Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Tim William Machan's "Chaucer and the History of English" appears in Speculum 87.1 (January 2012: 147-75). In the article, Machan asserts that Chaucer's place as the focal point of traditional histories of English is predicated on a flawed perception of his representativeness of a coherent Middle English. He situates the tendency as one beginning even among Chaucer's immediate successors, and remarks on the long history of critics of English as a language citing Chaucer as their major point of reference. Machan points out as a primary proof of the instability of Chaucer as a foundation for understanding of what "Middle English was really like" (to paraphrase loosely) the inconsistency of use of the second-person personal pronoun. His analysis asserts that Chaucer's usage of different numbers in that pronoun does not seem to conform to a grammatical principle, and so understandings of the character of Middle English grammar based on Chaucer's usage are necessarily suspect. While he does admit to the restrictions of his study, Machan does well at pointing out what he purports to point out, and his well-written article indicates a promising field of inquiry for other scholars.