Standardising English Spelling: The Role of Printing in Sixteenth and Seventeenth-century Graphemic Developments

Condorelli, Marco Standardising English Spelling: The Role of Printing in Sixteenth and Seventeenth-century Graphemic Developments. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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My thesis has two main goals: firstly, to introduce a new quantitative model for the analysis of spelling developments from a diachronic perspective, and a resulting new empirical method geared specifically for studying spelling standardisation between the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries. Secondly, to put the method developed to use in four case studies, in order to explore and discuss the role and relevance of the printing press on the large-scale standardisation of Early Modern English spelling. The piece of work is organised in three main sections: the first part is entitled CONTEXT, the second part is named EMPIRICAL METHOD and the third one is called CASE STUDIES. The two chapters in part one establish theoretical and pragmatic frameworks for the thesis as a whole, overviewing some fundamental theoretical questions about spelling standardisation and unfolding the historical development of the English printing industry. The second part of the thesis moves on to discuss the practical and methodological framework behind my piece of research. The chapters included in part two depart from an overview of the corpus material used in my work, and argue for the need to reassess our understanding of spelling standardisation by developing new empirical models for exploring spelling developments more accurately. This section of the thesis also engages with foundational explorations aimed to test the model of analysis developed against potential issues like semantic ambiguity across word spelling forms.

The third and largest part of the thesis provides four case studies where the quantitative method developed is applied to explore the mechanisms responsible for the standardisation of English spelling in printed material. The four chapters focus, respectively, on the standardisation of positional spellings, the standardisation of i and y, the standardisation of etymological spelling and the standardisation of vowel diacritic spelling. Results are interpreted with a view to explore the relationship between theoreticians, schoolmasters, authors and readers, in contrast or in synergy with printers, and their role in the process of Early Modern English spelling standardisation. From a large-scale perspective, the role of the printing press on the development of Early Modern English spelling was not only undoubtedly important, but it was, I argue, the primary agent responsible for shaping and disseminating a modern standard over the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries. In my opinion, the changes involving a number of Early Modern English spellings were inflected by material, pragmatic factors which stemmed directly from compositional practices in the English printing industry, and crystallised to best serve the printers‟ labour process. By taking a new systematic, quantitative approach to analysing spelling developments, my work provides fresh insights into Early Modern English spelling standardisation and the history of the printed book.

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