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Want an app to read you the Canterbury Tales in Middle English? You’re in luck.

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February 17, 2022, 1:07pm

If you ever took an English class where you read the Canterbury Tales, there’s a strong likelihood you had to perform the opening in Middle English, using pronunciation guides or YouTube videos (depending on the year) to guide you. Now, said students can upgrade their practice (and do much more) with CantApp, a free app for phone and desktop developed by academics at UCL, the University of Saskatchewan, and The National Library of Wales.

Using the Hengwrt manuscript, one of the earliest manuscripts of the Tales, CantApp reads you the Tales in Middle English. (Lina Gibbings performed the text.) Users also have access to content like a modern English translation, vocabulary explaining Middle English words, notes, and commentary. You can toggle through the text line by line and easily see the modern translation below the Middle English text.

In listening to the Tales read aloud, write the creators, readers can hear the story it was initially intended—as a performance piece, like Chaucer may have performed it in the court of Richard II—and catch shifts in the text that aren’t as immediately recognizable on the page.

“While the app has material which should be of interest to every Chaucer scholar, it is particularly designed to be useful to people reading Chaucer for the first time,” said UCL professor Richard North, one of the app’s creators. “These include not only bachelor of arts university students and school children but also members of the public who have their own interest in Chaucer and his works.”

Monty Python star Terry Jones, a medievalist who wrote on Chaucer, was also intimately involved in the creation of CantApp; his translation of the Tales’s General Prologue and his books feature heavily in the app’s introduction and supplementary material. Jones passed away a week before the 2020 release of CantApp, and the app is dedicated to his memory.

Play around with CantApp on desktop here. As the introduction to the app reads: “This is Geoffrey Chaucer’s work. He the man.”

[CantApp, UCL]

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