Prehistoricy Dialogue

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  • Prehistoricy Dialogue

    Does anyone know of any good scripts to study a kind of believable primitive language that, on one hand, doesn't sound too modern, and, on the other hand, doesn't sound too "Ugg smash this!"?

    Would something like 10,000 BC or Apocalypto do the trick?

  • #2
    Re: Prehistoricy Dialogue

    I haven't read the scripts, but Apocalypto seems like a good choice. I would personally have your characters not talk a lot, and when they do speak in very blunt short bursts. If they're not necessarily grammatically incorrect, just sentence fragments, it probably won't sound like a caveman sketch.
    @ZOlkewicz - Don't follow me on Twitter.

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    • #3
      Re: Prehistoricy Dialogue

      This a case where research may be more of a friend than just similar scripts. There's plenty of scholarly articles available on the web or in book form on this subject. Better yet get on the phone and call the local college. You'll find someone willing to talk your ear off and point you to some good materials.
      If a woman has to choose between catching a fly ball and saving an infant's life, she will choose to save the infant's life without even considering if there are men on base.
      Dave Barry

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      • #4
        Re: Prehistoricy Dialogue

        Apocalypto is in Yucatec Mayan, which currently has around a million native speakers.

        I question weather "sounds modern" can ever be anything more than a subjective evaluation. I don't speak a word of Russian or Cantonese, but they "sound modern to me" just because I've heard enough of each in film and television, not because they share any objective qualities not shared by Tagalog or Bantu. There just isn't any reliable correlation between the "modern-ness" of a culture and syntactic complexity.

        (As an aside, I've heard that, to non-natives, English sounds like dogs barking. I've also heard the sound of German described as "throwing a typewriter down the stairs".)

        I guess probably your best bet would be to track down pro (or fan) Star Trek scripts with Klingon in them, a language specifically invented to have the sort of criteria you mentioned.

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        • #5
          Re: Prehistoricy Dialogue

          There was this little movie called CAVEMAN (1981).

          "Doo-Doo...Kaa-Kaa...sh!t

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          • #6
            Re: Prehistoricy Dialogue

            Originally posted by BillG View Post
            Does anyone know of any good scripts to study a kind of believable primitive language that, on one hand, doesn't sound too modern, and, on the other hand, doesn't sound too "Ugg smash this!"?

            Would something like 10,000 BC or Apocalypto do the trick?
            I ran into a similar problem with a script taking place in what I guess you'd call "cave-man" times -- at any rate, modern man -- prehistoric times.

            And for awhile, I thought that I'd have them speak in some ancient language and have whatever they said be sub-titled, as in Apocalypto, and I actually indicated as such in the script.

            But at a certain point it became clear to me that the dialogue that I was writing for the sub-titles, I was actually hearing spoken in the voices of the characters and that the essentially imaginary language, even if historically grounded, filtered through sub-titles, would only stand in the way of an audience's experience of the story.

            One can make a case for sub-titling a movie in which actors speak in some real foreign language, conveying the meanings and subtleties of that real language -- and then you do your best to convey all that in the sub-titles rather than adding on the additional compromises of trying to fit English words to foreign lip motions.

            But when you're just making the words up, what's the point? Are we offending the Nostratic speakers in the audience?

            The language spoken by prehistoric but biologically modern human beings was a fully developed language, just like our own, or like the language of any other aboriginal people. The differences lies in the language being specific to the particular beliefs, the world, and the culture in which those people live.

            The language they speak gives us a window into the particular view of the world that all of these people share.

            Of course, beyond that, as with any other story, different people will speak differently, according to who they are and what their particular place in the world is, what their characters are, how they relate to one another, etc.

            But no modern human society ever consisted of people who spoke in grunts or mono-syllables or talked the way people talked in One Million Years, B.C.

            NMS

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            • #7
              Re: Prehistoricy Dialogue

              Re: the suggestion to hit up scholarly research ... not sure this is the best route unless you're making a documentary with some dramatized scenes of cavemen or something. No matter how "accurate" the speech is according to current research, if it comes across as at all wonky to the modern audience, I worry that no one would stick around long enough to ask you why you made that choice so you could tell them "it's historically accurate."

              Whatever you do end up choosing, you want your choice to serve the story, rather than get in the way of the audience's experience of the story.
              "You have idea 1, you're excited. It flops. You have idea 99, you're excited. It flops.
              Only a fool is excited by the 100th idea. Fools keep trying. God rewards fools." --Martin Hellman, paraphrased

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              • #8
                Re: Prehistoricy Dialogue

                Let me offer some advice on a related subject.

                NMS sent me to Wikipedia to look up Nostratic.

                Warning! Do not try to read that article with any real understanding unless you want to go ... .

                And I speak as someone who loves languages and knows a good bit about them.

                "The fact that you have seen professionals write poorly is no reason for you to imitate them." - ComicBent.

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                • #9
                  Re: Prehistoricy Dialogue

                  Some additional thoughts on this question.

                  Anyone who writes dialogue taking place in some distant non-English-speaking past has to confront this question, whether it's prehistoric times or not, whether it's the times of the Crusades or ancient Rome or take-your-pick.

                  You can follow the Apocalypto, Passion of the Christ route and have them speak in whatever language they spoke in and sub-title it, and obviously, those movies worked, but that can be really daunting for some viewers in the same way that watching contemporary movies with sub-titles is daunting for some viewers.

                  But if they're going to speak English you are faced with the question, given that they're ancient Romans or aboriginal tribesmen or 11th Century Crusaders -- just what sort of English do they speak?

                  Ultimately, given that they didn't speak any sort of English, this comes down to following certain kinds of conventions. You want to avoid anachronistic modern expressions or slang -- or even slang that gives the sense of being modern.

                  The same is true with accents and dialect. If you've got someone who's supposed to be an ancient Roman and he speaks like he comes from Georgia, that's going to be sort of odd.

                  And yet -- we seem to accept a variety of accents from Great Britain without blinking in this context, perhaps because, on some level we think of British English as the root from which American English emerged.

                  That raises the question of whether native British speakers are as forgiving of the whole range of British accents being acceptable in this context or whether some accents work and others seem out of place.

                  I know that there was a convention in some Shakespearean productions to have that lower class characters speak with a Cockney accent and that always grated on my ear as oddly anachronistic, but obviously it was considered perfectly fine to native audiences.

                  I think that a lot of this is a matter of convention and conventions change over time. Just try watching historical movies made in the thirties or forties or fifties and their attempt at "historical" dialogue, "Oh, Moses, Moses, Moses!"

                  These things change, but we shouldn't kid ourselves into thinking that they somehow get more "real" -- it's just a different style of non-reality.

                  But I think if you work to avoid things like having your prehistoric characters say things like, "Hey, man, what's up?" you'll probably be half way there.

                  NMS

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                  • #10
                    Re: Prehistoricy Dialogue

                    all good points - I'm thinking maybe I should try doing the whole thing without dialogue.

                    The sparse and short burst approach is definitely what I was looking for (and I also made a note to the reader that this should probably be subtitled), but it's ironically incredibly difficult to write "non-snappy" dialogue. It might sound realistic on the screen as to what audiences are conditioned to believing people sounded like back then, but it can look brutally dull and corny on the page.

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                    • #11
                      Re: Prehistoricy Dialogue

                      Try watching documentaries on existing "primitive" cultures. (A good few on Netflix, I believe.) Maybe you'll get some ideas.

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