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A Middle English Reader and Vocabulary

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MerT And saugh that Damyan his wyf had dressed In swich manere it may nat been expressed, But if I wolde speke uncurteisly; Muddling your terms, or mispronouncing them, was a clear indication of someone with failed pretensions to gentility. The word he is looking for here is properly cardiacle , a condition of palpitations related to our modern word cardiac ; Harry Bailly, with only the most rudimentary knowledge of medical terminology, has confused it with the unrelated word cardinal.


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Latin words and phrases can be used similarly, as we see in the way the Summoner parrots a handful of Latin terms that he has learned from a papal decree, without any understanding of their meaning GP Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote The droghte of March hath perced to the roote, And bathed every veyne in swich licour Of which vertu engendred is the flour; Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth Inspired hath in every holt and heeth The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne Hath in the Ram his half cours yronne, And smale foweles maken melodye, That slepen al the nyght with open ye So Priketh hem Nature in hir corages , Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages, And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes, To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes; And specially from every shires ende Of Engelond to Caunterbury they wende, The hooly blisful martir for to seke, That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke.

GP The opening of the General Prologue is a good example of Chaucer forging a high register intended to evoke a sense of gravity appropriate to the opening of the work. As we might expect for a passage written in high style, these lines contain a number of words of French or Latin origin, adding to the sense of stylistic elevation: perced , licour , engendred , corages , pilgrimages.

But the choice of words is not driven exclusively by etymological factors; after all, Chaucer and his readers did not have access to modern dictionaries. Since corage is of French extraction, while herte derives from Old English heorte , the distinction between the two would appear to be one of style and register.

A Middle English Vocabulary - Tolkien Gateway

But, while there are instances of both herte and corage that could be accurately rendered by the modern English word heart , there are other more subtle semantic distinctions to be made. The word corage was never used to refer to the bodily organ; it is most commonly employed in the abstract sense of the heart as the seat of the emotions—the place where affections, attitudes, and desires are formed. This example shows us that words borrowed from French during this period tend to denote more abstract ideas, whereas English words cover the physical, down-to-earth concepts.

Subtle distinctions in meaning and usage like these remind us that we need to be careful not to simply assume that two words are synonymous; this is especially important when reading Chaucer in a student edition where words are often given one-word glosses, meaning that such nuances of meaning are often elided. Another distinction between corage and its modern equivalent courage concerns its pronunciation; here, the meter shows us that Chaucer and his audience would have sounded the word with stress on the second syllable rather than the first, thereby preserving the French pronunciation more closely.

It is not just the vocabulary that evokes this sense of dignity and grandeur; also important is the syntactic structure; notice how the punctuation that has been added by the editor conceives of the entire eighteen lines as a single sentence. Within this single sentence are numerous clauses linked together in complex ways. While part of this sentence employs a simple paratactic structure—in which a clause is linked to the following by a coordinating conjunction such as and —Chaucer embeds these clauses within a more complex series of subordinate clauses—using the subordinating conjunctions whan that or whan.

The passage also includes instances of some of the grammatical features we have observed. The plural pronouns they and hem provide examples of the mixed system of Old Norse and Old English pronouns used by Chaucer, while the neuter possessive pronoun his appears on several occasions. Because this pronoun was identical with the masculine possessive pronoun, it is not always possible to determine where Chaucer intended a personification. In line five, for instance, is Chaucer personifying Zephirus, the west wind, or should we translate his as its?

Cannon, Christopher. Cambridge: , Davis, N.