Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff

CHAUCER’S FUTURE SHOCK

IT’S SAID we live in a time of future shock. And certainly I would agree with this as to our means of communication. Mobile devices, for example, evolve with astounding rapidity.

However, the medium of communication—our English language—has been surprisingly slow in its evolution.

Here’s a thought experiment: Imagine an English Language Time Machine. Reverse it more than 200 years, to when Thomas Jefferson wrote the following:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Not only a compelling thought, but also a beautifully clear example of our language.

Thomas Jefferson would experience little future shock with today’s English.

Next, let’s reverse the time machine another 200 years, to when William Shakespeare composed the following for his play As You Like It:

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts.”

Clear and concise to us today; perfectly crafted English.

William Shakespeare invented a lot of our language; he too would have no problem with today’s English.

But now let’s back up another 200 years, to the year 1400. Geoffrey Chaucer wrote:

“And for ther is so gret diversite in Englissh and in writing of oure tonge, so preye I God that non myswrite the, ne mysmetre for defaute of tonge.”

Geoffrey Chaucer’s language was transformed in less than 200 years to Shakespeare’s. Image, from Who Murdered Chaucer? A Medieval Mystery.

Quite apart from the difficulty of typing Middle English with the spelling check active, it’s a nontrivial matter for us—or Shakespeare, or Jefferson—to translate this into our English.

An excellent source on the man and his era: Who Murdered Chaucer? A Medieval Mystery, by Terry Jones, St. Martin’s Press, 2003.

In that brief 200 years, from Chaucer’s time to Shakespeare’s, English made its giant leap from Middle To Modern.

Now that’s future shock. ds

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This entry was posted on September 6, 2012 by in I Usta be an Editor Y'Know and tagged , , .
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