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March 24, 2006


Really Anne! I might not be s Sergeant Major (I only act like it when I think people are taking the proverbial) but I'm unashamaedly English and proud of my country's history, culture and language. I thought you guys actually had a secret liking for the old country. Now I'm not so sure.

Adrian: An English major is actually an American who studies English Literature at university here.

Sorry if that didn't translate well.

Of course I'm a hopeless anglophile. Spent a year at Univ. College London, even.

Chaucer rules. Or, er, ruleth.

Sorry I misunderstood you, Anne. When I saw the word 'Major' I immediately thought you were referring to one of the army variety. I guess it's what might be called an instance of us being 'divided by a common language.' I don't know who originally said that but I guess you'll know as you're far cleverer than I am.

Decades ago, I remember hearing that the English language was greatly influenced by a vowel shift that occurred at some time or another. If the referenced blog is accurate, am I correct in assuming that the vowel shift occurred BEFORE Chaucer?

I remember that Beowulf is completely incomprehensible to the modern English reader, but I've forgotten exactly when "Middle English" was spoken.

How can I forget such important things, yet remember life's burning questions, such as "How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?" (The answer, by the way, is 1,121. You can see how I spent my childhood.)

The only thing I remember about Chaucer is that it was used by my tenth grade English teacher to show us how to write a paper. This has messed me up ever since. Here's his paper (or what I remember of it):





Since that time, I have never been able to write a conclusion to a paper.

The Great Vowel Shift occurred very shortly after Chaucer's death circa 1400.

You definitely wrote more interesting essays than I did in high school.

Hee, what a cool blog! English geeks rule!


If you think *this* post from Inland Empress was cool...stay tuned. And check out her Book Buds blog.

This is the first I've heard of there having been a 'vowel shift' at some stage in the English language, but them I'm not really an educated man. I think 'middle English' was spoken during the 16th and 17th Centuries, what I would call the 'Cranmer to Cromwell' era. Modern English only really developed from the 18th Century onwards with the publication of Dr Jonson's dictionary. Personally I think a lot of damage was done to English during the 19th Century when #grammar school masters started to apply the same sort of grammatical rules to it which had historically governed Latin, a different and altogether terser language. Consequently what had once been a very elastic and flexible language gradually became much more rigid.

#Grammar school in this context refers to secondary (11-18) schools for the brighest 15-20% of young people. I could be wrong but I think you have grammar schools in the States which I think are what we could 'middle' or lower secondary schools.

Completely off topic, but seasonal. A blogger in Ohio, while talking about the lack of Biblical knowledge, found a Passover-related educational item at judaism.com. Here's how she describes it:

Available from Judaism.com, this plush yellow bag comes complete with each of the ten plagues:

A spooky eyed drop of blood
A Frog for frogs—of course
A Giant Lice for lice.
Cow for cattle disease
Black Locust for locusts
A white satin lump of hail
A black cube of darkness
An icky boil on a piece of flesh!
A snarling lion's head for wild beasts
And last of all a very sad head - for death of the first born.

The frog, lice, cow and locust wriggle and roll their eyes, quiver, buzz and move when you pull their string. On sale for only $15.96.

She also found chocolate Ten Commandments tablets. Yum.

And she posted a follow-up called Sweet Jesus. Heh.

Adrian: The way I learned it, Old English was the language of Beowulf, an essentially Germanic tongue. It ended the second the Normans kicked their butts in 1066. The French-speaking Normans dressed up the local tongue in funny pronunciations and Latinate words, but darned those natives for sticking to those simple Anglo-Saxon words.

The result was Middle English, which also ended rather abruptly in the early 15th century with the aforementioned Great Vowel Shift. It cemented the dialect of central Britain as the official version, what's usually called Oxford English, or Queen's English. It may've gone through a few overhauls since, but is essentially the same language that Shakespeare spoke, even with all our informality and slanginess these days.

British spellings were indeed codified by Dr. Johnson, and Noah Webster did the same on our side of the pond.

Hope that helps.

OE: I hope you had a Happy Easter. And if you ever post that disgusting stuff on my blog again, I will make you eat all my leftover matzoh.

Thanks for your informative and interesting history lesson. I think it more than proved the point that you're far better educated than I am.

Thanks - I did indeed have a Happy Easter and I hope you did too. However I have to admit that I'm rather puzzled by your last sentence!

Adrian: OE is short for Ontario Emperor, the guy who posted just after you. My Easter wishes of course extended to you too, but not the threat about the matzohs.

And, uh, thanks for the compliment. I'm not terribly well educated in any other subject but English Lit., and it never made me any money, so I'm not sure what good it does me to know all this.


Thanks Anne. Sorry I misunderstood.

Even if it doesn't make you any money I think there's a tremendous satisfaction to be had that knowing you have an in depth grasp of a subject which isn't shared by everyone. Most of the things I know a lot about (and there aren't many of them) are unlikely to make me rich either so I guess that makes two of us!

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