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Sturgeon's House

You're Not Pronouncing Chaucer Properly

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I'm no linguist, but I've been dipping my toes into that pool of late, and one thing I think is really interesting is the continental pronunciation that Middle English (the language of Henry V, the man, not the play, that's Early Modern English). "Continental" in this case refers to what Americans would probably think of as "romantic", i.e., having a timbre or cadence like French of Italian.

Most spoken Middle English (especially Chaucer) online doesn't sound right, in the same way that spoken Shakespeare or Beowulf doesn't sound right. Well, like Benjamin Bagby for Beowulf, and David and Ben Crystal for Shakespeare, we do have some online resources to set us on the right track:


Note that you can still hear a lot of Beowulf-esque words and structures in it, but it's been overwhelmed by the influx of French since 1066, sort of like pouring red wine onto mashed potatoes. After the Hundred Years' War, the French influence would slow to a trickle and English would affirm itself as an independent language, with increasingly insular pronunciations and rhythms, which you can see in the Crystal's OP Shakespeare above.


For the record, though, I don't think every instance of pronunciation in that video is correct (for example, I think they still pronounced "Jerusalem" as "yeroosahlem" in Middle English), but I think the overall sound is more correct than most online readings.

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