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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: April ::
WordHoard
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0330  Thursday, 20 April 2006

[1] 	From: 	Robin Hamilton <
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	Date: 	Thursday, 20 Apr 2006 01:30:11 +0100 (BST)
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0326 WordHoard

[2] 	From: 	Donald Bloom <
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	Date: 	Thursday, 20 Apr 2006 08:42:14 -0500
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 17.0326 WordHoard


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Robin Hamilton <
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Date: 		Thursday, 20 Apr 2006 01:30:11 +0100 (BST)
Subject: 17.0326 WordHoard
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0326 WordHoard

Stephanie Kydd

 >Shakespeare was of course familiar with Chaucer

      SNIP

 >When all is said and done, there are only two and a
 >half centuries
 >between the two, and the core essentials of any
 >given language are very
 >slow to change.

There's a partial truth here, but while linguistic change is linear, it 
isn't necessarily geometric in its progression.  While there is an 
absolute continuity between the language of +Beowulf+ (written down in 
the eighth century CE) and all Englishes of the present day, 
nevertheless Beowulf exists in what has to be learned (for most of us, 
at least) as a foreign language.

There is a major divide between the language of Chaucer and that of 
Shakespeare which doesn't fall between Shakespeare and "us".  The crunch 
point seems to lie about 1500.  With qualifications, virtually all 
post-1500 texts in English can be read in a "contemporary" voice 
(whether 1600 or 2000) in a way in which pre-1500 texts cannot.  This 
isn't true of pre-1500 texts.  (Contrast Chaucer and Wyatt for a 
touchstone.)

Actually, it's more complex than that-of the three major literary texts 
written in the last quarter of the fourteenth century, Langland's +Piers 
Plowman+ doesn't sound *that* odd when simply transliterated and 
modernised.  Chaucer mostly makes sense but sounds (largely due to the 
loss of the final unaccented 'e')deeply strange.  The texts of the 
Gawain poet are (to me, at least) close to Beowulf in their difficulty 
of comprehension.

[Obviously, there is a distinction to be made here between metre and 
meaning.]

 >If endowed with a time machine,
 >circa Y2K English
 >speakers would have no real problems communicating
 >with those who lived
 >in AD 1750, or vice versa (excluding words such as
 >'e-mail' and 'cell
 >phone', of course).

See above.

Robin Hamilton

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Donald Bloom <
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Date: 		Thursday, 20 Apr 2006 08:42:14 -0500
Subject: 17.0326 WordHoard
Comment: 	RE: SHK 17.0326 WordHoard

Stephanie Kydd writes,

 >When all is said and done, there are only two and a half centuries
 >between the two, and the core essentials of any given language are very
 >slow to change.  If endowed with a time machine, circa Y2K English
 >speakers would have no real problems communicating with those who lived
 >in AD 1750, or vice versa (excluding words such as 'e-mail' and 'cell
 >phone', of course).

My sense of language change tells me that English changed a great deal 
more in the 210 years between flourishing of Chaucer and the flourishing 
Shakespeare than in the period from 1796 to 2006. Aside from 
pronunciation changes (the Great Vowel Shift, and all that), many words 
were lost, many were added, and (probably most important) the grammar 
changed significantly.

Still, this is well outside my bailiwick and I will welcome correction 
from anyone who knows better. (Whether right or wrong, I would also 
welcome reference to an authoritative study of the matter.)

On a related matter, where is there a study of reputation and use of 
Chaucer among the Elizabethans. Spenser evidently regarded him as a kind 
of demi-god, but was that general?

Cheers,
don

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