[Simplified Speling Sociëty Pamflet Nr. 5.]

A BREEF HISTORY OV INGLISH SPELING.


PUBLISHT ON BEHAAF OV DHE SIMPLIFIED SPELING SOSIëTY
BIE SUR IEZAK PITMAN & SUNS, LTD. LUNDON 1942.
FURST PUBLISHT 1914.

Dhe aer ov reverens, aulmoest amounting to sanktity, widh which meny invest our speling iz an evident obstakl in dhe paath ov reform. Dhae duu not realiez dhat it woz fikst in its prezent form les dhan 200 yeerz agoe, and dhat it iz bie noe meenz dhe produkshon ov literary men and ov skolarz, but raadher ov printerz. Dhe wurks ov our graet rieterz ar jeneraly red in dhe speling ov our dae, not ov dhaerz; it rekwierz an efort to remember dhat Shakespeare'z wurks, and Milton'z, wer not spelt in dhe wae in which dhae ar uezhuealy prezented to us; and we fiend it hard to beleev dhat, if Shakespeare and Milton kaem to lief agaen, dhae kood reed our books kwiet eezily (apart from reesently adopted wurdz); dhae wood surtenly fiend konsiderabl difikulty in understanding our spoeken langgwej.

Az meny handbooks on dhe Inglish langgwej duu not deel adekwetly widh dhe history ov dhe speling, it mae be wel to atempt a breef akount ov it; dhoez huu hav akses to Prof. Skeat's Principles of English Etymology wil fiend a mor deetaeld akount in Chapter XVI ov dhat admirabl wurk. Dhis pamflet iz much indeted to it: sliet az it iz, it reprezents dhe leest amount ov nolej on dhe subjekt dhat eniwun shood pozes befor ekspresing an opinyon on speling reform.

When in our kuntry men furst atempted to reprezent dhaer speech bie meenz ov sienz, dhae uezd dhe leterz ov dhe Latin alfabet, widh dhe valuez dhae asiend to dhem when pronounsing Latin. Dhae wer slietly modified in form heer and dhaer. Dhe Tuetonik invaederz adopted dhis alfabet. A fue sienz wer aded, wun for w and tuu for th. Dhe later wer þ and ð, uezd indiskriminetly for dhe inishal soundz ov this and thin.

Meny ov dhe konsonant sienz had dhe saem value az dhae hav nou. C woz orijinaly aulwaez pronounst az in cat; k woz introduest laeter, and bekaem komon espeshaly befor e and i, when dhe pronunsyaeshon ov c woz chaenjd befor dheez vouelz. F woz uezd for v az wel az for f, and s for z az wel az for s. H, eksept inishaly, had a value liek dhat ov Jurman ch in ich or ach.

Oeld Inglish woz very rich in vouel soundz. It had, in adishon to dhe soundz aulsoe found in Latin, dhe long and short y (pronounst liek French u) dhe vouel ae (ekwivalent to dhe a ov modern Sudhern Inglish hat) and dhe long and short difthongz ea, eo and ie.

From dhe striktly fonetik point ov vue dhaer wer several defekts in dhis alfabet, but on dhe hoel it survd faerly wel to reprezent dhe soundz. Fortuenetly nuthing mor woz ekspekted ov it. Evry man rekorded dhe soundz ov hiz oen speech, widhout atempting at dhe saem tiem to konvae etimolojikal informaeshon or rieting in konformity widh a standard. Noe standard egzisted; dhaer woz noe such thing az a jeneraly rekogniezd "korekt speling." Az a konsekwens we ar aebl to tel from dhe speling rufly when and whaer dhe rieter livd; for not oenly did dhe soundz vaery akording to dhe dialekt, but dhae graduealy underwent chaenj.

Dhus, between 1150 and 1300 we fiend dhat dhe soundz ov i and y ar noe longger distinggwisht, and az a konsekwens dhe leterz ar ofen uezd indiskriminetly; y aulsoe reseevz konsonantal value inishaly. Dhe French skriebz huu wer akustomd to giv c dhe value ov s befor e and i prefur k for dhe hard sound in dheez pozishonz. Gh kumz to be uezd for dhe oelder h widh dhe value ov Jurman ch. U iz uezd for v, espeshaly between vouelz ov which dhe sekond iz uezhuealy e; v taeks dhe plaes ov u, espeshaly at dhe begining ov wurdz. Dhe oeld sien for w yeeldz to uu and dhen to w. C and sc bekum ch and sh. Dhe oelder cw yeeldz to kw and dhen to qu (a French simbol). Hw iz riten wh. Dhe difthongz ea, eo and ie, and dhe vouel ae (replaest bie e or a) disapeer.

Duering dhis peeryod dhe speling stil survz noe udher purpos dhan to reprezent dhe soundz; noe etimolojiezing bias iz to be seen. But dhaer iz wun important influëns at wurk: dhe langgwej iz nou enricht from French sorsez. Dhe wurdz introduest lent dhemselvz eezily to adaptaeshon, for dhe French vouel soundz did not difer mateeryaly from dhe Inglish. Nou dhe Angloe-French skriebz wer akustornd to reprezenting dhe soundz in a wae dhat ofen diferd from dhe Inglish konvenshonz; and when dhae roet Inglish wurdz, dhae natueraly spelt dhem akording to dhaer French habits. Dhis eksplaenz dhe introdukshon ov qu, dhe ues ov c widh dhe value ov s (kp. Inglish city and French cité), dhe speling ov dhe sound u (az in truth) bie meenz ov ou (kp. French tout) which chaenjd dhe oelder hús into hous (pronounst to riem widh modern loose).

Sum furdher chaenjez took plaes in dhe forteenth sentuery, bie dhe end ov which we hav a speling which duz not difer graetly from dhat ov dhe prezent dae, in spiet ov dhe vaast chaenjez dhat hav kurn oever our pronunsyaeshon. Dhe prinsipal diferens iz due to dhe los ov dhe fienal e in dhe spoeken wurd. Dhe foloïng spesimen from Chaucer'z Tael ov dhe Man ov Lau shoez dhe speling about 1400:-
In Surrye whilom dwelt a compaignye
Of chapmen riche / and therto sadde and trewe
That wyde-where / senten hir spicerye
Clothes of gold / and satyns riche of hewe
Hir chaffare / was so thrifty and so newe
That every wight / hath deyntee to chaffare
With hem / and eek / to sellen hem hire ware.
In kompaering dhis speling widh ourz, we must maek alouans for gramatikal diferensez and for dhe dropt fienal e. Ov feetuerz to be askriebd to Angloe-French influëns, we mae noet dhe ey in deyntee and dhe ai in compaignye. Dhe dubl e in deyntee and eek denoets dhe length ov dhe vouel; similarly we fiend aa and oo to indikaet long vouelz in dhe forteenth sentuery. Dhe y in satyns haz dhe saem value az i in in.

In dhe fifteenth sentuery fienal unstrest e seest to be pronounst evriwhaer. Az uezhueal dhe speling did not at wuns indikaet dhe chaenj, and (az woz not unnatueral) peepl suun bekaem unsurten whaer dhe leter e shood be riten, az dhe pronunsyaeshon noe longger aforded eny giedans. In surten kaesez dhe adishon ov a muet e kaem to be regarded az a meenz ov shoïng dhat dhe vouel ov dhe preseeding silabl woz long (e.g. bone, older boon, from bán). When dhis feeling bekaem komon, it afekted dhe speling ov such wurdz az manere, coper, biter; to shoe dhat dhe furst vouel woz not lengthend bie dhe foloïng e, dhe konsonant woz dubld, whens manner, copper, bitter. Whaer an e duz not foloe, we keep dhe singgl konsonant stil, e.g. in metal, canon.

Meny wurdz borroed from French aulsoe kontaend an e dhat bekaem sielent; age, chance, nice, dame, eech had tuu silablz at wun tiem. Dhoe dhe e haz long been sielent, we stil retaen it in speling. We hav eeven akwierd a ruuted objekshon to fienal j, and uez ce for fienal s eeven in puerly Inglish wurdz, such az mice, twice.

Dhe foloïng pasej iz taeken from Caxton'z proelog to hiz Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye, printed bie him in 1471:-
Whan I remembryd myſelf of my ſymplenes and vnperfightnes that I had in both langages, that is to wete in Frenſhe and in Engliſſh, for in France was I neuer, and was born and lerned myn Engliſſh in Kente in the Weeld, where I doubte not is ſpoken as brode and rude Engliſſh as is in ony place of Englond, and haue contynued by the ſpace of xxx yere for the most part in the contres of Braband, Flandres, Holand and Zeland, and thus whan alle thyſe thynges cam to fore me, after that I had made and wretyn a five or six quayers, I fyll in diſpayre of thys werke, and purposyd no more to haue contynuyd therin, and tho quayers leyd a-part, and in two yere aftyr laboured no more in thys werke, & was fully in wyll to haue lefte hyt.
Dhe abuv pasej shoez instansez ov fienal e retaend whaer it woz noe longger pronounst in dhe fifteenth sentuery. Dhe ues ov y for i iz komon; it woz not restrikted til dhe end ov dhe siksteenth sentuery.

In surten udher respekts dhe speling had bekum faulty when printing woz invented; but on dhe hoel dhe underliing iedea woz stil to rekord dhe soundz ov dhe spoeken langgwej. In dhe abuv ekstrakt, houever, we noetis dhe speling doubte, and dhis afordz an instans ov a nue influësns: dhe konshus atempt to maek Inglish wurdz rezembl mor kloesly dhe Latin wurdz widh which dhae wer konekted. Wurdz belonging to an oelder straetum ov dhe langgwej wer not afekted; but dhe laeter stok suferd very seveerly. Kontemporary French wurdz wer afekted in dhe saem wae; dhus, doute woz for a tiem riten doubte and set bekaem sept. French dropt dhe b ov doubte; we hav retaend it. French, for a tiem, had faulte, and we roet fault; in niedher langgwej woz dhe l pronounst. In dhe daez ov Pope dhe l woz stil unpronounst; he riemz dhe wurd widh ought and taught.

Nou doubt iz ultimetly derievd from Latin dubitare, and fault iz konekted widh fallere; but dhaer ar meny kaesez in which dhe wood-be etimolojists went rong. We oe to dhaer mistaeken injenueity dhe y ov sylvan and rhyme, for dhae thaut dheez wurdz wer derievd from Greek. Dhae roet science and hens scent, auldhoe dhis later wurd iz konekted widh Latin sentire. Dhae roet posthumous, bekauz dhae derievd it from posthumum (insted ov postumus). Dhae aded ue to tongue, bekauz French langue ended in ue.

Dheez fue egzaamplz must sufies to shoe dhat dhae introduest a nue prinsipl into dhe speling, but had not dhe nolej rekwierd for karrying it thruu konsistently; and, az haz been pointed out, dhae oenly tucht wun sekshon ov our vokabuelary. We must be graetfool dhat dhae did noe mor harm; aktuealy dhae did a good deel.

Dhe foloïng pasej from Hugh Latimer'z Sermon on the Ploughers (1549) mae surv az an egzaampl ov dhe speling ov dhe siksteenth sentuery:-
They [dhe preecherz] haue great laboures, and therefore they ought to haue good liuinges, that they maye comodiouſly feade theyr flocke, for the preachynge of the worde of God vnto the people is called meate, ſcripture calleth it meat. Not strauberies, that come but once a yeare, and tary not longe, but are ſone gone: but it is meat. It is no deynties. The people muste haue meate that muste be familier and continuall, and dayly geuen vnto them to fede vpon.
Dhaer iz noe mateeryal chaenj when we turn to Shakespeare. From dhe Furst Foelyoe edishon ov hiz plaez we selekt dhe foloïng pasej:-
Fie, fie, unknit that threatning vnkinde brow,
And dart not ſcornefull glances from thofe eies,
To wound thy Lord, thy King, thy Governour.
It blots thy beautie, as froſts doe bite the Meads,
Confounds thy fame, as whirlewinds ſhake faire budds,
And in no fence is meete or amiable.
A woman mou'd, is like a fountaine troubled,
Muddie, ill seeming, thicke, bereft of beautie,
And while it is ſoe, none ſo dry or thirstie
Will daigne to ſip, or touch one drop of it.
We hav given up dhe ues ov inishal v for u (e.g. vnkinde) and ov u for v (e.g. mou'd); we hav kut of dhe unnesesary fienal e in sum wurdz (unkinde, doe, meete, ets); we hav given up dhe long ſ. But dhe printerz, huu ar dhe responsibl partiz, hav not been konsistent. Dhae miet, at leest, hav dropt dhe e in have, live, give, dove. Dhae hav reduest ſcornefull to scornful; dhae miet hav adopted ful. Dhae hav substitueted simpl leterz for dubl wunz in dog, bad, but hav retaend fienal ff eksept in if, of ; and in of dhe f reprezents v!

It iz dhe printerz huu braut about a surten degree ov ueniformity. Dhe authorz, widh fue eksepshonz, seem to hav kaerd litl about dhe speling. Dhe spoeken form, dhe sound ov dhaer kreaeshonz, woz dhaer cheef konsurn. Dhe printerz, on dhe udher hand, wer konsurnd widh dhe printed form; and it woz natueral dhat dhae shood graduealy adopt surten konvenshonz. Dhis dhae did in a kwiet unmethodikal wae; dhaer woz noe konsurted akshon. Az a rezult, dhaer woz noe real ueniformity until a rekogniezd authorrity apeerd.

It woz Dr. Johnson'z dikshonary, isued in 1755, dhat sankshond surten spelingz and kondemd udherz. Hiz repuetaeshon az a literary man gaev presteezh to hiz wurk az a leksikografer.

Nou Dr. Johnson woz not in dhe leest ankshus to reprezent dhe spoeken langgwej ov hiz dae, nor did he realiez hou much it diferd from dhe langgwej ov dhe siksteenth sentuery. Dhe chaenjez which dhe pronunsyaeshon had undergon wer remarkabl, az wil be kleer to eniwun huu haz hurd a pasej from Shakespeare red widh dhe Elizabeethan pronunsyaeshon, a taask ov which eny Inglish skolar shood be kaepabl. [1] Dhe speling had soe long seest to reprezent dhe soundz dhat its orijinal funkshon woz kwiet obskuerd. Indeed, Dr. Johnson had niedher dhe nolej ov dhe history ov dhe langgwej nor dhe fonetik traening rekwizit in a reformer ov dhe speling. He woz kontent to taek dhe speling az it woz, meerly maeking a chois (and not aulwaez a wiez wun) whaer a wurd woz spelt in diferent waez.

Sins hiz dae dhaer haz been litl chaenj in dhe printed form ov wurdz. We noe longger spel musick, cloathes, or tyger, az he did; but in dhe maen we spel az Dr. Johnson spelt. Dhe pronunsyaeshon, houever, haz kontinued to chaenj, bikuming mor remoet from dhe speling in sum kaesez; in udherz, tending to be influënst bie it.
We noe longger pronouns oblige widh dhe i ov machine; we hav lurnt to pronouns dhe l ov fault, and sum eeven giv to dhe furst vouel ov English dhe sound ov e in end.

We spel our wurdz widh leterz and diegraafs dhat survd to reprezent, raadher rufly, dhe, pronunsyaeshon dhae had in Elizabeethan tiemz; leterz and diegraafs maenly due to Angloe-French rieterz huu stroev to rekord dhe soundz aafter dhe French maner. Dhe speling iz renderd wurs bie dhe misgieded eforts ov dhe siksteenth sentuery pedants huu wisht to displae dhaer nolej ov Latin. Dhe printerz braut about a surten ueniformity, on which Dr. Johnson baest hiz dikshonary. Dhis, to aul intents and purposez, iz stil our standard ov korekt speling.

It mae be wel to ad dhat dhe formz widh which we ar familyar ar not aulwaez dhoez prefurd bie our graet poets. Shakespeare haz els, maner, tung, tel, dasht, stopt, carvd, sadnes; Milton, suspens, gladsom, falshood, dred, labord, farewel, sented, sovran; Dryden, dropt, confest; Tennyson woz an Onorary Vies-Prezident ov dhe Inglish Speling Reform Asoesyaeshon, and, in spiet ov dhe strong feeling for "korekt speling" in hiz dae, he did not hezitaet to spel dipt, drest, lapt, dropt, ets. But it iz dhe printerz, and not dhe graet rieterz, huu hav deturmind our speling, widh dhe solitary eksepshon ov Dr. Johnson; and, az we hav seen, he reguelariezd whot he found - he did not reform.

Footnote:

[1] A gramofoen rekord ov pasejez from Shakespeare in dhe orijinal pronunsyaeshon haz reesently been maed. It iz spoeken bie Prof. Daniel Jones, and iz publisht bie dhe Linguaphone Instituet.

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