Friday, June 3, 2016

Friday Video: English Through History, or, Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

Friday, June 3, 2016
Loretta reports:

In a college seminar on Chaucer, we were required to learn to read and speak Middle English. Until then, I hadn’t realized the sound of English is not only slightly different from one locality to another, but can sound like another language entirely, depending on what century you’re in.

I wish today’s video creators had stuck with English English speakers throughout, since the change of accents adds a layer of confusion, I think. We Yanks started out with a fairly modern English which we gradually transformed into our own variety. That could form a program in itself, as could the English of Australia and New Zealand and India and everywhere else the language invaded.

Some, too, would disagree about how recognizable Shakespeare’s English would be to modern ears, and not just in terms of our ability to recognize words. Still, the point is made about English’s evolution, and our nerdy history readers are welcome, as always, to comment.

Image: Chaucer as a pilgrim from Ellesmere Manuscript in the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, via Wikipedia.

Readers who receive our blog via email might see a rectangle, square, or nothing where the video ought to be.  To watch the video, please click on the title to this post.


Sue Bursztynski said...

Oh, yes, Middle English would sound very different from modern! And Old English sounds more like German, for good reason; when we had to do that at university, I had less trouble than the rest of the class because I know Yiddish, which is effectively mediaeval German, though with a lot of additions. It was hilarious to hear someone translate a sentence of OE to say that Grendel was feasting in the fens instead of "fast". (I pictured this monster with a beer mug in his claws...)

I have heard that there are some parts of North Carolina where the accent is pretty similar to Elizabethan English, which may perhaps be why Susan Cooper made the hero of King Of Shadows a boy from that state when he had to time travel to Shakespeare's London...

Paul Robinson said...

Having been born and bred in Northern Ireland, where on the island as a whole, the accents and expressions change every few miles, I find modern English English strange at times. Now I also have "false friends", as old French phrases from the Norman Conquest period are sometimes still in use too. Having moved to France nearly 5 years ago it just adds to confusion, as the French who do speak English, rarely understand the old fashioned "facons de parler" in my Ulster/Scots dialect. I have to adopt a faux posh English accent and mode of speech, for them to understand. The French I did at school, was learnt from a teacher who probably hadn't visited the country, since he was a Royal Marine Commando, in WWII! French too is a living evolving language, and struggling to cope with new words and expressions, and terrible Franglais is taking over - which I hate more than English dialects, and modern slang. We should never lose dialects, wherever we are as they enrich any language. I see and hear the roots of many American accents, and forms of speech. I especially notice the Irish and Scots twang in many southern states accents of course. Bon weekend from a "Wild Goose" in the wilds of northern France biloutes.

Abigail Gossage said...

Check out The Story of English, a nine-part PBS documentary now available on YouTube. Quite fascinating.

Jen Dobyns said...

I love the older forms of English. Translating Beowulf and early poetry from Old English in college, taking classes in Shakespeare and Chaucer, and having to read them aloud was wonderful. Now there are people working on Original Pronunciation Shakespeare which adds yet another layer to the story and it is beautiful to hear, as the dialogue flows so beautifully that way.

Donna Hatch, Regency Romance author said...

Yep. If I time-traveled back that far, I'd be lost. I had an English lit class in high school that required us to memorize When that April, part of the Chaucer poem mentioned. In the text book, they printed the modern-translation next to the original text so we could understand it. I can still recite from memory the first several lines.

Shinjinee said...

I just watched a video on Youtube comparing Modern Received Pronunciation and Original Pronunciation in Shakespeare's plays. It stressed how with RP, we miss the puns built into Shakespeare's language, which was part of the fun. Also that the plays were in broad daylight, so the actors made eye contact with audience members which changed the experience for both sides.

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