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Dialectal Awareness in the Reeve's Tale Essay

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Dialectal Awareness in the Reeve's Tale


Throughout any given period of human history, language has been the
highest expression of observable and transmissible culture. Individuals generally
affiliate themselves with those of like culture and characteristics and tend
to shun those who express qualities and beliefs that are different
from what is commonly accepted or familiar. Wedges are often driven in the midst
of identical groups of people with common beliefs, simply because one particular
dialect of their language is strange to the ear of another group, or is difficult for
that other group to understand . The differences between the Northern and
Southern Middle English dialects of the late 1300's were, for many valid reasons, so
distinct that over time lines of demarcation were conceived, as were stereotypical
views of the people who spoke the language of the North. But fourteenth century
poet Geoffrey Chaucer saw beyond the divisions to the heart of the matter; he
recognized the efficacy and validity of the Northern dialects, considering them as
no less proper forms of English than his own native "Londonese"-- a mixture of
Southern and East Midlands dialects. It is by capitalizing upon these well-known
stereotypical views through his distinct dialectal differences that Chaucer helps
Oswald the Reeve get "one up" on the impertinent Miller through his own savvy,
satirical Canterbury tale.

In order to understand the implications that dialectal differences would have
had upon the Southern view of a Northern speaker of Middle English, one must
first investigate the individual differences that clearly existed between the two
forms of the language. As there was no standardization of the ...


... middle of paper ...


...frey. The Canterbury Tales: Nine Tales and the General Prologue.
Ed. V. A. Kolve and Glending Olson. New York: W. W. Norton, 1989.
Clark, Cecily. "Another Late Fourteenth-Century Case of Dialect Awareness."
Review of English Studies 40 (1989): 504-505.
Ellis, Deborah S. "Chaucer's Devilish Reeve." Chaucer Review 27 (1995): 150-161.
Geipel, John. The Viking Legacy: The Scandinavian Influence on the English and
Gaelic Languages. London: David & Charles, 1971.
Hughes, Arthur and Peter Trudgill. English Accents and Dialects : An
Introduction to Social and Regional Varieties of British English. Baltimore:
University Park P, 1979.
Mossé, Fernand. "Introduction." A Handbook of Middle English. Trans. James A.
Walker. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1952.
Woods, William F. "The Logic of Deprivation in The Reeve s Tale." Chaucer
Review 30 (1996) : 150-161.


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