Bk 1. xxvii. 1-3 Orthography

(detail) BSB-Hss CLM 6275  f.11v   (mid 9thC)  for link, see sidebar.

All  agree that Isidore was not concerned that the form in which Latin was written should reflect the way in which it was being spoken, but in ensuring that a reader gained a correct sense of the written text. The rules were rules for the scribe, and one transcribing or recording Latin – usually scripture.  By contrast, when it came to writing terms for which there was no authoritative text or for rendering the sound of a vernacular language  these rules did not apply. As Scott Kleinman put it,

  • Scott Kleinman, ‘Topic Models and Spelling Variation: the case of Early Middle English’ (blogpost, Jan 20th., 2013). Scott Kleinman’s blog is marked ‘not secure’ by my browser, so I omit the direct link.

A vivid example is offered by  Brit.Lib, MS Cotton Caligula A. ix [C] in which – as  Willi Breier commented in 1910 –  a copy of the ‘The Owl and the Nightingale’ shows evidence of deriving from two distinct orthographic traditions.  Neil Cartlidge is among the scholars to have later commented on the text and he writes:

  • Neil Cartlidge, ‘Orthographical Variation in the Middle English Lyrics of BL Cotton Caligula A. IX’, Neuphilologische Mitteilungen, Vol. 98, No. 3 (1997), pp. 253-259.


The Oxford Bibliographies describes ‘The Owl and the Nightingale’ as ” the earliest extant long comic poem in the English language, and one of the most accomplished and entertaining texts written in Middle English before the age of Chaucer” and adds a short list of secondary studies [HERE}. I daresay that the classic ‘Conference of the Birds’ is mentioned in some of them.   http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780195396584/obo-9780195396584-0205.xml

On spelling errors and modes of correction in medieval manuscripts –  I have found no single source (if you do better, please leave a note).  The corrections are often due to the original scribe’s having lost his place, copied from a faulty exemplar, conflated words and so forth.  Online, the longest treatment of textual correction methods is probably:

Below: a detail showing textual not orthographic correction. A line of dots below the faulty passage draws the reader’s attention; the smaller script below it forms the correction.( Brit.Lib. MS Add. 30844 f.174v).

(detail) from Brit.Lib. MS Add. 30844 f.174v


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