The standardisation of i and y in Early Modern English (1500-1700)

Condorelli, Marco (2021) The standardisation of i and y in Early Modern English (1500-1700). English Studies, 102 (1). pp. 101-123. ISSN 0013-838X

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Between the sixteenth and the seventeenth century, i and y shifted from an early distribution principle to a new, modern standard, which generally resulted in the establishment of vocalic <i> word-initially and word-medially, as well as <y> for glides word-initially and for vowels word-finally. Previous scholars have offered interesting insights into some of the graphemes above, but the overall history of development in i and y, and the factors behind their modern standardisation, still remain partially uncovered. This paper investigates graphemic changes in the two letters in printed English between 1500 and 1700, using a quantitative model for the analysis of patterns across a range of texts from Early English Books Online. The analysis establishes the presence of a quantitative shift in the wholesale uses of <i> and <y> between the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries, and provides a precise chronology for the standardisation of word-initial, word-medial and word-final graphemic changes in i and y. The discussion reflects upon the development of the positional graphemes, and argues for pragmatic factors within the Early Modern English printing industry as primarily responsible for the modern standardisation of i and y.

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