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Written in Middle English, Chaucer's Canterbury Tales follow the story of a group of pilgrims who are travelling the long journey from London to Canterbury Cathedral. Setting off from a London inn, the innkeeper suggests that during the journey each pilgrim should tell two tales to help while away the time on the road.

Word Lists

The best storyteller, he says, will be rewarded with a free supper on his return. Chaucer introduces us to a vivid cast of characters, including a carpenter, a cook, a knight, a monk, a prioress, a haberdasher, a dyer, a clerk, a merchant and a very bawdy miller. The passage below presents a cook and a sailor. Read through the passage below, and listen to it being read aloud by clicking on the audio link.

Relax and try not to worry about any words that you may not understand.


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If possible, listen to it more than once, letting the words sink in. Chaucer Audio link. A cook they hadde with hem for the nones To boille the chiknes with the marybones, And poudre-marchant tart and galyngale. Wel koude he knowe a draughte of londoun ale. He koude rooste, and sethe, and broille, and frye, Maken mortreux, and wel bake a pye.

Essay Then and Now. The Language of Chaucer's General Prologue

But greet harm was it, as it thoughte me, That on his shyne a mormal hadde he. For blankmanger, that made he with the beste.

A shipman was ther, wonynge fer by weste; For aught I woot, he was of Dertemouthe. He rood upon a rounce, as he kouthe, In a gowne of faldyng to the knee. A daggere hangynge on a laas hadde he Aboute his nekke, under his arm adoun. The hoote somer hadde maad his hewe al broun; And certeinly he was a good felawe. Ful many a draughte of wyn had he ydrawe Fro Burdeux-ward, whil that the chapmen sleep. It is this second effect which results in what you've noticed: prior to the midth century, the English language changed much more rapidly than afterwards.

Once Chaucer published everything was up for grabs and change was fairly rapid. Chaucer's work extended the written word to the middle classes if not the proletariat. His bawdy tales in the vernacular naturally attracted a much wider audience and perhaps marked the start of literacy beyond just the elite in England. Elizabeth turned England into a world power. Having said that Spencer's "Faerie Queen" 50 years earlier may mark the start of modern English and that was before Elizabeth's time. These societal changes were reflected in the language.

The European development of the printing press in about was important but I don't see how that accounts for the differences. After all it comes only 50 years into the year period. Note that the Chinese had the printing press much earlier. Both English and French changed dramatically between and Both English and French had vowel shifts.

The History of English - Middle English (c. - c. )

As Mark Thompson points out, this is when the printing press was introduced. These historical events caused the rulers of both France and England to focus on creating a distinctly French nobility and a distinctly English nobility, and caused the Anglo-French nobles to choose whether they were English or French. In terms of "fixing" the language, probably the most important event was the publication of the King James Version of the Bible in This text is still read daily by a noticeable fraction of the world's English speakers.

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It's not just a change of language over time but also over location. The focus of written culture moved South following the courts. Sign up to join this community. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top.


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Home Questions Tags Users Unanswered. Why did English change so much between Chaucer and Shakespeare?

The Language of the Chaucer Tradition

Ask Question. Asked 4 years, 9 months ago. Active 4 years, 9 months ago. Viewed 6k times. Sadly, when it comes to language development, we usually have to accept that asking why?

We just don't know why changes in language happen or don't happen the way they do or don't. Related, but not duplicate: english. Just to check, are you comparing like for like?

‎Geoffrey Chaucer and the Language of Liberty

Which is all modern English, but likely still hard to read at first. But Shakespeare is commonly printed with modern spelling since it doesn't contain all that many words that just aren't in current English at all. This is enough to make it extremely accessible despite years. Whereas Chaucer printed in modern English is a translation, albeit the above happens not to have any non-modern English words unless you count "soote". And let's not forget that most English-speakers are exposed to a lot more Shakespeare than Chaucer from a early age, so not only does the idiom seem familiar to us, but, as a result of this exposure, much has been carried forward into "modern" English.

If Shakespeare or some other highly popular author had not "anchored" English to that time period it would seem a lot stranger. The printing press changed everything. The introduction of printed works in the midth century had two major effects: Standardization, as printed works were distributed beyond the reach of the local authors. This led to standardization of the language from what had been myriad local dialects to a more common single lexicon. Stabilization, as the shift from an oral tradition for recording stories to a printed one fixed the form of the tales being written.

As you can imagine, passing a story verbally for a century leads to many slight alterations of the story and even of the language in which the story is told.