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Geoffrey Chaucer and His Contribution
Main Written Records of the Middle English Period
Geoffrey Chaucer known as the Father of English literature, is widely considered the greatest English poet of the Middle Ages and was the first poet to have been buried in Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey.
While he achieved fame during his lifetime as an author, philosopher, alchemist and astronomer, composing a scientific treatise on the astrolabe for his ten year-old son Lewis, Chaucer also maintained an active career in the civil service as a bureaucrat, courtier and diplomat. Among his many works, which include The Book of the Duchess, the House of Fame, the Legend of Good Women and Troilus and Criseyde, he is best known today for The Canterbury Tales. Geoffrey Chaucer was one of the most prominent authors of the Middle English Period and he set up a language pattern to be followed. He is considered to be the founder of the literary language of that period. Most authors of the Middle English Period tried to follow this standard.
Features of the Chaucer’s Language:
Chaucer’s Language was the basis for the national literary language (15th – 16th c.).
New spelling rules (digraphs) and new rules of reading (1 letter = several sounds) appeared as compared to the Old English.
New grammatical forms appeared (Perfect forms, Passive forms, “to” Infinitive constructions, etc.).
Chaucer tried to minimize the number of the French loans in the English Language.
Chaucer introduced rhyme to the poetry.
The following is the beginning of the general Prologue from The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. The text was written in a dialect associated with London and spellings associated with the then-emergent Chancery Standard.
Middle English Alphabet
The Middle English Alphabet resembled the Old English Alphabet but some changes were introduced:
th replaced ð/þ/Đ/đ;
æ, œ disappeared;
digraphs (2 letters = one sound) appeared (came from French):
th for [q] and [ð];
tch/ch for [t∫];
sch/ssh/sh for [∫];
dg for [dζ];
wh replace hw but was pronounced still as [hw]!;
gh for [h];
qu for [kw];
ow/ou for [u:] and [ou];
ie for [e:].
Rules of Reading:
They resemble the modern rules, with several exceptions though:
Double vowels stood for long sounds, e.g. oo = [o:]; ee = [e:].
g = [dζ]
c = [s] before front vowels ([i, e]).
g = [g]
c = [k] before back vowels ([a, o, u]).
y = [j] – at the beginning of the word;
= [i] – in the cases when i stood close together with r, n, m and could be confused with one of these letters or could be lost among them, it was replaced with y, sometimes also for decorative purpose.(e.g. nyne [‘ni:nə], very [‘veri]).
th = [ð]
s = [z] between vowels.
o = [o] – in most cases;
= [u] – in the words that have [Λ] sound in Modern English (e.g. some, love)
j = [dζ]
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