Hear Chaucer’s ‘The Canterbury Tales’ in the 14th Century English on a New App

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Something that makes Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales so exceptional is Chaucer chose to write it in the common Middle English language used at the time instead of Latin or French. No one knows exactly why he went this route, but The Canterbury Tales is one of the greatest English language works of poetry.

Because Middle English is an ancient version of our English and hardly sounds or reads the same, The Canterbury Tales we likely studied in school was not exactly how Chaucer wrote it. To hear his unabridged version, though, University of Saskatchewan researchers developed an app that reads The Canterbury Tales in its original Middle English.

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In a press release, project leader, University of Saskatchewan English professor Peter Robinson said, “We want the public, not just academics, to see the manuscript as Chaucer would have likely thought of it—as a performance that mixed drama and humor.”

The app features a 45-minute narration of the “General Prologue,” and developers are working on two more apps for “The Millers Tale,” and a few other stories. There is also a line-by-line narration in modern English so you don’t get lost if your Middle English is a little rusty.

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Chaucer died before completing the entire work. Scholars have had to piece together 80 manuscripts to figure out various editions, but there’s no one official text to be found. The “General Prologue” included in the app is the Hengwrt manuscript likely written by Chaucer’s scribe, Adam Pinkhurst.

Terry Jones, a medievalist and member of Monty Python, contributed to the project. Jones’ two books on Chaucer and his translation of the “General Prologue” are included on the app’s notes and introduction. This was his last academic project before he died on January 21, 2020. Robinson called Jones an inspiration.

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The app is available for free on on Google Play or iTunes. There’s also a desktop version available here.

Download it now to hear The Canterbury Tales in its original intended flowing form!