Eric Eliason

title.none: Higuchi, Studies in Chaucer's English (Eliason)

identifier.other: baj9928.9803.004 98.03.04

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Eric Eliason, Gustavus Adolphus College,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1998

identifier.citation: Higuchi, Masayuki. Studies in Chaucer's English. Tokyo: Eicho sha, 1996. Pp. viii, 506. $110.00. ISBN: ISBN 4-268-00258-8.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 98.03.04

Higuchi, Masayuki. Studies in Chaucer's English. Tokyo: Eicho sha, 1996. Pp. viii, 506. $110.00. ISBN: ISBN 4-268-00258-8.

Reviewed by:

Eric Eliason
Gustavus Adolphus College

Studies in Chaucer's English is a book which does not fit neatly into the usual categories of contemporary Anglo-American scholarship. Masayuki Higuchi, Professor of English at Hiroshima University, has written a work which at different moments strives to refine our knowledge of Chaucer's grammar, to modify the methods of Russian Formalist literary analysis, and to identify the "comedy" referred to in Troilus and Criseyde. On the whole, two prominent tendencies characterize the book: a tendency to focus very precisely on narrowly defined topics and a tendency toward comprehensive thoroughness in considering evidence. The "reference" sections of the book are well served by these tendencies; the literary sections less so.

Since the book is likely to be hard to come by (no North American libraries had catalogued it at the time of this review) and since the breadth of the book's title tends to conceal the specificity of its contents, it may be useful here simply to reproduce the table of contents for those wondering whether the book will be useful to them:

I. Syntactic Studies1. The progressive form1.1 Participial adjective vs. participle1.2 Verbs used in the progressive classification1.3 Stative Verbs1.4 Non-stative verbs1.5 Doubtful cases1.6 Type: There was many a bird singing1.7 BEN-ellipsis1.8 The meaning of the progressive1.9 Frequency and significance of the progressive in Chaucer2. The perfect form2.1 BEN-perfect vs. HAVEN-perfect2.2 Present perfect: description2.3 Syntactic characterization of the present perfect2.4 Past perfect2.5 Perfect infinitive2.6 Ellipsis3. Functions of the present participle3.1 Attributive use3.2 Predicative use3.3 Free adjunct4. Functions of the past participle4.1 The past participle for the infinitive4.2 Roles of the preverbal y- II. Lexical and Textlinguistic Studies5. Textlinguistic analyses of the Canterbury Tales5.1 Theoretical framework5.2 Analysis of the Miller's Tale5.3 Analysis of the Reeve's Tale5.4 Analysis of the Pardoner's Tale6. Use and meanings of WENEN6.1 Complementary distribution6.2 Evidence6.3 Comparison with other verbs of thinking6.4 Point of view6.5 Counterexamples?--negation6.6 Backgrounding of the conterfactual force6.7 Use of WENEN in various works6.8 Conclusion6.9 Application to Chaucer's works7. A search for Chaucer's comedy7.1 Definitions of tragedy and comedy7.2 Ascent and descent7.3 Fortune7.4 Chaucer's "comedy"7.5 How did Chaucer evaluate NPT?7.6 Conclusion

Part I takes up 400 of the book's 500 pages and represents an exhaustive study of Chaucer's use of verbal constructions using the past or the present participle. It is, to say the least, an astonishing labor of collection and classification. Section 2.2, for example, consists of a complete inventory "in alphabetical order [of] all the examples of the present perfect composed of "haven+pp." found in Chaucer's whole works" (83), first in the active voice, then in the passive. Other such lists, along with summative charts, appear copiously throughout Part I. In addition to his painstaking collecting and sorting of examples, Professor Higuchi liberally annotates his evidence with notes to the previous scholarship on the points under scrutiny. In his preface, Professor Higuchi anticipates the "possible criticism that this study is overabundant with citations" (p. iv) and quotes in his defense the aphorism that "'although theory may date, description remains' (Ando)" (iv). The thoroughness and elegance of Professor Higuchi's description probably justifies such a claim -- any scholar concerned with the syntactic structures treated by the book will find a valuable store of information.

On the whole, Part I is mainly descriptive, but the book does claim to offer some modifications to existing accounts of Chaucer's linguistic usage. For instance, Mustanoja's claim that the prefix y- does not appear in Chaucer's prose is countered by nearly 200 counterexamples (383ff; though see below). Likewise, the book challenges existing explanations of odd syntactic constructions such as "I was go walked fro my tree" (Book of the Duchess, line 387). New insights are produced as well, such as the demonstration that the use of progressive form increases in Chaucer's later works. New claims are made as well for explaining the distribution of rival forms, such as "be gone," "were gone," and "had gone." The relative density of such challenges and observations, however, is thin, and they do not call for major revisions in the standard histories of Middle English. For the most part, the book's accomplishment is its comprehensive description.

One small problem with this description is worth mentioning, even though it is dwarfed by its merits. Professor Higuchi fails to take into account systematically the gap between what Chaucer wrote and what is printed in the Riverside Chaucer. The processes of scribal corruption and editorial restoration will necessarily add a layer of uncertainty to any analysis of Chaucer's language -- an uncertainty which is obscured by this book's ambition for total completeness in description. I don't wish to be misunderstood: Professor Higuchi does from time to time pay attention to the variation extant in the manuscript witnesses and printed editions of Chaucer's works, and I have not found any instances where his general conclusions are vulnerable to counterdemonstration. But the absence of 100% certainty of text does perhaps call into question the effort expended to account for 100% of the instances of a syntactic form. And in some instances, ignoring the separation between what Chaucer wrote and the words that are printed in our books leads Professor Higuchi to more difficult explanations than are necessary. For instance, in studying the y- past participle in Chaucer's prose, he discovers that the overwhelming majority of instances occur in Boece. In section he asks why this might be and concludes that "the y-pp. is frequently employed in Boece to produce an exotic style (387). But in light of the textual notes to Boece in the Riverside Chaucer, which assert that the archetype of all surviving Boece manuscripts is demonstrably altered from what Chaucer wrote, and that the orthography of the copy-text used "differs considerably" from other witnesses to the Chaucerian texts (1151), it is more likely that the abundance of y- past participles reflects an accident of textual transmission than a stylistic choice on Chaucer's part.

In Part II, the last 100 pages of the book, Professor Higuchi takes up a number of unrelated topics. Chapter 5 attempts to modify formalist literary theory by emphasizing semantic contiguity as a central integrating factor in producing "literariness." This modified theory is then turned on three of the Canterbury Tales, with results which largely reiterate the conclusions of other literary critics, but which are presented in a novel fashion. The Miller's Tale, for instance, is shown to be integrated by the various puns and connotations centered on "pryvetee"; the Reeve's Tale is integrated by the concept of "beguiling"; and the Pardoner's Tale by the concept of "death." While most readers will assent intuitively to these conclusions, scientifically minded skeptics may be persuaded by the charts and diagrams of semantic association offered by Professor Higuchi. The carefulness of these demonstrations sometimes borders on the comic: that farts stink is verified by reference to the Summoner's Tale, for example. Since no attempt is made to contextualize the reading strategies of formalism with other strategies, these interpretations of the tales are likely to interest mainly those already committed to formalism.

Chapter 6 establishes that the Middle English verb of thinking "wenen" very often carries a counterfactive valence. This observation is then applied to some specific uses of the verb in Chaucer, adding some subtlety to passages from Boece, the Merchant's Tale, and Troilus and Criseyde.

Chapter 7 argues that the reference in Troilus and Criseyde 5.1788 to a "comedy" ought to be read as a specific reference to the Nun's Priest's Tale.

There are two notable lapses in the book's overall carefulness of production (it is one of the most handsomely produced academic books I've ever seen): not all of the parenthetical references have corresponding entries in the bibliography (especially, I noted, in chapter 5), and the index is too brief and idiosyncratic to be genuinely useful.

In trying to write an account of this book, I have been struck by the difficulty of correlating the evident interests, methods, and audiences of Japanese scholarship on Chaucer with the interests, methods and audiences now current in Europe and North America. The scholar who set out to describe the main areas of continuity and difference between these scholarly communities, and to propose fruitful areas of interchange, would provide an excellent service to the global community of medieval studies.