Chaucer's Canterbury Tales The Language Of Chaucer

774 words - 4 pages

The Language of Chaucer in The Canterbury Tales

   With careful study, the language of Chaucer in The Canterbury Tales is usually clarified and understood as the beautiful verse narrative it is. There is, however, the common problem that comes when one is unable to comprehend it in Middle English enough to coherently study it. The question has been raised as to whether it might be more useful to study a translated version of the poem so that it can be understood on first reading. The main problem with this idea is that in nearly every translation, the great beauty of the language is lost in translation, thus subtracting a great deal of the poem's power and charm. Some gloss, however, ...view middle of the document...

Without changing the meter at all, the replacement in cases such as that can smoothly be made. Other examples of this almost invisible but greatly helpful re-spelling can be found in such changes as "euery veyne" to "every vein" (l. 3), and the otherwise nearly illegible "whan Þat they weere seeke" to "whan that they were seke." (l. 18)


This helpful spelling should not be taken too far, however. In Michael Murphy's "modern-spelling" edition, there are certain lines in which reading the Middle English in proper inflection would be difficult. The main changes occur when, in the modern spelling of the words, the "e" is deleted from the end. In Middle English, that letter is not always silent. Directly from the first line, this change becomes apparent, as the modern spelling version reads, "When that April with his showers soot / The drought of March hath piercèd to the root." This seemingly minor change not only affects the pronunciation and presentation, but in fact goes to change the flexibility of the meter that the optionally pronounced "e" provides.


Further translations go even further to lose the lyrical feel of the original. A modern translation by David Wright has the alliterative feel of the original, but none of the rhyming which lends smoothness to the lines. Another by Neville Coghill attempts to preserve the...

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