I keep saying that I think my students’ trouble with ME is not so much ME as small vocabularies in PDE. I’m still working my way through the last batch of translations on the final exam (while wiping my nose, and sneezing, and feeling generally yucky), and I started making a list of perfectly good words that more than one person is having trouble recognizing:

adversity, arse, assent, aught, churl, deem, ere, grisly, haunch, privily, proffer, suffer (in the sense of “allow”), sunder, twain, villainy.

“Arse” keeps coming out as “ears.” It’s not like we didn’t talk about what happens in the Miller’s Tale.

Then there are a couple of phrases that I think of as somewhat archaic, but still, I would have expected them to be recognizable to English majors: “must needs” and “plight troth.”

I’m thinking next year’s exam will have fewer chunks to translate and a very strong insistence on producing grammatically correct sentences that make sense in PDE.

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3 thoughts on “Vocabulary

  1. I have found I tend to get two types in the Chaucer to Shakespeare course I've been teaching. There are those who are taking it as a 'compulsory' pre-20th century paper, who often don't read much, who aren't majoring in English, or who really should be elsewhere (perhaps English language classes – even those from allegedly-English-speaking backgrounds). Then there are those who read avidly (for some reason, often fantasy and sci-fi), have a decent vocabulary, and ask why they have to translate Chaucer when it's perfectly obvious what it means. (Though they do, eventually, realise the gap between his English and theirs.)It's frustrating having these two groups in the same class, as one needs much more basic help, while the other could be pushed into more complex thinking.

  2. Exactly. That divide is driving me round the bend, because I feel I'm cheating both groups. I could do a good job with the poor readers and a great job with the better ones, if I just had a full class of one or the other type.

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