Bronwen Hruska makes a fundamental error in her otherwise fine article about Sarah Jessica Parker ("The Sunshine Girl," March 3): "And next she's set to take on Old English with 'The Canterbury Tales.' "
The Germanic languages called English are divided into three distinct periods and are in fact three distinct languages. Old English (also known as Anglo-Saxon) is the Teutonic-sounding language of "Beowulf" and of King Alfred the Great's religious translations from Latin; it spanned the period AD 449 to 1100: "Faeder, ic syngode on heofon and beforan oe."
After the Norman conquest in 1066, English became more "Frenchified" and evolved into Middle English (1100-1500): "Fadir, Y haue synned in to heuene, and bifor thee." Middle English was the language of Chaucer and his "Canterbury Tales."
Modern English, "Father, I have sinned to heaven and before thee," is the language of Shakespeare, Dickens, Mark Twain, Cole Porter and Dennis Hopper. It spans from 1500 to the present, with the possible exception of some California 10th-grade classes.