The Canterbury Tales: The Reeve's Tale
by Geoffrey Chaucer
The Canterbury Tales: The Reeve's Tale Language and Communication Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Line). We used the line numbering found on Librarius's online edition.
This Aleyn al forgat, bothe mele and corn;
Al was out of his mynde his houbonderie.
'What, whilk way is he geen?' he gan to crie.
(222 – 224)
Here Aleyn presents another northernism with the question "Whilk way is he geen?" He replaces the –ch in "whilch" (meaning "which") with a -k, demonstrating the northern dialect's tendency to substitute –lk for –lch. Also, "goon" (for "go") becomes "geen" in Aleyn's dialect, the o's replaced with ee's this time instead of a's.
'Alas,' quod John, 'Aleyn, for Cristes peyne,
Lay doun thy swerd, and I wil myn alswa.
I is ful wight, God waat as is a raa;
By Goddes herte, he sal nat scape us bathe!
Why ne had thow pit the capul in the lathe?
Ihayl! by God, Alayn, thou is a fonne!'
(230 – 235)
Can you spot all the northernisms? In addition to many, many a's instead of o's (alswa/also, waat/woot, raa/roe, bathe/bothe), John uses a word of Scandinavian origin when he asks Aleyn why he didn't put the horse in the "lathe" (meaning barn). Also, he replaces the "u" in "put" with an "i," making this word "pit," another common northernism.
'Ye konne by arguments make a place
A myle brood of twenty foot of space.
Lat se now if this place may suffise,
Or make it rowm with speche, as is your gise.'
(269 – 270)
Symkyn is teasing the clerks here, although it's difficult for our modern ears to make out the joke. The complicated arguments scholars were fond of at this time period led some people to accuse them of using sophistry, or tricky arguments, to prove ridiculous things. So Symkyn jokingly says that John and Aleyn must be able to make his bedroom larger merely with their speech. Aren't scholars supposed to be good at that sort of thing? Symkyn asks. Although Symkyn is joking, he draws our attention to the way different kinds of speech can exclude certain groups. As a working-class person, he no doubt feels excluded by the language of scholars. This exchange is interesting in a narrative that, with the dialect of John and Aleyn, has very much focused on the way that language can form distinct groups.