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Diachronic continuity

 Language Learning Forum : Lessons in Polyglottery Post Reply
17 messages over 3 pages: 1 2
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292 posts - 818 votes 
Speaks: English*, French
Studies: Italian, Spanish, Latin, Uzbek

 Message 17 of 17
30 September 2010 at 7:40am | IP Logged 
There are passages in Middle English that ought be easily readable by a well-read speaker of modern English, particularly if he or she has a little knowledge of other Germanic languages. There are also passages in Italian that ought be clear to any Spanish speaker, especially if he or she has some Latin. But if you took Iversen's passage into the typical American high school English classroom, I think you'd be there quite a while before you convinced even a tenth of the students that the passage was, in fact, in their own language.

From the perspective of language learners who are used to working with unfamiliar texts and to using their knowledge of other languages in learning new ones, Middle English may not look so terribly unfamiliar. But if I think back to the first time I laid eyes on the original text of the Canterbury Tales, I remember it seeming quite strange. It was much like the first time I saw a children's version of Gulliver's adventures in Lilliput translated into Dutch - just because I could get the gist doesn't mean the Germanic languages might just as well be one big language.

What I would say, for those who want to insist that Middle English and modern English are practically the same, is that skimming a heavily glossed copy of Chaucer or Malory probably doesn't entitle you to say you study Middle English as an independent language. On the other hand, if you are working through works like Sweet's primers

( glish%20AND%20mediatype%3Atexts)

so that you can read the more difficult Middle English texts on their own terms, not as a funny sounding English, you are probably putting in at least as much effort as a French speaker learning Old French and are due some serious credit for your efforts.

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