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Chaucer's Phislyas: A Problem in Paleography and Linguistics

Philip D. Ortego
The Chaucer Review
Vol. 9, No. 2 (Fall, 1974), pp. 182-189
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25093301
Page Count: 8
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Chaucer's Phislyas: A Problem in Paleography and Linguistics
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Abstract

There are linguistic barriers between Chaucer and contemporary readers, for we depend on explanatory notes to understand Chaucer's lexicon. Uncertain glosses for words like "phislyas" (Epilogue to the Man of Law's Tale) create lexical ambiguities which make it hard to determine the precise reading of Chaucer's text. Though variously glossed, the safest is that it is of uncertain origin. Most explanations must be rejected for one which aligns the proper images Chaucer may have had in mind. Suggested origins of the word face the problem of fitting the proffered meaning into the context of the utterance without violently wrenching the syntax of the lines. In terms of the conspectus represented in the Tales, the Shipman must be referring to "physics" or Medicine. Such a reference completes the contextual configuration of the lines. Unfortunately we don't know 14th century English well enough to solve linguistic riddles of this sort, for at heart the enigma may be a voco-paleographic one. Phonetic renditions plus scribal corruptions create insuperable problems. But a closer working relationship between paleography and linguistics may help us to better comprehend Middle English.

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