Here are a three questions I would like you to answer. Each one is based on a reading passage. Please respond with thoughtful sentences of your own composition, NOT just a series of cut-and-paste answers. I hope you find the passages interesting. I love these questions. They are about no less than the HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE!
Note: It turns out our English language wasn't always the global superpower language that it is today. Only a short 1000 years ago, it wasn't used much at all outside of England, and even there the educated writers preferred to write in Latin. English, or "Old English," as we call it today, just wasn't sophisticated enough to use for writing complex literature, poetry, scholarly texts, etc. So, you ask, what happened? How and when did the English language start to change? Ah, dear students, fine questions. I will answer those and more when we meet on Tuesday. In the meantime, please explore a few old examples of the language a bit. The oldest one is first. In class, I will explain a little of what changes they represent. Until then, read on :)
1. Our first look at the language is from 1000+ years ago. It was the Romans who first brought Christianity to the British Isles, and the following document is a prayer from that time: the "Lord's Prayer" in fact, which those of you who attend church will of course recognize--well, sort of--it is actually unlikely that you will recognize much! Here it is:
The Lord's Prayer
Read more: http://www.lords-prayer-words.com/lord_old_english_medieval.html#ixzz3RCRNDJc9
And here is my first question for you: can you read any of it? It might help to listen to this excellent audio recording: http://www.pastperfect.org.uk/sites/yeavering/archive/prayerclip.html
It's our language, but ... wow, that's tough stuff. I think fadaer ure must mean "our father," and heofonum is likely "heaven," but what else? Write a few comments on this piece, what you can make out, what you can't, and what you think about our language 1000+ years ago.
2. Our second stop on the tour is from about 700 years ago, when the great Geoffrey Chaucer was writing one of the first significant pieces of literature: his Canterbury Tales. You will find that the language here is easier to read (but still a little strange-looking). The language has obviously been evolving. Here are the first few lines of the Canterbury Tales, which is about a group of characters going on a pilgrimage in the spring. The basic idea with this passage is to explain what time of year it is, what inspires people to want to go on pilgrimages, and to say where these pilgrims are going:
When April with his showers sweet with fruit
The drought of March has pierced unto the root
And bathed each vein with liquor that has power
To generate therein and sire the flower;
When Zephyr also has, with his sweet breath,
Quickened again, in every holt and heath,
The tender shoots and buds, and the young sun
Into the Ram one half his course has run,
And many little birds make melody
That sleep through all the night with open eye
(So Nature pricks them on to ramp and rage)-
Then do folk long to go on pilgrimage,
And palmers to go seeking out strange strands,
To distant shrines well known in sundry lands.
And specially from every shire's end
Of England they to Canterbury wend,
The holy blessed martyr there to seek
Who helped them when they lay so ill and weak.Read more at: http://www.librarius.com/canttran/gptrfs.htm
So, if you are able to make any sense of that, then what time of year is it? What inspires people to go on pilgrimages (spiritual journeys to a temple, church, or other holy site)? Where are the characters in The Canterbury Tales going?
If you can't figure those ideas out, then simply write to me a little about how much of it you are able to understand, or not, and compare and contrast your experience a little with the previous passage. Is this one easier?
3. Our final stop is a mere 400 years ago, at the time when the notoriously hard-to-read William Shakespeare was writing. Well, let's try it out. Here is the introduction to Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. In it, you will find that he attempts to tell us the nature of the central conflict, what events happen at the dramatic conclusion of the play, and about how long the play will take:
Two households, both alike in dignity,Read more at: http://shakespeare.mit.edu/romeo_juliet/full.html
So, what do you think? Can you identify who is having a conflict? What does Shakespeare tell us will happen in the play? About how long will the play take?
If you are unable to figure those things out, try reading it out loud (it is a play after all).
If you are still unable to get the sense of it, then try this: write down three lines or phrases you do understand and explain them, and then write down three lines or phrases you do not understand at all. At least I will know then which lines I need to help out with the most :)
If you have any questions, please email me.