By David Burnley (auth.)
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Extra info for A Guide to Chaucer’s Language
Is exactly as expected. The alternation between this narrative preterite and the narrator's present tense commentary upon his own function also serves to build up the different spheres of reference of the fiction in a way that seems entirely natural, if not inevitable, to us. But, as he begins to describe the first pilgrim, the Knight, we notice a variation from the kind of usage we would expect: A knyght ther was, and that a worthy man, That fro the tyme that he first bigan To ryden out he loued chiualrye, Trouthe and honour, fredom and curteisye.
Litel wyten folk what is to 3erne; (TC IV 198) If thaw louest thyself, thaw louest thy wif; (E 1385) 3e knowe ek that in forme of speche is chaunge; (TC II 22) For if a preest be foul in whom we truste; (A 501) And, but ye do, certeyn we shal yow teche. (D 438) , I By far the commonest indefinite pronoun in Chaucer is the word men, but we, thou, ye, he, she, and they are also used indefinitely according to whether the speaker wishes to ally himself, his addressee, or both, with the undefined; or whether he wishes to keep them separate.
The modern usage of the pluperfect occurs only in the last of the lines quoted, but it has the same chronological reference as the preceding preterites. This unmotivated variation between preterite and pluperfect is found throughout the description: 'At Alisaundre he was whan it was wonne' is matched by 'In Gernade at the seege eek hadde he be'. We must conclude, that, although the uses of the preterite, perfect and pluperfect frequently parallel their uses in modern English, Chaucer exploits a flexibility which would seem ungrammatical today.
A Guide to Chaucer’s Language by David Burnley (auth.)