Three major influences helped establish the
form and style of modern English.
Geoffrey Chaucer (1345-1400) wrote the
Canterbury Tales in Middle English, the story
of a group of pilgrims who pass the time on
their way to Canterbury Cathedral telling tales
that reflect their varied walks of life.
When we were at the Huntington, we saw an
exhibit of the Ellesmere Chaucer, the most
complete version of the work and a primary
source for subsequent editions.
I enjoyed studying Chaucer in my English
classes and seeing how he made each of
his pilgrims tell stories that said something
about who they were.
King James I in 1611 authorized the version
of the Bible known today as the King James
Version, which has had an enormous
influence on the development and spread of
I grew up reading the King James Bible. I've
enjoyed more modern translations, but the
King James influenced the vocabulary and
flow of my English, as it has done for the
language in general
And William Shakespeare (1564-1616) used
the language in a beautiful and memorable
way. I enjoyed reading, studying and
watching his plays being performed, and that
influenced my use of English as well.
Thanks in no small part to these early
influences, English today has the richest
vocabulary of any language in the world.
The Oxford English Dictionary lists over
500,000 English words, where German has
185,000 and French, fewer than 100,000
Here I am in the Library at the Huntington with the Ellesmere Chaucer, an illuminated manuscript
on vellum ca. 1400-1405. The poor picture quality is because you can't use flash in the Library.
a copy of Shakespeare's first folio at the Huntington.