Middle English...is That Like Middle Earth?
For some people, Middle English may as well be from Middle Earth! Take for example the opening lines of Geoffrey Chaucer's, The Canterbury Tales:
"Whan that Aprill with his shoures sote
The Droughte of Marche hath perced to the rote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;..." (2)
Before you read on, take a moment to jot down what you think this brief passage means. While it looks like a foreign language, it isn't quite so far off from modern English as one might think. Middle English formed the bridge between Old English and our modern English. Old English was not standardized, so people would spell things as they believed they should be spelled. Imagine for a moment if we didn't have spell check and no one cared how things were spelled. You'd get an interesting variety of spellings of words (just think of some of the stuff you see on the Internet and in your text messages!), and it might be difficult to decipher what was meant by a particular word. Middle English was developed during a period where the Anglo-Saxons were blended with the Normans. Thus, there is a blending of the two vocabularies. (Don't even get me started on the Latin roots and the German roots of words.) Just as America is a blending of people from different cultures, so is Middle English. It wasn't until the printed English Bible and Prayer Books between 1500 and 1800 AD that English began to be standardized.
Have you guessed at the meaning of the above passage? Now you're ready to contrast the above passage with the modern English equivalent:
"When April with his sweet showers has
pierced the drought of March to the root,
and bathed every vein in such moisture
as has power to bring forth the flower;..." (3)
Take a look at the two passages. Which words are similar? Which of the words are different? How far off were you when it came to deciphering some of the Middle English words? Do you agree with this modern English translation? Keep in mind that translations are open to interpretation. How would you have translated it given this short passage you see here?