Wendy Harding

title.none: Horobin, The Language of the Chaucer Tradition (Wendy Harding)

identifier.other: baj9928.0410.001 04.10.01

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Wendy Harding, Universite de Toulouse--Le Mirail,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2004

identifier.citation: Horobin, Simon. The Language of the Chaucer Tradition. Series: Chaucer Studies, vol. 32. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2003. Pp. x, 179. $75.00 0-85991-780-0. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 04.10.01

Horobin, Simon. The Language of the Chaucer Tradition. Series: Chaucer Studies, vol. 32. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2003. Pp. x, 179. $75.00 0-85991-780-0. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Wendy Harding
Universite de Toulouse--Le Mirail

The scope of Horobin's book is broad: The Language of the Chaucer Tradition covers the orthography and morphology of the manuscripts and print editions of the Canterbury Tales as well as of Chaucer's fifteenth and sixteenth century followers, notably Hoccleve, Lydgate, and Douglas. Horobin handles this vast linguistic corpus with admirable clarity and depth thanks to his rigorous methodology and clear expository style. The Language of the Chaucer Tradition is essential reading for those specializing in either the history of English or Chaucer's language.

Though the study is highly technical, its clarity of presentation and its concern with providing comprehensive summaries of prior scholarship and definitions of linguistic terms mean that the volume is accessible to all Chaucerians. While those with an exclusively literary orientation may not find this type of study to their taste, Horobin's observations on the meter or forms of address in the Chaucer tradition merit the attention of literary critics. Even more important, this study challenges the canonical status of the Riverside edition of the Canterbury Tales, affirming the importance of consulting the manuscripts, yet concluding that "not only is the Riverside Chaucer not the Canterbury Tales, but neither is Hg nor El" (145).

Much has been written on Chaucer's language, and Horobin pays ample tribute to prior scholarship. This new study is justified by advances in linguistics (notably the "revolution in Middle English dialectology associated with the preparation and publication of the Linguistic Atlas of Late Medieval English" [10]), in the methods for analysis of linguistic corpora (and to a lesser extent sociolinguistics), and by new developments in paleography. It is made possible by computer technology and by the ongoing publication of medieval corpora, in particular The Wife of Bath's Prologue on CD- ROM. Horobin bases his study on McIntosh's hypotheses on scribal behavior (summarized on pp. 11-13) and also Samuels' account of the development of London English (summarized on pp.13-15). These theories are recalled at key intervals throughout the book, a repetition that is perhaps superfluous for specialists while making it easier for the more general reader to follow the argument.

Horobin approaches the problem of variance in the Chaucer tradition by selecting key words which demonstrate salient differences both diachronically, in the evolution toward standardized forms, and synchronically across various dialects. In clear tables he charts the occurrences of variant forms in different manuscripts and print editions. Basing comparisons of the manuscripts and print editions on this restricted data guarantees a high degree of objectivity; moreover, it permits a remarkably clear and controlled analysis of a very complex corpus.

A comparison of variants and their distribution in Hengwrt and Ellesmere demonstrates too great a consistency to be accidental, leading Horobin to conclude that they derive from "one ultimate common exemplar" (43) which he implies derives from Chaucer himself (58). The differences in the two manuscripts, i.e. the greater regularity of El, he attributes to "editorial policy" (58). The most interesting and provocative hypotheses are reserved for the book's concluding chapter, where Horobin suggests that the two manuscripts may have had different functions: "The Hg manuscript demonstrates greater consistency and regularity with regard to features which affect the pronunciation of the text, while the El manuscript appears to be more concerned with regularising the appearance of the text. Perhaps Hg was designed for reading the text aloud while El was produced for silent reading?" (144). Features such as the treatment of the adjectival final (-e) leads to the claim that Hengwrt is closer to Chaucer's own usage and to the assertion not only of "the possibility that Hg was produced during the poet's lifetime" (139) but even "that Scribe B worked under Chaucer's supervision" (139).

The findings on the language of Chaucer's followers are equally interesting. Horobin's rigorous comparative method leads to the conclusion that in details of orthography and morphology Hoccleve imitated Chaucer as transmitted by Scribe B (124). By contrast Lydgate's spelling system is more closely related to the new administrative standardized language, though his morphology recalls Chaucer's language (130). Finally, the analysis of Douglas' language shows how it mixes Middle Scots and Middle English forms, including Southern features which were by that time archaic, demonstrating the poet's interest in imitating the Chaucerian idiom.

The readability of this study is enhanced by its paratextual apparatus. There are two appendices on the Canterbury Tales manuscripts, one containing observations on their language and one listing them in chronological order, as well as two indices (an index of the key words analyzed in the course of the study precedes the index of subjects). A list of the print editions of the Canterbury Tales would have been a useful supplement to the general bibliography.