Episode 145: A Sea Change for Europe

The period of European exploration and discovery began in the 1400s as part of an effort to find new trading routes to Africa and Asia. In this episode, we look at how European sailors and merchants began to think of the ocean as an international highway rather than a barrier to travel. We also examine the naval accounts of Henry VII’s ships to reveal a variety of words recorded for the first time in English.

Episode 144: A Murder of Crows and Princes

In the second half of the 1400s, there is written evidence of word play and new word formations within English. These new terms included words for the sounds made by animals and collective nouns for various groups of animals and people.  This was also a period when the Plantagenet era came to an end, and the first Tudor monarch seized the throne.  In this episode, we examine those linguistic and historical developments.

Bonus Episode: Chaucer’s Purse and the Great Vowel Shift

In this bonus episode of the regular podcast, we explore the effects of the Great Vowel Shift on the pronunciation of English by reading Geoffrey Chaucer’s last known poem in Middle English, early Modern English and contemporary English.

Episode 143: The Great Vowel Shift (Part 3)

In this final episode about the sound changes associated with the Great Vowel Shift, we explore the vowel shifts that took place in the back of the mouth. We also explore how these changes impacted the way words are spelled in Modern English. 

Episode 142: The Great Vowel Shift (Part 2)

In this second part of our look at the Great Vowel Shift, we explore the movement of the vowel sounds located in the bottom front part of the mouth. We also examine how these sounds were traditionally spelled and how the merger of those sounds produced many homonyms within Modern English.

Episode 141: The Great Vowel Shift (Part 1)

The term ‘Great Vowel Shift’ was coined in the early 1900s by the Danish linguist Otto Jespersen to describe a systematic change in the long vowel sounds of English. The changes help to mark the transition from Middle English to Modern English. In this episode, we explore the specific changes that took place in the upper front part of the mouth. We also examine the impact of those changes on Modern English spellings.

Episode 140: You Say ‘To-may-to’

Vowel sounds are a key feature of every language, but the actual vowel sounds vary from one language to another. The English language contains about twenty vowel sounds, some of which are pure vowels and some of which are a combination of vowel sounds called diphthongs. In this episode, we explore the pure vowel sounds used in Modern English, and we examine how slight changes in the vowel sounds contribute to accent differences within Modern English.

Episode 139: The Business of Printing

William Caxton introduced the mass production of books to England in the 1470s. He was also the first person to print books in the English language via the printing press. Caxton’s publications reveal the priorities and concerns of a businessman, not those of a linguist or scholar. In this episode, we explore Caxton’s contribution to the history of English, and we examine the impact of the printing press on the development of the English language.

Episode 138: Family Matters

In the 1400s, rising literacy rates and access to cheap paper combined to produce the first collections of personal letters in the English language. One of the earliest letter collections was maintained by the Paston family of Norfolk. Their letters reflect the struggles of an upstart family against the traditional landed nobility, and they provide an important perspective on the family dispute that became known as The Wars of the Roses.

Episode 137: A Rose By Any Other Name

The rose is one of the most beloved flowers in western Europe, and it has a long association with English royalty.  In this episode, we explore the history of English gardens and the use of the rose as a symbol of various branches of the royal family.  We also examine the oldest guide to gardening composed in the English language and the origins of the conflict that became known as the ‘Wars of the Roses.’