Old and Middle English March 7, 2023 by PG To further the discussion on an earlier post, To Boldly Go, here’s what the King’s English used to sound like. Click to Tweet/Email/Share This Post
2 thoughts on “Old and Middle English”
I think, though, as a measure of both how Old and Middle English sounded and how well we can understand it as compared to Modern English, it would be better to hear them both in conversation, or have something written today translated into Old and Middle English, rather than listen to something so literary, as people back then most likely wrote in an entirely different style compared to how we write today. Consider how difficult Shakespeare can be to comprehend, and it uses both language and words that we understand today.
The Gawain poet is harder on modern ears than Chaucer, for the simple reason that Chaucer’s version of chancery Middle English “won” the regional dialect contest. The importance of this was made vivid to me as a student when I took a train from York to London, entertained by a friendly Yorkshire farmer the whole way, and not only was I unable to make out most of his dialect, I couldn’t even tell what the stories were about.
On the other hand, if you read traditional Scottish ballads, you’ll find some of the vocabulary surprisingly familiar. And Yorkshire speech becomes more familiar once you pick up Old Norse. Given some vocabulary hints, you can eventually tune your ear to most of it, but it takes practice.
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