3.366 old and new spelling, cont. (101)

Thu, 17 Aug 89 21:16:25 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 366. Thursday, 17 Aug 1989.

(1) Date: Wed, 16 Aug 89 20:51:40 CDT (24 lines)
From: Steven J. DeRose <D106GFS@UTARLVM1>
Subject: Old spelling

(2) Date: 17 August 1989, 09:30:33 EDT (36 lines)
Subject: old-spelling vs. modernized texts

(3) Date: Thu, 17 Aug 89 11:11:12 EDT (15 lines)
From: Stephen Clausing <SCLAUS@YALEVM>
Subject: "Thon"

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Wed, 16 Aug 89 20:51:40 CDT
From: Steven J. DeRose <D106GFS@UTARLVM1>
Subject: Old spelling

I'd like to echo MSM's comment that the audience is very important --
surely those interested in diachronic linguistics should have the original
spellings available, as should any other scholars for whom the spelling
may matter. But for the untrained reader, whether a beginning student,
or someone entirely unconnected with academia, it seems to me that a
minimally modernized version does no harm. For example, if I were
teaching a course in the area, I might choose to focus on structure and
thematic issues, and wish to avoid taking time and trouble to explain
spelling (beyond pointing out that I was ignoring it!).

Someone made a suggestion to the effect that the best thing is to preserve
the original as precisely as technology allows -- but surely this is
not desirable; it would force us to facsimile reproduction of everything,
including coffee-stains, etc. In most cases we don't have the 'original'
anyway. So we must abstract from the manuscripts to a greater or lesser
extent; perhaps modernizing spelling is simply another step of abstraction
(is the new word "the same" as the old?). And the degree of abstraction
which is appropriate, differs with the audience.

(2) --------------------------------------------------------------39----
Date: 17 August 1989, 09:30:33 EDT
Subject: old-spelling vs. modernized texts
Subject: old-spelling vs. modernized texts
Marian Sperberg-McQueen's response to the question about which text is
best for which audience was good and appreciated. I think the objection
to something like "murther" in English (the example always used) or
"thon" in German is easily dispatched (though no editors that I know of
do this) with a few comments about older spelling usage. When I tested
a group of advanced undergraduates studying Renaissance epic with a
final exam which consisted of a book of *Paradise Lost*, old-spelling
together with some introductory matter and annotations (they were asked
to query, add to, and correct the information given), they had very few
problems with interpreting spelling. It is not hard to make "thir"
equal "their," though a Miltonic spelling, "lantskip" for "landscape,"
might puzzle them without at least a marginal note. I think their
stumbling blocks could be dealt with in one medium-sized paragraph in an
introduction on how to read the text. So I would agree with
Sperberg-McQueen, though very few editors tell their readers anything
about spelling, capitalization, or punctuation: those matters have been
considered to be too trivial for words, at least in the past. One more
word about authorial vs. compositorial (printing-house) spelling or
punctuation: I agree that the difference between the two hasn't been
stressed enough. Luckily with Milton we have lots of holograph
manuscripts from which we can establish that Milton preferred "anough"
to "enough" or "sovran" to "sovereign." At the banquet which ended the
ALLC-ACH conference in Toronto, a text of part of Milton's
*Areopagitica* was set off in gold-leaf all around the immense common
room. From my table I could tell (1) the copiest was accurately
reproducing a very early
text and (2) the early text seems to have been very close to Milton's
spelling preferences. The computer, incidentally, makes it much easier
to check the frequency of spelling or of punctuation-usage, and hence
should in the future help the editor tell the difference statistically
between the author's usage and that of the printing house. Thanks for
all the good replies. Roy Flannagan
(3) --------------------------------------------------------------18----
Date: Thu, 17 Aug 89 11:11:12 EDT
From: Stephen Clausing <SCLAUS@YALEVM>
Subject: "Thon"

I was not surprised to hear of Sperberg-McQueen's difficulties getting a
straight answer regarding German "Thon". Actually, any competent Germanic
Philologist would know the answer immediately. Unfortunately, language
departments consist almost entirely of literature specialists who have little
knowledge of philology and even less appreciation of it. We may need
modernized spellings not simply for our students but even for our
distinguished colleagues. I know many a literature specialist in my field who
can barely speak Modern German, much less understand older forms. No doubt
the same is true in other languages. I wish I could show my colleagues
Sperberg-McQueen's e-mail message. Perhaps then they would understand why
philologists exist. But of course, my colleagues don't read e-mail either.