There is a glyph in Middle English called the yogh.You can see a manuscript version of a yogh here. The yogh was used almost exclusively for Middle English in England, but it lingered through the eighteenth century in Scotland. The yogh, along with the thorn, another of the four special medieval English characters, is used in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Sir Orfeo, two core texts for my dissertation.
I’m not alone in my desperate craving for a proper Unicode yogh; you can see some of the efforts others dealing with manuscripts on the web have had to make in order to substitute for the yogh. Here’s a scholar trying to present an edition of the Ormulum, and here’s the wonderful online edition and facsimile of the Auchinleck manuscript. Both of these examples (and I could give many more) are substituting other characters for the yogh. This sort of substitution is really not a long-term solution.
Excited by the news that Apple today added 1,000 new Classical albums to the iTunes Store, and the fact that I’ve a $20.00 iTunes gift certificate, I spent some time browsing in the store. I found new versions of King Orfeo and Tam Lin, both of which I’m writing about in the dreaded dissertation, and then I spotted this:
I was a little amused by the **; the song, based on the fifteenth century Middle English lyric from British Library MS Sloane 2393, is, after all, about a rooster. Even though people with Middle English and dirty minds (like me) will read it as something quite other, the poem ostensibly describes a medieval English rooster, complete with blue legs. You can hear a .wav sample of the song here, though you will likely regret it, unless you’re a true fan of “authentic” medieval music. The song is from the album The Chaucer Songbook: Celtic Music and Early Music for Harp and Voice (the album is halfway down the linked page), from Carol Wood et al.
Why Apple felt the two ** were necessary is beyond me. The poem is quite short so you can read it yourself, and take advantage of the helpful annotations by Eve Salisbury here (scroll all the way to the bottom of the page; it’s the last poem). Personally, I’m pretty sure Chaucer had the lyric in mind when he had the Nun’s Priest describe Chantecleer; the effictio is specific enough that antique poultry afficienados have identified the breed of chicken. But, yes, it’s a very phallic sort of rooster, what with him being all night “in my lady’s chamber,” and all.
But it’s not worth two asterisks. Really. Dare I hope that a new generation of medievalists will download the song, then learn Middle English in order to understand the bawdy joke, consequently developing a life-long love of Chaucer?
If you’re curious, you can get iTunes yourself, Mac OS X or Windows, the software’s free.