Problems with English Class: 4

It’s a question of language. Newmark’s Door likes “straightforward modern English.” He says that nothing else should be read.

With an exception or two, students should only be asked to read works written in straightforward modern English. No dialect, no Olde English, little Faulkner. My high school English teacher delighted in having the class read aloud from The Canterbury Tales. To what end, I have no idea. (I’ll except Shakespeare and maybe Tom Sawyer.)

No one is reading Old English in their high school classrooms. It’s an entirely different language from English, with its own syntax, vocabulary, grammar rules, etc. You have to have a class in the language before you can read anything in it.

And I CERTAINLY agree that Faulkner’s not much fun. (I flunked a quiz on one of his books that another guy in my class aced using Cliff Notes.)

But to avoid the Canterbury Tales, just because it’s not in modern English, is to miss the funniest, bawdiest, weirdest tales in English history. What student wouldn’t laugh at someone getting farted on? Or having their butt burnt? Or someone thinking the world was really flooding? (“The Miller’s Tale”) I translated it as we read it in class. But there’s some fun stuff in there. I mean Chanticleer has even been turned into a kid’s story, like a more modern Aesop. (“The Nun’s Priest’s Tale”)

It is hard to read dialect. Modern authors are told not to write in dialect, but just to put it in “regular English.” But I think it sometimes diminishes the tale. No, I don’t always want to read dialect, but I do think it adds to the verisimilitude of the story.

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