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>  News Releases >   2003 >   April

Adopting Chaucer's language

Posted 04/07/03, by James Donnelly

Dartmouth students learn to read and speak Middle English

In Peter Travis's Chaucer class, students are encouraged not just to learn to read Middle English poetry but to speak it aloud as if they were onstage.

"It can be daunting, learning to read something that on first blush looks dissimilar to English as we know it," says Travis, professor and chair of the English department. "But I find students really get into the project."

Travis says prior to college, most students have only read Chaucer that has been translated into modern English. Middle English differs from modern English in several important ways. Vowel sounds and spellings have changed: sonne instead of "sun" or shoures instead of "showers." Then there are words no longer common today, such as courage (heart) and holt (forest.) These and other difficulties can make adopting Chaucer's language a challenge.

As it turns out, though, learning to read Middle English is just the beginning of learning to read Chaucer.

"We spent a few days at the beginning of class on pronunciation," says Andy Lusk '03. "But we pretty rapidly moved on to analysis and theory."

Emily Meier '05 notes the actual study of Chaucer doesn't differ significantly from the study of other authors. "It may seem ridiculous to apply feminist or post-modern criticism to Chaucer, but he talks about the major issues-love and friendship and death. Learning to read his words helps us get to our own words."

- James Donnelly

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