Chaucer’s fourteenth century story The Canterbury Tales can be considered almost impossible to read by many modern day readers. They tend to struggle thru understanding many of the words, as well as their meanings within this story. As I read The Canterbury Tales I noticed how the rhythm and rhyme differ from modern day English, the vowel are pronounced differently, and many of the words used within this story are no longer used in modern English. Additionally there are three main changes to that can be seen over time within the English language, vocabulary, pronunciation, and sentence structure. The many historical language changes that have happened since the fourteenth century can be found within The Canterbury Tales, and explain why so many people struggle to fully understand the original version of this story.
It is very clear when you sit down and begin to read Chaucer’s work that he constructed his sentences extremely differently from how we construct our today. For example the first four lines of Canterbury Tales reads.
“When that April with his showers soote its showers sweet
The drought of March hath pierced to the root
And bathed every vein in such liquor rootlet / liquid
Of which virtúe engendered is the flower;
When Zephyrus eke with his sweet. breath West Wind also
Inspired hath in every holt and heath grove & field
The tender croppes, and the young. sun young shoots / Spring sun
Hath in the Ram his half. course y-run,3 in Aries / has run
And small. fowles maken melody little birds
That sleepen all the night with open eye Who sleep
(So pricketh them Natúre in their couráges), spurs / spirits
Then longen folk to go on pilgrimáges, people long
And palmers for to seeken strange Strands” ( Chaucer lines 1-13)
Which in modern day English translates to. When April with its sweet showers has pierced the drought of March to the root and bathed every rootlet in the liquid by which the flower is engendered; when the west wind also, with its sweet breath, has brought forth young shoots in every grove and field; when the early sun of spring has run half his course in the sign of Aries, and when small birds make melody, birds that sleep all night with eyes open, (as Nature inspires them to) –THEN people have a strong desire to go on pilgrimages, and pilgrims long to go to foreign shores to distant shrines known in various countries. This is a perfect example of just how much sentence structure has changed. In modern English this would be considered a very long run on sentence. However as I mentioned above sentence structure is one of the main historical language changes. I have attended a few seminars and week long classes the focus directly on Chaucer, and his sentence structure has always been a main topic in comparing his work to modern day works. It is also something many people struggle to understand. When you rad the above passage, if you read each line as once sentence you find yourself becoming confused quickly. However if you...