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Normalising eME spelling

the principles underlying the normalisation of spelling in the East Midland dialect c 1200

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, but at the same time be free of any inconsistency or confusion. The spelling of eME should make the task of learning and using the language, as easy as possible.

The spelling is based on PC2 and Orm. Where those two differ, OE decides. That is the first of the two basic principles which underlie the normalisation of spelling in eME. The concept of eME as a bridge between modern and Old English is fundamental. The second basic principle is clarity.

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 process of normalising eME spelling is represented graphically in table V - ME spelling variations. I've also set out the five steps below.

The spelling of eME is determined as follows:

  1. wherever PC2 and Orm use the same letter (or combination of letters) to represent a particular sound, that spelling passes into eME;
  2. if a particular sound doesn't occur in PC2, a match for the Orm spelling is sought in PC1;
  3. where PC2 (or PC1) and Orm have no common letter (or combination of letters) to represent a particular sound, the OE spelling is adopted; see table V;
  4. if a letter (or combination of letters) represents more than one sound, and there is the potential for confusion, we need to clearly define the contexts in which that letter (or combination of letters) should be used to represent those different sounds;
  5. if context is not able to resolve all potential points of confusion (using the letters or letter combinations admitted thus far), and either PC2 or Orm offers a solution, that PC2 or Orm spelling* is adopted; if both Orm and PC2 offer a solution, the spelling which is closest to the OE spelling, is adopted.

PC2 and Orm accord

PC2 and Orm use the same letter or combination of letters to represent the same sound, in the following cases:

a, a_, b, d, e, e_, f, g, h, i, i_, k, l, m, n, o, o_, p, r, s, t, u, u_, x, ae_, ng

where PC2 and Orm don't see eye to eye

PC2 and Orm use a different letter or combination of letters to represent the same sound, in the following cases (the Orm spelling is given first):

gg|? /dZ`/, wh|w /xw/, cw|qu/cu /kw/, f|v /v/, ch|c /tS`/, sh|sc /S`/, y`h`|ch/g /G``/ /J`/, y`|g/i /j/, ey`|ei/eg /ei/, ay`|aei/aeg /ai/

PC1 stands in for PC2

PC1 and Orm use the same combination of letters to represent the same sound, in the following case:

gg (OE cg /dZ`/)

turning to OE

The convention with modern editions of OE texts is to mark long vowels with a macron. That passes to eME, since Orm has a unique approach to vowel length. (Orm indicates a short vowel by doubling the following consonant.)

OE also provides the following spellings which present no potential confusion (backed by either Orm or AW):

cw (/kw/), hw (/xw/) and f (/v/); (note: /v/ occurs between vowels and in front of voiced consonants);

refining (and extending) the context

OE also provides the spellings c, sc and g (backed by PC2). Orm and PC2 both use k. However, to avoid potential confusion, we need to define more clearly the contexts in which these letters (or combinations) represent different sounds:

Orm steps in

It's not possible to account for all instances of /tS`/ through the use of <c> and <k>, as outlined above. To fill the gap, Orm provides the following:

ch - /tS`/, used before [a a_ o o_ u u_] only (needed for 4 words - chusen ichosen cha_n chatteren)

In the spelling scheme that has emerged thus far, <g> already stands for two different sounds (see above). For a third sound /j/, and the related sound at the end of two new ME diphthongs, context is not a reliable predicter. Both Orm and PC2 provide a solution. However, the Orm spellings are closer to the OE precedents. Thus we arrive at the following:

y` /j/, ey` /ei/, ay` /ai/

Miscellaneous spelling notes

Several alternate spellings are offered for all texts. There is even a description of the principles behind one alternate scheme. However the eME spelling as described above, is the default option. A more detailed discussion of the principles behind the eME spelling is available.

The character of eME

Given that the East Midland dialect (c 1200 AD) is normalised in englesaxe (eME), how could it be characterised? Which does it resemble more closely - Orm or PC2?

On the page (or screen), at first glance, eME looks more like PC2. Orm is unique in its use of doubled consonants to indicate short vowels, and these doubled consonants tend to draw the eye. On the other hand, eME uses the letter yogh - y`, which is found in Orm and all secondary sources, but not PC2. Since the fallback for spelling conflicts between PC2 and Orm is the spelling closest to OE, eME leans on the conservative side in that regard, compared to 13th century sources such as Lmn and AW. For example c for /tS`/ (ch) and g for /G``/ (both PC2) and f for /v/ (Orm) are only found in 12th century texts.

To the ear, eME should be very close to the speech of Peterborough (central Midlands - where PC2 was written), and thus closer to the general traits of East Midland, than would be Orm, if read aloud by its author. Orm had some peculiarities usually associated with the Northern dialect but apparently also found in the north Midlands, e.g. final /k/ rather than /tS`/ in places.

The lexicon of eME is conservative, with few French loanwords, and in that respect resembles Orm and Lmn rather than PC2. The grammar on the other hand is progressive, avoiding altogether the odd double stems and traces of the case system in the indefinite article, which crop up rarely in Orm.

More on normalisation

Looking for more background on the normalisation of the East Midland dialect c 1200, in englesaxe? For an outline of the basic principles applied to the normalisation of word forms, together with a list of the abbreviations and definitions used, see eME normalisation of forms I. For examples of eME forms and additional eME forms, i.e. - the principles in action, together with a look at the role that Chaucer and Modern English play, see eME normalisation of forms II. For a discussion of some of the finer points, see eME normalisation issues

  1. after front vowels, actually a palatal fricative /J`/, rather than velar /G``/