re: Book 1 xxvii (Preliminary). Orthographies in medieval text

content of the foregoing edited from text in Martin Irvine’s superb The Making of Textual Culture ‘Grammatica’ and Literary Theory 350–1100. (No.19 in the series: Cambridge Studies in Medieval Literature).

The Othographies of medieval Latin texts.

from: ‘Spelling’ in ‘Latin in the Middle Ages’ – from the Dictionary of Medieval Latin (website).

Although Classical spellings were generally retained for inherited vocabulary, changes in pronunciation  — many the same as those which had led to the divergence of the everyday Romance languages from Latin and from each other — influenced the corresponding spelling of the words. Thus we often find ci before a vowel where the Classical spelling would have been ti (e.g racio for ratio), and the diphthongs ae and oe which had come to be pronounced the same as the simple e sound are often written e. (We also find as a result examples where ae or oe are written where the expected spelling would be just e.) Other alternations in spelling arising from changes in pronunciation are the interchange of b and v, the insertion or deletion of h, the use of single consonants for double ones (and vice versa), and the substitution of y for i. Sometimes spellings were also influenced by the pronunciation of a word in the everyday local language related to or derived from the Latin word (or thought to have been so).

For new vocabulary the writers often faced the challenge of having no certain model to follow.

While writers of Latin still had some sense of words having ‘a spelling’, inherited from the standardized Classical language, this principle was already undermined by variation, and for borrowed vocabulary, the source language (Old or Middle English, Anglo-Norman French, etc.) typically had no single standard spelling that could be borrowed. Indeed, the word in the source language would usually have had slightly different pronunciations in different areas in any case.

Moreover, frequently the borrowed vocabulary would contain sounds not found in inherited Latin vocabulary, such as the ‘sh’ sound of English and French. Writers would therefore use the Latin alphabet as best they could to represent the words they wished to write. We find some extreme examples in British Medieval Latin of the resulting variation, such as ‘maeremium’ (‘timber’, borrowed from Anglo-Norman merim and related words, originally derived from Late Latin materiamen) which is attested in more than 50 different spellings (e.g. maerremium, mahermium, maisremium, etc.).

Finally, we must remember that writing materials were expensive in the Middle Ages, and it was extremely common for scribes to use abbreviations.

Typically abbreviation was indicated by some form of mark or stroke made through, above, or immediately following the letter preceding the position of the omitted letter(s). Many modern editions of texts ‘expand’ such abbreviations to make reading the texts easier, but the correct way to expand such forms is not always clear, particularly at the end of a word, where scribes often seem to have used abbreviation as a convenient way to avoid giving a borrowed word an explicit (grammatical) ending.

The section on ‘Orthography’ in the wiki article ‘Medieval Latin’ is worth reading. [HERE]

Robert Maltby mentions in an article [HERE} that Isidore’s section on orthography (1.27) was derived from earlier grammarians, owing little or nothing toIsidore’s knowledge of particular difficulties experienced by his contemporaries [in Spain]. ‘Hispanisms in the Language of Isidore of Seville’ – available only through ResearchGate.

Additional bibliography provided at the end of coming posts.

credit: inset in header – ‘Spelling’ by Norg Tees.

return to CONTENTS.

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