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Discussion - Canterbury Tales > Chaucer - his life and times

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message 1: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Chaucer lived a very interesting life in very interesting times. (Are you aware that the Chinese purportedly consider "may you live in interesting times" to be a curse?)

Comment here on what you have learned of his life and of the historical setting which may be relevant to our discussion of the Tales.


message 2: by MadgeUK (last edited Jan 06, 2011 05:04AM) (new)

MadgeUK Folks may like to listen to this 60 minute BBC Radio 4 broadcast about Chaucer and his times:-

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p003hycq

And to this shorter broadcast about Chaucer's women:-

http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/womanshou...

Here are some BBC audio-clips about the language and dialects used by Chaucer:-

http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/routesofe...


message 3: by Linda2 (last edited Jan 06, 2011 10:43PM) (new)

Linda2 A good rep of clothing worn by the pilgrims --I found this painting done by muralist Ezra Winter for the Library of Congress in 1939.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ezra_Winter


The colors are better here, but you can't see the entire mural:

http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/...

If you download the huge tiff format, the picture is spectacular. The jpg is faster but smaller


message 4: by MadgeUK (last edited Jan 07, 2011 12:10AM) (new)

MadgeUK Thanks Rochelle - that is a lovely mural which I hadn't seen before. When I googled for Ezra Winter I came across this Youtube lecture which shows some close-ups of the Canterbury Tales mural:-

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=daOkw1...


message 5: by Linda2 (new)

Linda2 No CT in that video, but beautiful work. CT is in the North Reading Room of the John Adams Bldg, as noted in my 2nd URL.

I've discovered an artist new to me. That's always exciting!


message 6: by Gayle (new)

Gayle Mangis | 163 comments Rochelle wrote: "A good rep of clothing worn by the pilgrims --I found this painting done by muralist Ezra Winter for the Library of Congress in 1939.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ezra_Winter


The colors are bet..."


Rochelle,
I used this mural as an extra credit project for my 9th graders. They had to identify each rider. Some are easier than others.


message 7: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Rochelle wrote: "A good rep of clothing worn by the pilgrims --I found this painting done by muralist Ezra Winter for the Library of Congress in 1939.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ezra_Winter
."


Neat mural! But I miss the Wife of Bath. I would love to see how he had presented her.


message 8: by Rosemary (new)

Rosemary | 232 comments Gayle wrote: "Rochelle wrote: "A good rep of clothing worn by the pilgrims --I found this painting done by muralist Ezra Winter for the Library of Congress in 1939.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ezra_Winter


T..."


Ooh, now I'm trying to guess it, Gayle.

The Miller, the Knight, the Squire, the Yeoman, the Clerk, the Prioress and her Nun, those are the low-hanging fruit.

Others?


message 9: by Gayle (new)

Gayle Mangis | 163 comments S. Rosemary wrote: "Gayle wrote: "Rochelle wrote: "A good rep of clothing worn by the pilgrims --I found this painting done by muralist Ezra Winter for the Library of Congress in 1939.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ez..."


I moved all my files out of my classroom in boxes last year when I resigned. My Chaucer file has been snowed-in in the garage, so I don't have the answers at hand. It's been raining all morning, so perhaps I can make a jaunt out that direction this afternoon to see if I can locate the right box. I hope so, because I have the name of a great secondary resource in that file.


message 10: by Linda2 (last edited Jan 07, 2011 02:42PM) (new)

Linda2 Everyman wrote: "But I miss the Wife of Bath...."

She's 5th here, I guess, at my 2nd URL.

http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/...

There's something wrong here. It doesn't look like the same mural if you put one window above the other and zoom in. Wikipedia is more likely to be wrong than the LOC site.


message 11: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments S. Rosemary wrote: "The Miller, the Knight, the Squire, the Yeoman, the Clerk, the Prioress and her Nun, those are the low-hanging fruit.

Others? "


Don't check this link if you like to guess which character in the mural is which, because it has the key according to the inscription.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Can...

But yes, the photos are different. I wonder whether there are several sections to the mural, or what? The character which Rochelle identified as the Wife of Bath isn't shown in the one I've referenced here, but it claims to have the inscription.

AH, I have found the answer! Indeed, there are two sections of the mural, one on the West Wall, which shows the beginning characters in the procession, and the other on the East wall, which shows the rest. Here's the link to what I found (spoiler for those still guessing -- it has the full description of all the characters):
http://loc.gov/loc/walls/adams.html#norr
scroll to the top of the page to see the full attribution.

I think that solves the mystery.


message 12: by Linda2 (new)

Linda2 They look like 2 different styles if you zoom in. ??

Several months ago I bought Tuchman's A Distant Mirror, about the 14th Century. I never got through this enormous doorstop, but I just searched for Chaucer. Tuchman says this about our subject:

"Humanity was Geoffrey Chaucer's subject, and all of the 14th Century's society--except the lowest--his scope."

I'm listening to the BBC broadcast. Was Chaucer inventing words the way Shakespeare did?


message 13: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK Rochelle wrote: I'm listening to the BBC broadcast. Was Chaucer inventing words the way Shakespeare did?


Here is some info about the English words first found in Chaucer's manuscripts:-

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_...


message 14: by Linda2 (new)

Linda2 Thanks, Madge. He really is the father of English-language lit. You know that game of choosing who you would want at the table of your dinner party? I think he would be a great raconteur and amusing as heck.

I had asked this before, but the post got lost in the excitement. Aside from that one pic of Chaucer on the horse that we've all seen on one manuscript, have any other images of pilgrims survived from that period?


message 15: by Linda2 (last edited Jan 08, 2011 10:14PM) (new)

Linda2 Everyman wrote: "Don't check this link if you like to guess whic..."

I've been searching for a full pic of the East Wall. The one we have is cropped. There should be 11 characters after the Wife of B.

I think Winter deserves some fame as a great illustrator, but seems to be obscure.


message 16: by MadgeUK (last edited Jan 09, 2011 03:33AM) (new)

MadgeUK Rochelle wrote: "Thanks, Madge. He really is the father of English-language lit. ..."

Yes, we are told this at school over here and study of him always immediately precedes our study of Shakespeare. My 12 year old grand-daughter 'did' him last year.

Here are other pics. Hoccleve is said to have known Chaucer:--

http://www.kellscraft.com/UntroddenEn...

Chaucer was the first poet to have a tomb in the Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey. He was first buried in the Abbey because he was the Clerk of Works there but after the Tales became popular he was moved to 'found' the Poet's corner.

http://www.kellscraft.com/UntroddenEn...


message 17: by MadgeUK (last edited Jan 09, 2011 01:08AM) (new)

MadgeUK This appears to be the fullest pic of the East Wall mural:-

http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/...

This is the West Wall (click on it to get large image):-

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia...

I think the photographer Carol Highsmith deserves a mention too:-

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carol_M....


message 18: by Rosemary (new)

Rosemary | 232 comments Rochelle wrote: "Thanks, Madge. He really is the father of English-language lit. You know that game of choosing who you would want at the table of your dinner party? I think he would be a great raconteur and amusin..."

I love that game. My list always starts with Julia Child, to help me cook, and say, "WHOOPS! I dropped it!" at the appropriate moments. I agree, Chaucer would be an excellent dinner guest as well.

All right, I'll get back on topic now.


message 19: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 2438 comments MadgeUK wrote: This is the West Wall (click on it to get large image):-

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/co...


Wonderful! Look at the nun on th ewhite horse.


message 20: by Linda2 (new)

Linda2 I meant that I had tried some other sites for the East Wall, and there's no pic that's complete.


message 21: by MadgeUK (last edited Jan 10, 2011 01:09AM) (new)

MadgeUK OK. :)

To get back to Chaucer's Life and Times, I rather like this description of him in my Kindle edition (unattributed):-

'He lived within himself, neither desirous to hear nor busy to concern himself with the affairs of his neighbours. His course of living was temperate and regular; he went to rest with the sun, and rose before it; and by that means enjoyed the pleasures of the better part of the day, his morning walk and fresh contemplations. This gave him the advantage of describing the morning in so lively a manner as he does everywhere in his works. The springing sun glows warm in his lines, and the fragrant air blows cool in his descriptions; we smell the sweets of the bloomy haws, and hear the music of the feathered choir, whenever we take a forest walk with him. The hour of the day is not easier to be discovered from the reflection of the sun in Titian's paintings, than in Chaucer's morning landscapes...His reading was deep and extensive, his judgement sound and discerning...In one word, he was a great scholar, a pleasant wit, a candid critic, a sociable companion, a steadfast friend, a grave philosopher, a temperate economist, and a pious Christian.' !!!


message 22: by Lynda (new)

Lynda Evans (bloomingartist) | 1 comments Hello, For those of you who are interested in the murals by Ezra Winter, perhaps I can give you some answers. I'm his granddaughter and am familiar with many of his murals around the country. One of the reasons that you aren't able to see the murals in a complete photo is that they are so large that it's nearly impossible to get them in one shot. Each one in the Library of Congress is the full length (or width) of the room. It's hard to comprehend until you are standing before them and gazing up at the ceiling. Please feel free to contact me.


message 23: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Lynda wrote: "Hello, For those of you who are interested in the murals by Ezra Winter, perhaps I can give you some answers. I'm his granddaughter and am familiar with many of his murals around the country. One..."

His granddaughter, eh? Very impressive. And it's too bad the murals couldn't have been presented by the Library of Congress in the same way the Bayeux Tapestry often is, which allows one to examine it section by section in detail but also get the sense of the immensity of the whole tapestry.

Welcome to the site, and I hope you can stick around for the discussion of the Tales.


message 24: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK Perhaps any further discussion on Ezra Winter could be moved to the Tea Shop thread as this one is for Chaucer's Life and Times?


message 25: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments I found this in the introduction to Chesterton's book on Chaucer:

The medieval word for a Poet was a Maker, which in-
deed is the original meaning of a Poet. It is one of the points,
more numerous than some suppose, in which Greek and
medieval simplicity nearly touch. There was never a man
who was more of a Maker than Chaucer. He made a na-
tional language; he came very near to making a nation. At
least without him it would probably never have been either
so fine a language or so great a nation. Shakespeare and
Milton were the greatest sons of their country; but Chaucer
was the Father of his Country, rather in the style of George
Washington. And apart from that, he made something
that has altered all Europe more than the Newspaper: the
Novel. He was a novelist when there were no novels. I
mean by the novel the narrative that is not primarily an
anecdote or an allegory, but is valued because of the almost
accidental variety of actual human characters. The Pro-
logue of The Canterbury Tales is the Prologue of Modern
Fiction. It is the preface to Don Quixote and the preface
to Gil Blas. The astonishing thing is not so much that an
Englishman did this as that Englishmen hardly ever brag
about it. Nobody waves a Union Jack and cries, ' England
made jolly stories for the whole earth.' It is not too much
to say that Chaucer made not only a new nation but a new
world; and was none the less its real maker because it is an
unreal world. And he did it in a language that was hardly
usable until he used it; and to the glory of a nation that had
hardly existed till he made it glorious.


message 26: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments I would have added a comment about the Chesterton quote, except that as I was posting it I was called to dinner, and in my house when you're called to dinner there are NO excuses for not coming right away.

So -- does Chesterton exaggerate, or is he pretty much onto something? And if he exaggerates, is it a fair exaggeration with enough truth behind it to make you think more seriously about what he's saying, or is he so far over the top that you just dismiss him without serious consideration?


message 27: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 2438 comments Everyman wrote: "I would have added a comment about the Chesterton quote, except that as I was posting it I was called to dinner, and in my house when you're called to dinner there are NO excuses for not coming rig..."

I had already marked that quote in my book and read it several times. Thanks for posting it. From what I know, I think it is a worthwhile statement.


message 28: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Another comment I came across:

Chaucer’s masterpiece, The Canterbury Tales are like a cathedral built of words, huge in scope, minute in detail. The poem is perfectly constructed, if ultimately unfinished. To read it is to join on the pilgrimage being described, the journey to a holy place, to partake in both the hard work and all the amusing even painfully funny events that help us get there.

It's premature to discuss whether the poem is perfectly constructed -- we've only started our journey -- but the image of a cathedral of massive scope and exquisite detail (a perfect description if you've ever seen an English cathedral) may be worth keeping in mind as we journey on together -- we on a journey together just as much as the pilgrims are.


message 29: by Nemo (new)

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments Everyman wrote: "The Canterbury Tales are like a cathedral built of words, huge in scope, minute in detail. ..."

Beautifully put. Reminds me of Victor Hugo's remarks about Notre-Dame de Paris.


message 30: by Michael (new)

Michael Staten (mstatenstuffandthings) | 67 comments Everyman wrote: "So -- does Chesterton exaggerate, or is he pretty much onto something? And if he exaggerates, is it a fair exaggeration with enough truth behind it to make you think more seriously about what he's saying, or is he so far over the top that you just dismiss him without serious consideration?"


I think he is close to the truth on his claims surrounding Chaucer's influence on the English language. I think this is because what he wrote was so interesting and ultimately popular that it was widely circulated and and influential. The introduction in my Norton Anthology of English Literature shares some details on its diffusion.

The popularity of the poem in late medieval England is attested by the number of surviving manuscripts: more than eighty, none from Chaucer's lifetime. It was also twice printed by William Caxton who introduced printing to England in 1476, and often reprinted by Caxton's early successors.


I think all that business about CT being the preface to the modern novel is nonsense based largely on patriotic exuberance. CT is great medieval/pre-modern literature but I can't ignore The Decameron, The Divine Comedy, The Romance of the Rose, Libro de buen amor, etc.


message 31: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK Everyman wrote: I think he is close to the truth on his claims surrounding Chaucer's influence on the English language...........I think all that business about CT being the preface to the modern novel is nonsense based largely on patriotic exuberance.

I agree Everyman - Chesterton was a bit OTT!

The CT's widespread circulation was aided by Caxton making it his first printed publication in English. Also, as we have noted on another thread, the influence of the publication of the Wycliffe bible in English was another important aid to the diffusion of English literature of the time and may even have influenced Chaucer's decision to write in the vernacular. Chesterton may not have liked to have acknowledged this because Wycliffe was a leading Protestant and anti-catholic.


message 32: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Mike wrote: "The popularity of the poem in late medieval England is attested by the number of surviving manuscripts: more than eighty, none from Chaucer's lifetime"

We have been talking about the oral vs. reading aspects of the Tales. In this discussion, we should keep in mind that in Chaucer's day, book printing didn't exist, so that manuscripts had to be hand transcribed. It is hard for me, at least, to imagine a world where the only books I could get were either ones that I had copied myself from somebody else's copy, or that somebody else had copied out by hand and lent or sold to me.

This suggests to me more support for the oralist aspects of the poem -- that if it was to be widely known, it would be so more from being read aloud in public than from many people reading it in the privacy of their homes.


message 33: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK This suggests to me more support for the oralist aspects of the poem -- that if it was to be widely known, it would be so more from being read aloud in public than from many people reading it in the privacy of their homes.

This is true Everyman and it would have been memorised and recited too - in taverns and in homes. This was the way of learning literature up until late Victorian times and the beginnings of working class education at 'dame schools' etc. Initially it would have been read only by the upper class, possibly fellow courtiers known to Chaucer who would have sought handwritten copies. Then professional bards and minstrels would have read and memorised it for reciting to small paying audiences on village greens etc. Some middle class yeomen could read and they may have read it to their families, who in turn are likely to have learned some of it by rote.

There have been quite few books written about Chaucer and his audiences:-

GIFFIN, MARY. Studies in Chaucer and His Audience. Quebec: Leclerc Printers, 1956, 127 pp.

'Explores the historical and aesthetic issues involved in reading four Chaucerian poems as occasional pieces, appropriate in style and tone. The tale of St. Cecilia was composed to recognize the appointment of Adam Easton as Cardinal Priest to Santa Cecilia in Trastavere; its elevated mood and conservatism reflect it religious audience. Parliament of Fowls, appropriate to its courtly audience and the occasion of St. Valentine's day, balances hierarchical orders but takes some liberties with courtly codes. The tale of Constance, originally addressed to Chaucer's merchant peers, attempts to foster support for Costanza of Castile and John of Gaunt's Spanish campaign. Complaint to His Purse is a personal address to Henry, apt in tone and sensitive to its quite narrow audience.'

http://colfa.utsa.edu/chaucer/ec10.html


message 34: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK Here are some pics of a medieval coaching in and house in Canterbury, such as our pilgrims might have used:-

http://www.britainexpress.com/attract...

http://www.britainexpress.com/attract...

The best medieval buildings in the UK are in the old Roman city of Chester, in the NW, bordering Wales, which has medieval walkways, built in 1290 above the Roman roads. You can still walk through some of the Rows today:-
http://www.chester360.co.uk/watergate...

The Rows have all been 'tarted up' over the centuries, the black and white timbering being typically Tudor with later decorations and brickwork being added by the Victorians, as in Newgate Street in the 1890s:
http://www.oldukphotos.com/graphics/E...

Chester is a really beautiful and unique town to visit if ever any of you get Over the Pond!


message 35: by MadgeUK (last edited Jan 13, 2011 06:02AM) (new)

MadgeUK This website gives a time/distance plan for the Canterbury Tales such as Chaucer might have used:--

http://www.wsu.edu/~delahoyd/chaucer/...

This map shows you the road from London to Canterbury, now called the A2:-

http://www.biblecentre.org/images/plu...

And some nice photos of the surrounding countryside today:-

http://www.eg.bucknell.edu/~hyde/Engl...


message 36: by Rhonda (new)

Rhonda (rhondak) | 221 comments As scholars have suggested, the Canterbury Tales represent the pinnacle of Chaucer's writing talent. I have often wondered whether he was influenced to write these in English by the inspiration of Dante. Latin was still the standard literary language of the 14th century. Still there seems a greater clue in that much of his use of the English language is not that which would be most familiar to the upper classes, but the colloquia of the common man. More than anything else, one would have been able to see the Everyman in each of his characters, human, even some humanity with sizeable warts.
We don't even know the order in which they were written, but we have clues that stories like The Tale of Melibeus and perhaps a few others are early works. The argument for oral relation of these tales seems to gain greater credence simply because the text, unfinished as it was, is not a text which Chaucer would have seen. Still it seems clear that he chose to write for a smaller group of people who might recognize themselves, perhaps rather than the privileged few. His use of common phrases reminds us of a kind of slang which often peppers our speech today. The truly remarkable thing about the Canterbury Tales is that Chaucer is able to reproduce such fine rhythms with natural conversation. It is, of course, a translator's nightmare.
Chaucer gives us insight as to who he is in a poem called The House of Fame. In this he pokes fun at one who would work all day and then hurry home and read until his eyes were completely dazed. A character such as this, beyond question, must have the greatest of insight into the human heart.


message 37: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Nice comments, Rhonda. Yes, the text appears in various fragments, and we don't know exactly what order he intended the tales to appear in, though there are some clues in the connecting pieces. We don't have any complete texts from him, or even I think any of the tales in his hand.


message 38: by Linda2 (new)

Linda2 MadgeUK wrote: "This website gives a time/distance plan for the Canterbury Tales such as Chaucer might have used:--

http://www.wsu.edu/~delahoyd/chaucer/...

This map shows you the road from London to Can..."


Nice smooth road. Didn't know they had asphalt in C's time. :D


message 39: by Linda2 (new)

Linda2 How do we know the piece is unfinished? Did he leave one tale in the middle?


message 40: by Everyman (last edited Jan 13, 2011 07:42PM) (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Rochelle wrote: "How do we know the piece is unfinished? Did he leave one tale in the middle?"

Well, you'll see as we get into the reading, but a few of the tales are only partial, and in one case barely started. But the other way we know it's unfinished is that his plan was for each of 29 pilgrims to tell four tales, two on the outward journey and two on the return journey, and unless we have lost more than 3/4 of the tales, he didn't come close to finishing his plan.


message 41: by Linda2 (new)

Linda2 Aha. And he never got to the return journey at all.


message 42: by Rhonda (new)

Rhonda (rhondak) | 221 comments We know that the Canterbury Tales are incomplete because there is a prologue, 24 tales and numerous links which join the stories and of the 24, 3 are incomplete. One might argue that out of some 30 travelers, one ought to expect 30 stories, but that's another issue. Besides that, I think the fact that these are short stories makes Chaucer the father of the short story rather than the novel.
As to the existing stories, the Cook's story of Perkin, the idle apprentice, who has all the appearance of an interesting character, the Squire's tale of Canace and Chaucer's own story of St. Thopas which Harry Bailly will not allow him to continue are all incomplete.


message 43: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Have been listening to Sutherland's Teaching company lectures on Chaucer (in his Classics of British Literature series).

He makes a very interesting point about Chaucer's language. Chaucer wrote in recognizable (to us) English. But at the same time as he was writing, there were others writing major works in Middle English and other English dialects we would not recognize today. Two he mentions are Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and Piers Plowman.

Consider the beginning of Sir Gawain, written around the same time that Chaucer was writing:

SIÞEN þe sege and þe assaut watz sesed at Troye,
Þe borȝ brittened and brent to brondeȝ and askez,

This makes no sense at all to me.

Or, Piers Plowman:
In a somer sesun, whon softe was the sonne,
schop me into a shroud, as I a scheep were;
In habite as an hermite unholy of werkes
Wente I wyde in this world wondres to here;
Bote in a Mayes morwnynge on Malverne hulles
Me bifel a ferly, of fairie, me-thoughte.

a bit more intelligible, I think I can sort of make out the general gist, but still far less understandable than Chaucer.

This is one reason that Chaucer is sometimes considered the father of English; he not only wrote in English instead of French (the primary language of nobility from 1066) and Latin, bu the moved the English language from something we can barely recognize as English to English which, even 500+ years later, we clearly recognize as English.


message 44: by Gayle (new)

Gayle Mangis | 163 comments Everyman wrote: "Have been listening to Sutherland's Teaching company lectures on Chaucer (in his Classics of British Literature series).

He makes a very interesting point about Chaucer's language. Chaucer wrot..."


I guess I had never considered before that there would have to be some overlap between Old English and Middle English. Language doesn't change overnight. Twain was the first American writer to incorporate American dialect in his writing, yet many of his contemporaries were still writing their romantic novels in an almost unnatural proper English regardless of the background of the character speaking.

While I love Twain's use of dialect--I have to admit those early book-banners who decried his misuse of grammar as a bad example for young reader had a point. Look at the state of most spoken English today. Do you think Chaucer would consider our standard English no more than an uneducated dialect?


message 45: by Gail (last edited Jan 22, 2011 07:51AM) (new)

Gail | 19 comments Gayle wrote: "Everyman wrote: "Have been listening to Sutherland's Teaching company lectures on Chaucer (in his Classics of British Literature series).

He makes a very interesting point about Chaucer's langua..."


I have to respectfully disagree, Gayle. Neither Chaucer nor Twain was writing a manual or guide or model to correct speech and writing. They were deliberately writing in the vernacular, which is often messy. So to criticize them on that basis seems to be off the mark. Compare Chaucer's use of what are considered gross vulgarities today. Should we bowdlerize his work to make it more "correct"? I think that would take away the charm and some of the force of his writing. The same applies to many, many other authors, including Shakespeare.

ETA: I don't think the state of spoken English today is the result of reading books with that speech.


message 46: by Evalyn (new)

Evalyn (eviejoy) | 93 comments Gail wrote: "Gayle wrote: "Everyman wrote: "Have been listening to Sutherland's Teaching company lectures on Chaucer (in his Classics of British Literature series).

He makes a very interesting point about ..."


I agree with Gail. The state of spoken English today isn't a reflection of writers who chose to write in the vernacular of their day. Some writers down through the ages have chosen to write in the vernacular, some haven't. Some readers like that approach, some don't, but in writers like Chaucer and Twain it does give the work a quality that would be missing if we tried to "correct" it. As for spoken English, there has always been a difference betweet comfortable, everyday language we speak with our friends and our written language. I suspect texting and emailing have not helped our written English but our spoken English is what's common in whichever group we're in at the time, for example, family, friends, workplace...etc.


message 47: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK It isn't authors like Chaucer, Shakespeare and Twain who have been responsible for the breakdown in the English language we see today. The English language has always been an evolving one, unlike French, which became ossified and therefore ceased to be the 'lingua franca'. What we, the older generation, see as a 'breakdown' via email and text is perceived by others, particularly the young, as a welcome change and many of those changes will be incorporated into the language, just as the language of Chaucer and Shakespeare was incorporated. Who now looks back to the perfect diction of the old black and white movies and doesn't find it stilted and unnatural? It was quite unlike the language that was actually being spoken by the majority of our parents and grandparents, particularly those who weren't born in the upper echelons of society.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gbsS3M...


message 48: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK I love the diction of the old movies and the theatre too Patrice but they are not representative of how English was spoken, except in the upper classes, where that sort of 'plummy' English was spoken. English Shakespearean actors like Alec Guinness (and Dame Judy Dench, Helen Mirren) have this art off to a T and it certainly is a joy to hear them. A lot of the diction in modern films leaves much to be desired and like you I am constantly asking 'what did they say' or winding the DVD back!:(


message 49: by Andreea (new)

Andreea (andyyy) MadgeUK wrote: "It isn't authors like Chaucer, Shakespeare and Twain who have been responsible for the breakdown in the English language we see today. The English language has always been an evolving one, unlike ..."

I think it's unfair to say that the fact that French is no longer a lingua franca is because it hasn't evolved quickly enough. The fact that there are quite a lot of differences between Metropolitan French and Quebec French or African French show that it obviously changed over the last two hundred years - even more than English has because there are a lot more differences between Quebec French and Metropolitan French than there are between English spoken in England and American English.

On a related note, there's a lot of effort put into reviving Gaelic in the UK and a lot of people feel angry because mainstream media is relatively hostile towards regional accents. It's not that unusual to see tv shows or films set in Scotland in which none of the characters have a half convincing Scottish accent. Plus just the fact that Scots celebrate the birthday of Robert Burns so sincerely show how important written down language still is in defining a country's identity.


message 50: by Linda2 (last edited Jan 23, 2011 01:51PM) (new)

Linda2 MadgeUK wrote: "I love the diction of the old movies and the theatre too Patrice but they are not representative of how English was spoken, except in the upper classes, where that sort of 'plummy' English was spok..."

An interesting phenomenon occurred in the language and milieu of American films of the '30's and '40's. The heads of the studios, Warner, Mayer, Zukor, Cohn, Goldwyn, were Jewish East European immigrants, as were many of the directors.

From Neal Gabler, An Empire of Their Own, How the Jews Invented Hollywood, "the early Jewish movie pioneers such as Louis B. Mayer and Irving Thalberg (Fitzgerald's model for The Last Tycoon) who founded the studios of today came to Hollywood because they felt barred from power in the east."

They were picturing the non-Jewish world as they thought it was or should be, a fantasy world. The language spoken in American films till about the 1970's didn't resemble anything that anyone spoke. I don't know about early British films.

Movies now are closer to the language and life we have in real life. While I don't want to go back to the phoniness of the '40's films, I also don't to see a film with the sloppy language, war, poverty, alcoholism and drugs that we have have too much of in real life. I go to movies to escape from all that and to be entertained.


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