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Oct 01 2013

Canterbury Tales in Middle English, transcribed by a Mac

Once, long ago, Ms. Markham, my eleventh grade English teacher, made me memorize the beginning of the Canterbury Tales.  In Middle English.  Because it was basically a rote memory task that required repetition, it’s a parlor trick I still have in my memory banks.  I was playing around with my Mac transcription function and greatly appreciated its ability to type “Arnold Schwarzenegger” and “schadenfreude.” Obviously the next test would be Chaucer.

What I find most interesting about this transcription is that you can sort of half hear it, if you read it out loud.

One that I feel with the shorter so that,
The drop of March of passion to the realtor,
And bothered everything and switch the core
Of which virtue engendered is the floor;
One selfish act with the switch of breaking
Spirit half an difficult and hit
The gym the compass, and the young the summer
Of in the Ramas Honda Accord Urona
I’m smaller father smocking melody,
That Shevenell the needs an open yet,
So picket him not to inhere crushes,
The moving forward to going on to the motions
I’m Palmitas what to say can Strom just send those,
To family how is, Cruisin something on this;
Especially if I’m ever shadows in the
Oven but I’m to kind about it I wonder,
What it is for Monteforte to Seca
Him have open one that they were sick.

The Original:

Whan that aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of march hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
Tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the ram his halve cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye
(so priketh hem nature in hir corages);
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
And specially from every shires ende
Of engelond to caunterbury they wende,
The hooly blisful martir for to seke,
That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke.

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  1. 1
    Francie Markham

    This was very interesting. What I find amazing is how this small piece of memorizing has stuck with my former students to the point that they repeat it when they see me years and years later. There is a definite rhythm and an unquestionable “madness” to the assignment. I wish I had required more memorizing because it’s powerful and lasting. Thanks for showing me this technique. Congrats on all your academic work. Your variety of careers is astounding. Take care. Francie Markham

  2. 2
    chigau (違う)

    I was playing around with my Mac transcription function and greatly appreciated its ability to type “Arnold Schwarzenegger” and “schadenfreude.” Obviously the next test would be Chaucer.

    This is the best quip about voice transcription … evaaarrr.

  3. 3
    Martin Waddington

    I love it. It had never occurred to me that Chaucer could be processed in this way.

    It rather makes me think of the pseudo-French classic ‘Mot d’heures Gousses Rames’ {Mother Goose Rhymes) – does anyone still know this collection of nursery rhymes?
    Humpty Dumpty gets translated as ‘Un petit d’un petit…’ and so forth.

  4. 4
    APic

    Un petit d’un petit
    S’étonne aux Halles
    Un petit d’un petit
    Ah! degrés te fallent
    Indolent qui ne sort cesse
    Indolent qui ne se mène
    Qu’importe un petit d’un petit
    Tout Gai de Reguennes

  5. 5
    Cuttlefish

    It’s been some 35 or so years since I had to memorize the opening to the Prologue… and yes, it still comes back.

    Very cool.

  6. 6
    Eric Riley

    I feel terribly illiterate at this moment, but I haven’t got the opening to Canterbury Tales memorized – could you update with the actual text?

  7. 7
    Ashley F. Miller

    Whan that aprill with his shoures soote
    The droghte of march hath perced to the roote,
    And bathed every veyne in swich licour
    Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
    Whan zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
    Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
    Tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
    Hath in the ram his halve cours yronne,
    And smale foweles maken melodye,
    That slepen al the nyght with open ye
    (so priketh hem nature in hir corages);
    Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
    And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,
    To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
    And specially from every shires ende
    Of engelond to caunterbury they wende,
    The hooly blisful martir for to seke,
    That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke.

  8. 8
    leftwingfox

    I kind of want to try Jabberwock, but talking to Siri is a deeply unpleasant experience for me.

    I always come away thinking that I’m incomprehensible. If I try both Siri and handwriting recognition in the same day, I start booking CAT scans to see if I’ve become aphasic.

  9. 9
  10. 10
    Eric Riley

    Thanks! :) And thanks for adding in the original in both this post and Jabberwocky (though I actually know that one, others may not). You’re awesome!

  11. 11
    Jenora Feuer

    This reminded me of an old blog site called Japes for Owre Tymes, which local Toronto comic artist and English instructor Kari Maaren did for a while. It involved taking newspaper comic strips and rewriting them in Middle English, partly because she could, and partly because a great many of those strips had a view of society that would have been right at home back when Middle English was still spoken.

  12. 12
    coragyps

    The Very Worst Thing about knowing the Prologue is also knowing that it can be sung to the tune of the Mills Brothers’ “Glow, Little Glowworm.”

    You young’uns watch out – you may have to bleach your brains if you go look up that song………

  13. 13
    Donovan

    In college, as part of learning sounds of dead and forgotten languages, we had to memorize the opening to Beowulf in Old English. I only remember “Hwæt! We Gardena, in geardagum,” or “Hear me! We Danish soldiers, in the years of old,”

    When my professor, a small man with a soft voice and quiet demeanor, recited this well into the epic, it was amazing how imposing he became. I’d like to see a version of this done in Old English to a cartoon, so we can keep up with what’s happening. Whoever first penned this was a master.

  14. 14
  15. 15
    Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc

    Takes me back to my English Lit studies aged 17. We studied the Wife of Bath’s Tale, reading it aloud before examining the text. It made a heck of a lot more sense doing this.

    Luckily I didn’t have to memorise any of it!

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