I am writing a story where the character is reading a writing from someone in Europe during 1348. The thing is I don't know how a person from that time would speak or write.

The line they are reading says

The one who kills death will become death

but that sounds too modern to be from that time period and place.

  • 1
    So they are translating an ancient text?
    – user18397
    Apr 30, 2018 at 4:53
  • 1
    @Thomo They are reading a book from back in 1348 but I would like it to be readable
    – Dan
    Apr 30, 2018 at 6:44
  • 1
    You might find this summary of the history of English helpful: tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/UsefulNotes/HistoryOfEnglish
    – J.G.
    Apr 30, 2018 at 7:07

2 Answers 2


A character in 1348 would be speaking Middle English, not modern English at all. Middle English is so different from modern English, that it is a distinct language (source). The same, I suppose, would be true of other European languages as well. So, whatever your 1348 writing would have been, you would have to adapt it, to even make it readable today. Taking a step away from realism is unavoidable here. (Unless your character is a modern person who has studied Middle English, in which case he'd be translating an old writing into modern English, which can be as modern as you like.)

That said, some turns of phrase are more modern than others. "The one who" sounds more modern than "whosoever", for instance. If you want to familiarise youself with that language, you should read older literature: Le Morte d'Arthur, modernised spelling and annotated (otherwise it's not readable), or something else of that period (late 1400s), can get you close enough to the kind of language you seek.

  • 2
    Right. In which case it would be handled exactly as how you'd handle a completely alien language—whose expression would be similar to meaningless characters. One or two could be given, but the rest should be relayed in some kind of narrative form that makes sense to the reader. (Like in shows with either subtitles or spoken English but a single, introductory "Speaking other language." subtitle.) So, maybe give just one or two sentences in Middle English for authenticity but use a narrative device to avoid the rest. Apr 30, 2018 at 2:13

The phrase He who kills death, will become death. would translate into Middle English as something like:

Þat keliþ deþe, shal iworþen deþe.


  • There are some synonyms for keliþ "kills" that you might use: dedeþ (the verb to the noun "death", which has become obsolete in English, but survives in other German languages, e.g. German töten), morþereþ "murders", sleþ "slays".

  • You might say he þat "he who", but in Middle English texts it is common to only say þat "(he) who".

  • The spelling was not normalized and varied greatly between different English dialects and time periods. I have chosen one possible variant.

  • I have used the letter thorn <þ> to represent the voiceless dental fricative, but the was in use back then, so you can use it as well. Just replace every thorn with "th".

  • iworþen "become" has become obsolete in English. Related words survive in other Germanic languaged, e.g. German werden "become".

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