Voices of Earlier English

Recordings of me reading English texts from the Middle Ages through the early 20th century. For each text, I use a reconstructed pronunciation that attempts to demonstrate — or, more honestly, approximate — what the text might have sounded like in its own time and place.

The evidence in each case varies, and therefore so does the exactitude I feel able to claim for my approximation. With Benjamin Franklin, we have the man's own rather detailed description of his speech sounds and a phonetic script apparently patterned on the man's own speech, as well as a wealth of orthoepic evidence for 18th century pronunciation in America and in Britain. With H. P. Lovecraft, I have only conjecture and based on his language attitudes, the impressionistic descriptions of what he sounded like, and a fortunately rather detailed historical dialect geography.

14th/15th centuries:
Geoffrey Chaucer (d. 1400) is strapped for cash and writes a hilarious poem to his purse

16th century:
1536: Thomas Wyatt writes this poem after witnessing the gruesome death of Anne Boleyn
1570s: Sir Philip Sidney starts writing sonnets like this one
1594: John Donne vents his spleen in a brilliant satire

17th century:
1650s: Andrew Marvell really wants to have get laid, and writes his mistress a poem inspired by morbid blueballs

18th century:
1776: The United States declares independence from Great Britain. Benjamin Franklin helps proofread the written declaration.
1780: At the dawn of the industrial revolution, William Blake writes this poem about child exploitation

19th century:
1849: Edgar Allan Poe writes a poem about sleeping next to a dead girl's tomb and is entombed himself that same year.

20th century:
1929: H. P. Lovecraft writes his only good poem

COMING SOON (or at least eventually):

Charles d'Orléans speaking Middle English with a Middle French Accent
Gavin Douglas' Middle Scots Aeneid
William Wordsworth's Cumbrian accent
A whole lot more John Donne



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