3.427 old spelling, cont. (48)

Mon, 4 Sep 89 22:53:39 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 427. Monday, 4 Sep 1989.

Date: Fri, 01 Sep 89 20:22:20 EDT
From: Brian Whittaker <BRIANW@YORKVM2>
Subject: Re: 3.414 old spellings, cont. (37)

The idea that original spelling, German typeset in Fraktur, and other archaisms
are more appropriate for texts used in advanced courses while modernized texts
are more appropriate at the introductory level has an initial appeal. However,
on reflection, I am inclined to think that these features may be particularly
useful at the lower levels. I was quite surprised that anyone who had studied
German would have difficulty with Fraktur, but that may be because my high
school German text was set in Fraktur. Students who encounter Tudor poetry in
the original spelling for the first time in a third year course often have
difficulty overcoming the impression that Spenser and Donne must have been
*much* earlier than Shakespeare because their texts look much more archaic.
One of the basic skills for any literature student surely is to be able to
place a text on sight to its century and possibly its generation. If the
student has not acquired the ability to tell a 1550 text from a 1650 text
within the first few words and thus understand it accurately in terms of its
cultural context, then the student is barely ready to *begin* the serious study
of literature. Orthography and typography often provide the clues to dating
the text within the first few words.

One might even argue that the literature student who has reached the second or
third year of a university literature programme without this skill is as
handicapped as a student who has reached the same level in a music program
without learning to recognize the key of a piece of music. The student who
has reached a comparable level in German without reading Fraktur must be like
a second or third year music student who cannot read the notes on the staff.
If the objection is raised that these are linguistic rather than literary
skills, we might ask how long our colleagues in the physical sciences protect
their students from the encounter with mathematics.

Perhaps the issue is not how late we should postpone the encounter with
original graphology, including both spelling and typefaces, but rather how
soon we can introduce it.

Brian Whittaker
Atkinson College, York University, Downiew, Ontario, Canada