Tales of Caunterbury and Middle English
The Canterbury Tales, or Tales of Caunterbury in Middle English, is a collection of 24 texts and stories comprising of about 17,000 lines and written by Geoffrey Chaucer in Middle English. It is thought to have been written between the years 1386 and 1389 and, to the date, remains one of the most popular and influential texts that survived the Middle Ages. It was written during The Hundred Years War and it is thought to have greatly contributed to re-establish English (Middle English at the time) as the predominant literary language. It is prudent to note that, up until then, the literary language of choice had been French or Latin. Before The Canterbury Tales, G. Chaucer had written and published other works (among them Troilus and Criseyde, Parliament of Fowls, House of Fame) but, according to scholars, The Canterbury Tales remained Chaucer’s masterpiece.
Naturally, there were many other socioeconomic as well as technological factors at play that contributed to the re-emergence of English as the national tongue, such as The Hundred Years War, the invention of the printing press, the outbreak of “the Great Plague”, which decimated approximately 30% of the population of England at the time, as well as the longstanding political conflicts with the church.
Language anxiety and the great concern and apparent need to perfect the language, to standardize it, can perhaps be best exemplified by the many debates about language enrichment and orthography in the beginning of the Modern English period, which would pave the way for Prescriptive Grammar in the 18th Century. Perhaps, these attempts sought (involuntarily or deliberately) to generate a sense of national unity, if nothing else, through language. The Collins English Dictionary defines an inkhorn term as “an obscure, affectedly or ostentatiously erudite borrowing from another language, especially from Greek or Latin.”