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The main phonological difference between Chaucer's English (the London
dialect of the late 14th century) and Present-Day English is the pronunciation
of vowels; Chaucer wrote before the Great Vowel Shift. For this reason,
many of the rhyming words in his poetry no longer rhyme today.
General Prologue, Canterbury Tales, lines 1-10
|Whan that aprill
with his shoures soote
The droghte of march hath perced to the roote,
is PDE "root"; the vowel has gone through the GVS, moving from o to u.
The word soote doesn't survive into PDE.
|And bathed every
veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
|the u in licour
and flour (PDE "liquor" and "flower") take different paths. In licour,
the vowel shortens and becomes a schwa in PDE, while the vowel in flour,
as expected, becomes a diphthong.
eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
and heeth (PDE "breath" and "heath") are an interesting pair because
they rhymed for Chaucer but don't rhyme for PDE speakers. The vowel in
(the long e) must have shortened before the
GVS (like PDE "threat" and "head"), while the vowel in heeth went
through the normal GVS raising to e and then to i.
and the yonge sonne
Hath in the ram his halve cours yronne,
and yronne are PDE "sun" and "run." The pronunction has changed,
but not due to the GVS; the short vowels in sonne and yronne
unrounded and became PDE schwas.
|And smale foweles
That slepen al the nyght with open ye
|The same thing
happens for melodye and ye as happened for breeth
and heeth. The vowel at the end of melodye is unstressed
and becomes short, so it maintains the sound i in PDE; the vowel at the
end of ye (PDE "eye") stays long and thus goes through the GVS,
Text of Chaucer's General Prologue from Oxford Text Archive
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This file is in the PUBLIC DOMAIN.
THE CANTERBURY TALES by GEOFFREY CHAUCER GROUP
For an online audio introduction to Chaucer's English, see the Language
and Linguistics section of the Geoffrey