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Early Modern English

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Iversen
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 Message 9 of 17
23 January 2014 at 1:52pm | IP Logged 
Elexi wrote:
We are talking the King James Bible, William Shakespeare and Thomas Hobbes, not Beowulf or the Pearl poet.


Well, Beowulf can't be read without some study of Anglosaxon even when using a bilingual edition. But the Pearl poet? I didn't know this author so I had to look him up, and luckily Wikiquote had the Pearl poem with a translation by Brian Stone. And frankly, I can't see why this stuff should be a problem for advanced learners and even less for native speakers. Sometimes you have to think creatively to understand a word, but with the help of the translation you can make decent guesses. Let's have a look at the 1. verse:

Allas! I leste hyr in on erbere;
Þurз gresse to grounde hit fro me yot.
I dewyne, fordolked of luf-daungere
Of þat pryuy perle wythouten spot.

Alas! In a garden I lost it, let
It go to the ground on a grassy plot.
Bereft of love, I am racked by regret
For Pearl, my own Pearl without a spot.

The letter Þ (still found in Icelandic) is the same as "th" (which again is the real culprit behind the "y" of "Ye olde shoppe" and similar aberrations). If you didn't know it you should be able to guess it when you reach "þat" ('that'). "leste" is one wowel away from "lost", but this is just another dialect from another time - so look out for other cases where "o" is rendered as "e" by the pearl poet. "erbere": think 'herbal'. "Þurз" may not be the same word as 'turf' (as in 'home turf'), but pretend that it is, and "gresse" looks distinctly like "grassy" (again with an 'e' in place of something else, - now you should almost be able to imagine how this dialect sounded! - something like /wek wek wek/).

I won't go through the whole thing, but with a translation anybody who can cope with Shakespeare should also be able to understand this poem, and once you have conquered one poem like this one you are ready to tackle other writings from the 14. century, with or without a translation. There will probably be a number of unknown words in them, and once in a while you may even suspect that something more is going on than a simple translation can render. Am I the only one to see a saucy reference in the last stanza?

"Moteleз may so meke and mylde",
Þen sayde I to þat lufly flor,
"Bryng me to þat bygly bylde
And let me se þy blysful bor."
Þat schene sayde: "Þat God wyl schylde;
Þou may not enter wythinne hys tor."

"Moteless maiden so meek and mild,"
Then said I to that fairest flower,
Bring me to that bountiful pile
And let me see your blissful bower."
"God will forbid it," the bright one said.
"You shall not enter his holy place."

Or in modern language: Poet: May I **** you? Fair maid's answer: No!!


Edited by Iversen on 23 January 2014 at 6:38pm

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Elexi
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 Message 10 of 17
23 January 2014 at 7:15pm | IP Logged 
'I can't see why this stuff should be a problem for advanced learners and even less for
native speakers.'

I can't say I agree with you here - I think that without a guide book or teaching most
native speakers who study Middle English without first mastering a transitional writer
like Chaucer would and do struggle - certainly, that was my experience when taking a
2nd year university course in medieval literature. I agree its a matter of getting a
handle on the near equivalents, but that takes time (not as long as Old English, I
grant) to be able to read fluently.

Which is my initial point - you can pick up early modern English like Thomas More's
Utopia or Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan and read them without any guide or effort - but I
don't think that is true for the Pearl poet.    
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ScottScheule
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 Message 11 of 17
23 January 2014 at 8:01pm | IP Logged 
I have to agree with Elexi. I'm a native English speaker, know more of English etymology than most--I even know what a thorn is and why Ye Old Shoppe is incorrect--but I can't read the Pearl poet. I can pick out words but there are enough unknown that each sentence's meaning remains locked. Moreover, I think this is the usual experience of the native English speaker--Shakespeare's tricky but readable, Middle English is a step too far.

Edited by ScottScheule on 24 January 2014 at 7:58pm

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Iversen
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 Message 12 of 17
24 January 2014 at 9:52am | IP Logged 
Well, maybe my timid ventures into the world of Anglosaxon, mediocre knowledge of Old Norse plus rudiments of Icelandic, French and Latin plus ample, but not recent reading of works by people like Chaucer and Shakespeare has given me a background which makes the Pearl seem almost understandable. On the other hand I'm not a native Anglophone and that should drag me in the opposite direction. But I have to accept the statements from SchottScheule and Elexi: the Pearl may be just one step beyond comprehensible even for smart native speakers.

But what is there to do about this? Short of following courses in Early Middle English there may be one trick you could try. I have sometimes read texts in dialects or languages related to something I already knew, and then it helped to try to see through the spelling and just listen to the the words in your mind. As I said this poem has often an e (probably open) instead of a and o, which I irreverendly rendered as wek-wek-wek. Imagine that you close your nostrils and try to sound slightly tired, detached and ironical - then I think the accent will be there. And then listen to the poem while you read the letters. Then the spelling "gresse" won't lead you astray - you'll hear 'grassy'. The unknown words will of course pose a problem, but there the translation should help you out - although this is a typical literary translation - with all the vagaries this entails - and not a hyperliteral one. But even with this caveat you should have less problems understanding the poem than when you just looked at the aberrant spelling and said: "no way, this is not my kind of English".

Edited by Iversen on 24 January 2014 at 9:56am

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Elexi
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 Message 13 of 17
24 January 2014 at 10:11am | IP Logged 
I think your deep linguistic knowledge helps you Iversen. I also once heard a Cambridge
professor reading the Pearl poet in what he claimed was a reconstructed accent and it
sounded very much like the accent I hear when visiting my wife's relatives on the west
coast of Jutland - so the sound of the language may be more natural to Danish ears.
Whether that is my ears playing with me or not, is a another matter, however.
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dmaddock1
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 Message 14 of 17
24 January 2014 at 6:05pm | IP Logged 
Just to bring this back to the OP's initial question for a moment--

First, I notice that English is not your native language. Mostly likely, all the resources you encounter will assume it is, which may make things a bit harder for you because an educated native English speaker can go all the way back to Early Middle English with minimal help. Second, since you used the very specific phrase "Early Modern English" I assume, as Elexi did, that you mean that specific period. Given those assumptions, here are my thoughts:

As others have said, this dialect is comprehensible to educated native English speakers. Archaic idioms and vocabulary are stumbling blocks, but any decent book should have notes and a glossary to help you. Since this period is at the end of the Great Vowel Shift, pronunciation is fairly close to modernity and no one worries too much about the differences. Orthography is commonly regularized.


Now, going back to the Middle English period that Iversen discussed--

If Shakespeare is the canonical example for Early Modern English, Chaucer is the canonical example for Middle English. Bilingual English versions of Middle English works are more common. There is a small learning curve here for native English speakers. However, Chaucer is commonly taught in Middle English at university and students quickly get used to it in a few weeks just by reading it. Pronunciation of vowels is different but spelling is entirely phonetic. Reading out loud really makes things easier. The Tolkien Professor's intro lecture on Middle English found here is typically all that's provided to get started.

This is the point where English really started diverging from the Germanic family due to the influence of Norman French. But, I'd guess that a native speaker of any Germanic language with decent English ability would have a similar experience.


Going back even further to Old English (pre-Norman Conquest; eg. Beowulf). This is really a foreign language for Modern English speakers to the point that a native speaker of a different Germanic language might even have an advantage over a monolingual English speaker.

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Elexi
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 Message 15 of 17
24 January 2014 at 7:55pm | IP Logged 
Here's a nice example from Gawain and the Green Knight (beware the audio clunk at the
start!).

http://www.yorkshiredialect.com/mesound.htm

Edited by Elexi on 24 January 2014 at 7:56pm

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1e4e6
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 Message 16 of 17
24 January 2014 at 10:46pm | IP Logged 
Spoken Old English also sounds nothing similar to Modern English. This man recites am Old
English poem in a town where I used to visit quite often:

Old English in Durham

It is true that probably an Icelandic, German, Dutch, or Faroese speaker has more
opportunity to learn this with more ease than a native Anglophone.


Edited by 1e4e6 on 24 January 2014 at 11:05pm



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