Learning Middle English

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seesinsilhouette
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Learning Middle English

Postby seesinsilhouette » Fri Mar 11, 2011 2:05 pm

Im interested in learning Middle English, can anyone recommend any good instructional reading for a novice beyond Chaucer?



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gregory23b
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Re: Learning Middle English

Postby gregory23b » Fri Mar 11, 2011 2:41 pm

Early modern is slightly easier to get a grip on, ie mid to late 15th C English. You have a huge source of normal (ish) people's correspondence, so you get a good range of written styles. You could then back track.

I suggest the Pastons, The Celys, The Stonors and get a well produced anthology of late medieval english literature, bearing in mind, literature is not letters and receipts etc. the first and last families also have documents going back well before the 15thc, the Stonors go back to the 13thc, the Pastons, 14thc. So you can see a development of the language within the same families and associates.

check out the middle english dictionary link below, it goes up to the early 16thc.

I would also get hold of some decent paleography sources, that helps you read the letter forms, there is more medieval written material that has been untranscribed/translated than has been. Letters, local documents - eg I found a call for the sailors of Ipswich to be ready in the event of piracy, this was late 15thc. As far as I am aware, not in a book, but a nice parchment decree.

Being able to identify the various character forms can open the doors to more info.

Get a good etymological source too, it can help with the uptake of apparently odd words, when they are not. eg pale = pole, palings


Check local archives.


middle english dictionary

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seesinsilhouette
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Re: Learning Middle English

Postby seesinsilhouette » Fri Mar 11, 2011 5:07 pm

Much appreciated, I shall have a root around and see what I can find. To be honest I'd love to find a course I could do but the only one I'm finding is a Masters in medieval English ( not exactly novice level!)

Any other links/ books/ documents people can suggest are most welcome.

In the meantime, I have some reading to do...



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Re: Learning Middle English

Postby sally » Fri Mar 11, 2011 6:39 pm

There are some exellent dual page texts out there, things like Gawain and the Green Knight are available with the modern text on one side of the page and the old or middle English on the other, makes it very easy to acclimatise yourself to reading in the original as you can read the original for the feel and rhythym, then the modern translation for nuances of meaning that you may have missed.

I did half my degree in Medieval English, I'll go and stand in front of the bookshelf with my textbooks on it tomorrow and see if I can recall which books were the most useful.



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Nottinghamster
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Re: Learning Middle English

Postby Nottinghamster » Fri Mar 11, 2011 7:19 pm

I found this interactive Paleography site from the National Archives to be quite fun
http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/pala ... efault.htm



seesinsilhouette
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Re: Learning Middle English

Postby seesinsilhouette » Fri Mar 11, 2011 8:20 pm

Thank you Sally, that's most kind of you :)



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gregory23b
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Re: Learning Middle English

Postby gregory23b » Fri Mar 11, 2011 8:58 pm

For non-literature, the Paston Letters and Papers, ed. Norman Davies Vol 1, 2, plus the Beadle and Richmond Vol. 3, have the letters transcribed into print, but with the original spelling and expanded contractions, plus the thorn character where it occurs. A very valuable set of books. I use them a lot for 15th C reference, the letters are interesting, but the bills and receipts are of equal importance. You get the benefit of a range of language styles, the formal between learned people, the formal but more laboured' Margaret Paston and sometimes quite simple from people making petitions.

They also have some reproductions of some of the letters featured, so you get to see the handwriting variations too.


middle english dictionary

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behanner
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Re: Learning Middle English

Postby behanner » Wed Mar 23, 2011 6:42 am

The key to Middle English is realizing that it is spoken language written down, whereas modern English is the opposite.
So one of the keys to reading Middle English is to sound out the letters instead of looking at them as a word. Most native English speakers do fine reading Middle English this way for post Chaucer material. Pre-Chaucer gets a little bit more difficult. Also some words have changed meanings so if meaning is important look up the word in the MED.



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Re: Learning Middle English

Postby gregory23b » Wed Mar 23, 2011 5:58 pm

There are some tricky ones though.

the double g.

juggez, or jugges is judges. as well as with the dj.

sounded as two g with a j or a dg sound, rather than as a hard gg

There is also a poem that spells the word 'judges' as jugges
The next line also talks about 'brigges' - bridges.


middle english dictionary

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behanner
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Re: Learning Middle English

Postby behanner » Wed Mar 23, 2011 7:30 pm

I'm not sure how much of that one is American vs British pronounciation and how much of it is just being flexible in pronounciation. There will always be words that are difficult or odd and that is what the MED is for.



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Re: Learning Middle English

Postby gregory23b » Wed Mar 23, 2011 9:54 pm

I am not sure the MED is giving pronunciation advice, so much as verbatim spellings etc. Certainly the Paston references are as written, at least the ones I have in the Davies Books.

The poem was one I remembered from years back, when I first got into this hobby, it stood out against the hard phonetic pronunciation that we are told about. Funny how things stick in the mind, mine at least.


middle english dictionary

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behanner
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Re: Learning Middle English

Postby behanner » Wed Mar 23, 2011 11:08 pm

Theoretically the spelling is the pronounciation in Middle English. It just may or may not be how we pronounce it. And there are studies on these variations. There is actually an atlas that breaks it all down by regions and what not. The reading it phonetically for modern readers is just a way to approach it that increases the learning curve.



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Re: Learning Middle English

Postby Tod » Thu Mar 24, 2011 10:42 am

Maybe a daft question. How do you know that how they wrote it down was how they spoke?



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Re: Learning Middle English

Postby Fox » Thu Mar 24, 2011 10:50 am

There's a lot that can be extrapolated from rhyme and meter, for instance from Chaucer.

That does make the assumption that Chaucer was intended to be heard aloud not read from the page, but I think that would fit with what we know about 14thC culture.

It has even been proposed that this tell us something about accent.



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behanner
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Re: Learning Middle English

Postby behanner » Fri Mar 25, 2011 11:28 pm

Tod wrote:Maybe a daft question. How do you know that how they wrote it down was how they spoke?


It is only daft because because I don't actually know, I just read the people who study this stuff from time to time.
To make a big complicated thing simple, they look at spelling variation particularly by the same author or as people copy a text. Because you can phonetically write many words more then one way, hence homonymns, a person is much more likely to write the same word two different ways if they are writing phonetically. And languages cycle and what not and standards develope and break down. Modern Standard English actually developes out of a particular branch of English that emerges in the early 15th century known as Chancery English. As Chancery English becomes more important over the course of the 15th century due to its importance people adopt more Chancery spellings, whether they adopt the pronounciations is another question. A good example of this is the Pastons. The male Pastons, especially the brothers John, have English closer to Chancery English then most of the other authors in the collection. It is assumed that this is because they would have had more exposure and dealings with it and others outside of East Anglia who also had dealings with Chancery English.

For a modern person reading it phonetically is half trick and half following closer the process that created it and therefore making it easier to understand. How we would pronounce a particular set of letters is likely atleast somewhat different then how someone who wrote the Middle English but because of the evolution of the English language there are enough similarities that we can usuallly see the connections if we pronounce it.



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Re: Learning Middle English

Postby Lonestan » Wed May 04, 2011 10:05 pm

I've not long started reading 'An Introduction to Middle English' by Smith and Horobin (2002). It's pretty useable and readable and puts ME in a (brief) historical context; the only thing that I'm struggling with is its method for pronunciation! It's helped me with reading the Paston letters and the Boke of St. Albans, so... recommend.


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