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Early Middle English for today

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An alternate spelling scheme

The following describes an alternate to the default eME spelling scheme, as well as the principles behind it.

As with the vocabulary and grammar, the spelling of eME should reflect the spelling of the East Midland dialect circa 1200, as closely as possible, without introducing any fresh complexity, inconsistency or confusion. The spelling of eME should make the task of learning and using the language, as easy as possible.

The sounds of eME are those of the East Midland dialect circa 1200. Changes that took place after 1200 in the East Midlands or had only just begun there, are not reflected. For example, long open back a_ /A`:/ had not yet become long half-open back o` /O`:/, and in stressed open syllables in disyllabic words, a and e had not yet been lengthened to open front a__ /a:/ and ae_ /E`:/ respectively.

The following process for normalising eME spelling is represented graphically in table V (alternate) - comparison of spellings. I've also set out the three steps below.

The alternate spelling scheme for eME is determined as follows:

  1. wherever PC2 and Orm have a letter (or combination of letters) in common to represent a particular sound, that spelling passes into eME;
  2. where PC2 and Orm have no common letter (or combination of letters) to represent a particular sound, that PC2 or Orm spelling is adopted which is most widespread in the secondary eME sources - Owl, Lmn, AW, PH3, & SO; see table V (alternate);
  3. where neither the PC2 nor the Orm spelling is found in the texts listed above, the most common secondary source spelling is adopted;

PC2 and Orm accord

A majority of spellings are common to PC2 and Orm. This includes all vowels, both long and short, except new eME diphthongs. Those spellings that emerge from the first step in the normalisation process outlined above are:

a, a_, e, e_, i, i_, o, o_, u, u_, ae_, h

secondary eME sources step in

In the following cases, in which there is conflict beween PC2 and Orm, the eME spelling is sought from PC2, Orm, Owl, Lmn, AW, PH3, & SO. Those spellings that emerge from the second step in the process outlined above1 are:

ei, ai, ch, sc, gg, y`, qu, wh, v

Note that all of these spellings happen to be the most common spelling for the particular sounds they represent, in the secondary eME sources, with one exception. sc is found in PC2 and Lmn only. sh is discounted because it is unique to Orm. sch is in fact the most common spelling for the sound /S`/, but can't be considered, because it occurs in neither Orm nor PC2 (see the second principle above).

y` for /j/ and /G``/?

PC2 and Orm spell /G``/ differently. And since neither Orm's y`h` nor PC2's ch, is found in any other eME source for /G``/, we look for the spelling used by a majority of secondary eME sources. Four of the secondary eME sources have y` for /G``/. Happily, this is very close to Orm's y`h`. Of course, y` is also the predominant spelling for /j/, and thus it may seem that using the same spelling for two quite different sounds would be confusing. However, context will always indicate the correct pronunciation, since initial y` is always /j/, while medial y` is always /G``/. Note that Orm was forced to add marker of differentiation - h`, giving y`h`2, because simple y` was also used medially and finally - in diphthongs. That isn't the case in the alternate eME spelling, where OE aeg` ae_g` eg` e_g` ig` i_g` have become ai ei i_.

y`e- and i_- for g`e-?

The dual prefix found in PC2 and Orm - y`e (or g`e) for verbs and i_ for adverbs and adjectives, should be rejected, since there was a single prefix in OE - g`e. A dual prefix would be inconsistent with both OE and the majority of eME texts. It would also introduce an element of greater complexity. Thus the single i_ prefix found in a majority of secondary eME sources, for verbs, adjectives and adverbs, passes into eME spelling.

gg for /dZ`/ and /gg/?

A clear majority of secondary eME sources, as well as Orm, use gg for the sound /dZ`/. This spelling may appear problematic at first, since a doubled consonant indicates longer pronunciation (lengthening of the consonant) in eME, and still does in Ch. As it turns out however, a doubled /gg/ sound never occurs in OE or eME. Thus there is no possibility of confusion. It might also be contended that gg is not a natural progression between OE and ModE. The OE spelling cg is closer to the ModE spelling dg, and is less likely to confuse the modern learner who would tend to pronounce gg as /g/ rather than the intended /dZ`/. I doubt that will be an issue, any more than learning a new pronunciation for wh (/xw/ not /w/) or medial and final h (/x/ not /h/).

qu for /cw/?

PC2 uses two different spellings for /cw/ - cu and qu. However, the latter is used only once in quarterne, while the former is used in - cuen, which appears twice in the texts. Orm, on the other hand, has cw. It could be argued that cu and cw are essentially the same beast (digraph), especially since PC2 occasionally uses u (though more often uu) for OE w. But that seems a little tenuous. Essentially, PC2 and Orm differ on the representation of OE cw. Hence, qu passes to eME as the spelling common to most secondary eME sources, all in fact, except Orm.

Alternate B

A slight variation results if principles 2 and 3 above are replaced by::

Where PC2 and Orm have no common letter (or combination of letters) to represent a particular sound, the spelling adopted is that most frequently found in a majority of the following texts - PC2, Orm, Owl, Lmn, AW, PH3, & SO.

In that case, OE sc > sch rather than sc

Miscellaneous spelling notes

Several alternate spellings are offered for all texts. The spelling described above, is the alternate eME scheme. The default option looks to OE to resolve points of difference bewteen PC2 and Orm.

  1. if the spelling which resulted from the two steps outlined here, had created an inconsistency or complexity that is not present in OE, or had clashed with a spelling already established for a different sound, then a more consistent or less complex or clearer solution would have been sought in the following order:
    • in the predominant spelling of the secondary eME sources
    • in the PC2 or Orm spelling which is closest to the predominant spelling of the secondary eME sources
    • in the standard OE spelling
  2. if the Orm spelling were adopted for /G``/, a small, raised h` would pose potential difficulties for representation in both print and online, so that a simple h would be preferable, thus giving y`h;