Ever since the earliest critics and imitators of Chaucer's language and style, readers of Chaucer have praised his use of the English language. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries Chaucerian poets in both England and Scotland labeled Chaucer "the master of rhetoric and eloquent diction- (Horobin, 2). The following quotations from John Lydgate's Life of Our Lady (ll. 1628-34) is typical of the fifteenth-century response to Chaucer's linguistic legacy:.
And eke my maister Chauser is ygrave.
The noble Rethor, poete of Brytayne.
That worthy was the laurer to haue.
Of poetrte, and the palme atteyne.
That made firste, to distille and rayne .
The golde dewe dropes of speche and eloquence .
Into our tunge, thurgh his excellence.
These early readers credited Chaucer with revolutionizing poetic diction in English, with many subsequent commentators echoing Thomas Hoccleve's claim that Chaucer was the " first fyndere of oure faire language- (Speirs, 6). Such a view has endured well over the last four centuries with a number of nineteenth and twentieth-century critics proclaiming that Chaucer created the English language. Though it is a bit presumptuous to say that Chaucer created the English language, there is no doubt that he did shape, create and modify Middle English, making his influence on the English language a great one. .
Chaucer lived in a time where there were differences in the spoken language in various regions in England. The language of the court was French and the schools taught Latin. Chaucer adopted the despised English tongue and set himself to modify it, to shape it, to polish it, and to render it fit for his purpose. He imported words from the French; he purified the English of his time and shaped it into a fit instrument for his use. This basis becomes important in studying the influence Chaucer had on the English language.