Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

Orthography in the Cely Letters

Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

Orthography in the Cely Letters

Article excerpt

0. Introduction

I will start this paper with a short presentation of the corpus and the differences between the original manuscripts and the edition used for the purposes of the analysis. Then, I will focus on the orthographic variation and selected dialectal features in the discussed letters, mainly on those variants containing the selected graphemes: p, 3, v, u, w, i, j, y, indicating the differences of usage among the authors. Finally, I will deal with homography in the text and the problems it may cause for morphological analysis.

1. The corpus -- the original manuscripts and the edition: summary of differences

The Cely letters is a relatively little known collection of early English commercial correspondence (1472-88). The most comprehensive edition of the letters -- by Alison Hanham (1975) -- is the basis for the present analysis. It contains 247 (1) letters (about 86,000 running words), varying in length (from over 100 to over 900 words), written by over 40 authors, mostly wool merchants. The original manuscripts include about 280 documents which are kept in the Public Record Office in London. Documents omitted in the edition are mostly lists of goods and bills (though there are also a few almost obliterated letters), and therefore their inclusion is not essential for the linguistic analysis.

In her edition Hanham provides the reader with both more and less extensive reconstructions and emendations (2) of words and phrases (obliterated due to damage). Such measures may be useful to a historian reading the documents, but they can be a handicap for a linguist. Therefore, I have also consulted the original manuscripts (3) at the Public Record Office and will refer to the results of this consultation below. An attempt has been made here to analyse the real, not reconstructed or emended language. Hence, all the fully or partly reconstructed forms (or those whose interpretation is impossible because the adjacent words have been obliterated) have been excluded from the analysis. This concerns clauses such as, e.g.,

(1) I hawe [reseyued a letter ffrom yowre] masterschypp (WLC :202: 676) (4)

(2) I haue sent Hayne wyth the wol flet, and (a) barell and a wyrkyn of befe and a barell candyll. (RCII 120: 557).

(3) Delowppys thow3te verylly as thys seson that he schul[d] ... delyuer hym be yowre masterschyppys commavndement a ... soo Wyllykyn hath ben at Calles all thys seson a ... (WLC 220: 1252)

The editorial changes introduced by Hanham concern mainly capitalization, punctuation, abbreviations, superscripts, and word division. (5) Capitalisation in the edition has been modernised. Capitals were used by the authors of the manuscripts only occasionally - usually at the beginning of the text and sometimes in the body of the letter, when the writer wanted to show his (or her (6)) reverence and friendly attitude towards the addressee (e.g., Brother in JD 18, RBC 15, 21). Moreover, proper names are most often spelt with an initial minuscule (e.g., inglond JD 18: 6, god GC 7: 334, thomas GC 124: 236, ihesus RE 152: 137 and 139). Also, the first person singular pronoun is normally represented by a minuscule i or, occasionally, y Hanham introduced capital letters in each proper name and also at the beginning of each sentence, sometimes simplifying double letters used in the original version, e.g., Fordyrmor instead of ffordyr mor (GO 178: 255), Fraunce instead of ffraunce (WLC 241: 1623).

Punctuation in the edited documents is also modern. In the manuscripts it is nearly non-existent: the authors do not use colons, semi-colons or full stops. Instead, single or double virgules (vertical slashes) are used to indicate the end of one sentence and the beginning of the next, but only GC, TK, RBC, RR, EB, RL, RT and TG employ them more or less regularly. In other authors' letters they remain exceptional (e.g., WM, RCI (7) and many less important writers do not use them at all). …

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