> similar? I've seen the Middle English version. It didn't
> sound much like "modern American English" to me.
Is Shakesperean English modern? Of course not. Many people have trouble understanding it. One could just as easily produce a version of Romeo and Juliet in Modern English (and call it Westside Story).
Shakesperean English is differentiated from Middle English yet, as my transliteration of Chaucer's spelling shows, Chaucer is closer to Shakespeare, in vocabulary and form, than is Shakespeare to me.
When that our Host had heard this sermon,
He (be)gan to speak as lordly as a king,
He said, "What amounteth all this wit?
What should we speak all day of holy writ?
The devil made a Rev. for to preach,
And of a soldier a shipman, or a leach.
Say forth thy tale, and tarry naught the time.
Lo Depeford, and it is half-way prime.
Lo Grenewych, there many a shrew is in'e!
It were all time thy tale to biggin'e."
All I have done here is alter the spelling. Yet, the passage is easily readable and makes perfect sense. Do you disagree?
Now, if you really want to confuse people about this fact, you codify a system of pronounciation (perhaps derived from Chaucer's rhyming scheme) emphasizing its dialectic differences from an almost equally imaginary "modern" pronounciation (the latter forms, no doubt influenced by the adoption of English by Anglo-Saxon, Viking and Norman immigrants) and -- presto -- you get the illusion that people are speaking a different language!
This, despite the fact that you've no way of knowing if Chaucer's accent/dialect was dominant or even prominant in the English countryside of his day (I would suggest, in fact, that the idea of a universal English dialect makes no sense in a Medievel setting -- and I point to the multiplicity of English dialects that exist to this day among rural English-speaking populations the world over).
If it is permissable to differentiate languages one from another on the basis of how easily understandable they are to the subjective listener, there are several British sit-coms, I would insist, spoken in a language I have never heard!