Saturday, April 14, 2012

Spelling changes, Or Adverbs, also

I'm reading an edition of Holinshed's "Chronicles." Not the whole thing (which is enourmous) but just a collection that focuses primarily on the bits that various Elizabethan playwrights used. So not "Holinshed: The Good Bits" or "Holinshed's Greatest Hits" but "Holinshed: The Parts you've heard of".

I was surprised at how easy the language is to read: The syntax and vocabulary Holinshed uses doesn't seem very odd to me considering its over 450 years old. Perhaps this is the the result of a misspent youth working in theatre (i.e. reading too much Shakespeare) but even taking that into account, it's remarkable how, in the 150 years from Chaucer to Holinshed, the language's syntax and vocabulary evolved from something I struggle with (Chaucer) into something that is obviously the language I read now (Holinshed).

What has really struck me was Holinshed's spelling, which the edition I'm reading reproduces using the standard character sets (I.e. the edition doesn't use the "f" shaped 'long s').

The chronicles were produced early in the days of printing so, I imagine, spelling isn't completely standardized yet. However, Holinshed's spelling probably reflects what was accepted. And, among those reflections, is that "i" is used for the 'jay' sound ("ioined" for "joined", for instance)-"j" doesn't exist. That's not surprising: after all, English dictionaries created as late as the early 19th Century still treated j and i as two different ways of writing the same letter. But equally interesting is that "u" and "v" are considered different versions of the the same letter--"v" is the way you write "u" at the start of the word ("vunto" and "you"--though, also, "herevunto"). This is similar to the use of the 'long s' which was used everywhere for the 'ess' sound except at the end of a word where "s" was used.There's also very little use of "y"--"ie" is preferred ("steadilie" and "ioyfullie").

I think that I've said on previous occasions that I think we're seeing the death of the adverb ("he ran quick" rather than "he ran quickly") but perhaps we're just in a steady state. Holinshed has both "cruel foughten" "sore hindered." It may be that we've never been consistent in our use of the adverb form of any modifier and, while the adverb form may disappear in some places, it re-appears in others. Sort of a grammatical "whack a mole."

Reading or read

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