Middle English Pronunciation Guide

        As is the case with most things that appear over time on my website, what you see is the backbone.  This starts out with a pronunciation guide from Jacksonville State University.  At the bottom of the page will be a copy of the pronunciation of the first 18 lines of the General Prologue, as I have typed out.  I based my pronunciation on this guide and audio's that I have listened to.  It is the product of about an hour to an hour-and-a-half.  Over time, I will add more stuff.  For the benefit of anyone who wants to learn Middle English, I plan to eventually put up a complete copy of the Canterbury Tales with side by side translation.  This will occur as soon as I find a good one to use.

I found an audio file online from Harvard University of Larry D. Benson reading the first 18 lines out loud!  Check it out at the bottom of the page with the translation.  His pronunciation matches mine, so it will serve as a good guide to understanding my rendition.

(as found at http://www.jsu.edu/depart/english/treed/chpronounce.htm)

When pronouncing consonants, pronounce those that have become silent in Modern English:

A few additional things about consonants to keep in mind: The following table focuses on pronunciation of vowels. The words in the first column are Middle English words; the letters in the second column are the letters that the example teaches you how to pronounce; the words in the third column are Modern English words that give you an example of how the letters in the second column should be pronounced.

Middle English Word Letter to Focus On Modern English Example Sound Examples
name a a in father name
grene & sweete e & ee a in fate grene & sweete
sonne final e in the word e in horses sonne
shires & ryden i& y i in machine shires & ryden
cause & drawe au & aw ow in how cause & drawe
bote & good o & oo o in note bote & good
flour & fowles ou & ow oo in boot flour & fowles

The Pronunciation Project

Pronunciation note:  This doesn't follow a standard pronunciation system.  Instead, I have tried to approximate this as much as I can to actual speech.  Every time you see a bar over a letter, that gives you the long vowel sound.  For example, ō is the same o that is found in goat.  If I were to write goat in this guide for you to pronounce, I would write gō-t. The dash ( - ) is simply a reminder that all consonants are pronounced in Middle English, which is vastly different from Modern English.  It is not a pause or glottal stop; it is just a reminder to enunciate.  Aprill becomes Ah-prill here to show that you say the AH sound followed by prill, rather than making a sound out of 'ahp'.  There are a few cases, such as eek (eke) that I use the closest English word that sounds the same.  Note that in the case of eek, this doe not necessarily denote the meaning.  Eek, in Middle English, means also.  The one instance of Rr in this means to roll your R, like in Spanish.  'Thuh' is meant to keep you from pronouncing it "properly" as 'thē'.

Chaucer's "The General Prologue" -- Lines 1-18
Hear it read aloud by Larry D. Benson

Actual Text 

1         Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote
2         The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
3         And bathed every veyne in swich licour
4         Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
5         Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
6         Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
7         The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
8         Hath in the Ram his half cours yronne,
9         And smale foweles maken melodye,
10       That slepen al the nyght with open ye
11       (So priketh hem Nature in hir corages),
12       Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
13       And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,
14       To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
15       And specially from every shires ende
16       Of Engelond to Caunterbury they wende,
17       The hooly blisful martir for to seke,
18       That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke.


Approximate Pronunciation 

1         Wah-n that Ah-prill with hiss shō-urs sō-tuh
2         Thuh drog-tuh uh’ March hath pair-cèd to the rō-tuh,
3         Ah-nd bah-thèd every vaī-n in switch lee-coor.
4         Of which ver-tchoo engen-dred is the floo-ur.
5         Wah-n Zeph-ee-rus ache with his swāt-uh brāth
6         Inspeer-uhd hah-th in every halt and hāth.
7         Thuh tan-druh crop-pess, ah-nd thuh yon-guh son-nuh
8         Hahth in the Rrahm hiss hah-f course yuh-run-nuh,
9         Ahnd smah-luh fool-ess mah-ken mel-o-dee-uh,
10       Thaht slay-pin ahl the nee-ght with open ee-uh
11       (So pree-keth him Nah-toor-uh in hear coo-rah-ges),
12       Than long-en foke to gō-n on pilgrim-ah-gess,
13       Ah-nd pahl-meh-ress for to seh-kin strounge strond-ess,
14       Toh fair-ne hal-wess, couth in sahn-dree lahnd-es;
15       Ah-nd spā-sh’lly from ā-vree sheer-ess
16       enduf
* Āngh-lond tuh Counter-bury they wend-uh,
17       Thuh holly bless-ful mahr-tur fahr to sāke-uh,
18       That hem hahth hawl-pin whah-n that they wear sāke-uh.


16r -- *enduf: "end of" slurred It's written small to show that its barely spoken -- the lines read together as a phrase "Ah-nd spa-sh’lly from ā-vree sheer-ess enduf Āngh-longd tuh Counter-bury they wend-uh."