for the voice acting. The other factions speak various other flavors of English, which diverge from standard AmE in various ways. The City Guard are mostly something that vaguely approximates standard BrE; the Keepers speak AmE or BrE which retains a few archaic features and a lot of formality. Both are distinct from Garrett, but nothing you wouldn't hear on television, and you'd have to write fairly badly in standard English in order to write noticeably badly in this.

The Hammerites speak what is very solidly a dialect of English which retains the T-V distinction -- for those of you who don't absorb languages at random, the "T-V distinction" is the way a lot of European languages, particularly the Romance tongues, make a distinction between single/informal "you" and plural/formal "you". French has tu and vous; Continental Spanish has tú and vosótros; Portuguese has tú and vós; Italian has tu and voi. Some Germanic languages also retain a form of this: German is the only one I know of which makes a strong point of still using du and Sie, whereas others, like Dutch (jij/U), Danish (du/De) and Afrikaans (jy/u), use the distinction only in super-formal contexts. Yet others, like Swedish, Norwegian, and Icelandic, have all but dropped the V (formal) form of address in favor of using the T (informal) form in all instances.

English is the only instance I'm aware of in which it's actually the T form that disappeared. We all still know it -- the nominative pronoun is 'thou', the accusative is 'thee', and the possessive is 'thy' (changing to 'thine' before a vowel, a rule that we've also since dropped). It's still used in some isolated dialects, like that of the Amish. It is, absolutely and without exception, a singular informal form of address, and anyone who has had one of the Romance languages banged into their heads knows that if you are going to use the T form of a second-person pronoun, you had better be addressing one person in a very familiar fashion, and you had better use the right conjugation of your verb. It's the -t form, often specifically -st or -est. Thou hast, thou art, thou wilt, thou seest, thou dost, thou dancest, and by extension to things that didn't exist the last time this was common, thou phonest, thou typest, thou textest, thou postest thine updates to thy Facebook Wall.

Whoever handled the script for Thief 3 was apparently not aware of this, nor were their editors. The Hammerites are a complete goddamn mess, as are the Guard. Both of them sound as if they were written by someone who thinks sticking -eth on the end of everything makes it Elizabethan. (The -(e)th form was the present tense conjugation for he, sh, and it. He hath, she sayeth, it pointeth. This ending has evolved into the -s ending in modern English, that so messes with the heads of ESL students.) It's particularly aggravating because it was done so well in the first two games. The arch-villain of the second game is a Hammerite from a separatist sect who consistently addresses Garrett on the level of 'thou'. It's deliberate and creates a sense of condescension and oily familiarity that just makes me cringe and go EW STOP IT I DON'T KNOW YOU AND I DON'T WANT TO, which is exactly the effect it's supposed to have. The third game is just a confused mess.

The Pagans speak something completely different -- it's not based on any English dialect I know of specifically, although a lot of the things like inverted word order (noun-adjective, on occasion also verb-subject) suggest it's inspired by the sort of English that might be spoken in an area whose primary tongue is one of the Celtic languages. Which is also butchered in the third game. It had a strange, poetic cadence in the first two -- particularly as quoted in a variety of snippets on the loading screens -- but it's a garbled wreck in the voice clips in the third. It's not supposed to sound idiotic; it's supposed to sound like it's a language paradigm of its own.

It irks me. Probably more than it should. The language sense simply will not shut up when someone's doing it wrong.

Comments

  1. Huh, that's interesting. Does anyone have any idea why English pretty much lost the informal version? And when?

    Thee/tha is still used by old people in Yorkshire and parts of Lancashire, particularly by working class folk. Surprised me no end when an elderly lady whose garden I was helping clear asked me "what's up with thee, then?", being as I am, a dirty southerner. I remember hearing thee and tha in the 1993 film of the Secret Garden, so I knew of it at least. Oh, and an easy way to start an argument anywhere north of Birmingham is to ask what's a bread roll called!

    You might like this by the way: http://www.aboutbridlington.co.uk/fun/yorkshirecolloq.html

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    1. Supposedly, because it became rude.

      The t/v distinction went from being a singular/plural distinction to being an informal/formal distinction. And then to being a respect/lack of respect thing, which is why in the King James Bible, people get t's and God get's v's (y's). That's where the line "I thou thee, thou traitor" comes from.

      I've never been able to substantiate if that's a real line, although it's certainly a well documented line.

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    2. Um. The "thou thee" line comes from Sir Walter Raleigh's trial (re: rudeness), not the Bible. I should read before I hit enter.

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    3. Thank you! I had suspected as much, but had no documentation. It's still a bit strange that in English it's the T form that became rude -- all of the other languages that lost the distinction seem to have done so because the V form was seen as overly stiff or representative of a class distinction it was perceived as rude to draw attention to (except in certain specific cases, such as when addressing a monarch). It's probably relevant that English lost the informal form significantly earlier than the other Germanic languages started to lose the compulsorily-formal one -- the French Revolution seems to have scared the very pantaloons off of a lot of other bits of Europe, and they subsequently began to downplay the hereditary nobility.

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