[lg policy] book review: Orthographies in Early modern Europe

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Thu Apr 11 15:04:50 UTC 2013

Orthographies in Early Modern Europe

Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/23/23-3266.html

EDITOR: Susan Baddeley
EDITOR: Anja Voeste
TITLE: Orthographies in Early Modern Europe
PUBLISHER: De Gruyter Mouton
YEAR: 2012

REVIEWER: Sarah Hart, University at Buffalo


‘Orthographies in Early Modern Europe’ is a comparative view of Early
Modern orthography in eleven European languages spanning four language
families: Romance, Germanic, Slavic and Finno-Ugrian. Each paper discusses
not only the orthography of a language but also the socio-historical
situation of the area during the Early Modern period. Each paper has a
different author, two of which edited the volume and wrote an introduction
as well.

Susan Baddeley and Anja Voeste, “Orthographies in Early Modern Europe: A
Comparative View” (p. 1-14)

This introductory paper explains the layout of the chapters, which are
grouped according to language family. The editors discuss the surprising
parallelism between the orthographic systems of all eleven languages,
despite spanning four language families and thousands of miles. These
parallelisms include: the importance of religion and translating the Bible
to orthography; the desire for one-to-one correspondences between letters
and sounds; and oscillation between innovative and etymological

Elena Llamas Pombo, “Variation and Standardization in the History of
Spanish Spelling” (p. 16-62)

This paper focuses on several distinct types of variation within Spanish
orthography during Early Modern times. Pombo mentions not only diachronic
variation, as is expected in such a long time period, but also ‘diastratic’
and ‘diaphasic’ variation, where the former refers to variation among
distinct styles or registers of writing, and the latter refers to variation
within a single text. She also provides explanations of extralinguistic
factors affecting orthography such as the ‘Reconquista’ and the great
standardizing king, Alfonso X the Wise. Throughout the chapter, the author
reminds the readers of Spanish orthography’s strong correspondences between
letters and sounds. However, at the end, she lists the several exceptions
to this pattern and an explanation for why these certain graphemes survived
in Modern Spanish.

Andreas Michel, “Italian Orthographies in Early Modern Times” (p. 63-96)

This paper offers a chronological review of Italian orthography. The author
first mentions the historic-cultural factors affecting language and writing
during Early Modern times such as the popularity of regional dialects and
lack of a standard Italian language until the 20th century. Michel then
demonstrates developments in Italian orthography through the use of images
of texts; these images are beneficial, as they show the language as it was
truly written. Finally, Michel offers a discussion of orthographic problems
faced in Italy, especially those faced by the Accademia della Crusca, as
both conservative and innovative trends in spelling reform appeared.

Susan Baddeley, “French Orthography in the 16th Century” (p. 97-126)

This paper is a mixture of linguistic and historical description, for
example, Baddeley explains how the printing press and the Protestant
Reformation affected French orthography. This article also offers a very
in-depth description of the orthographic system of the 16th century,
including the use of <&> to mean “and” and a mute ‘s’ to denote long
vowels. Baddeley also examines something that many other articles ignore:
the introduction and use of accent marks, beginning with the use of an
acute accent mark to differentiate masculine <e> from mute <e> (/ə/). The
author then offers an analysis of traditional and innovative forces in
orthographic reform, including a section on several key members of the
movement such as Sylvius and Meigret.

Terttu Nevalainen, “Variable Focusing in English Spelling between 1400 and
1600” (p. 127-166)

The author of this paper considers the level of tolerance speakers have for
variation in the spelling of English and the process of codifying it during
the Middle Ages. Following Auer’s (2005) model of standardization, the
author shows that English was an indigenous language which had been
replaced in many contexts by French and Latin. She describes the role of
English, French and Latin within the linguistic system of England from
1400-1600, especially in relation to the Norman Invasion of 1066 and the
use of English in royal offices after Henry V. The author then describes
the codification of English as it progressed from a mainly spoken language
to a written language.

Anja Voeste, “The Emergence of Suprasegmental Spellings in German” (p.

This paper considers various changes in German spelling, especially in the
16th century. Specifically, this paper describes the establishment of
spelling principles which turn away from segmental phonographic practice
and lead to a suprasegmental approach. That is to say that features other
than the realized phonemes became important to the spelling of words. For
example, etymological spelling became important so that the roots and
relatedness of words remained clear. In addition, certain practices came
about to increase syllabic spelling, for example, adding “h” to show a
lengthened syllable. These factors differentiate German from those
languages that have a preference toward one-to-one correspondences between
letters and sounds. Finally, the author mentions socio-historical
constraints that helped to bring about the current mixture of phonographic,
graphotactic, etymological and syllabic systems.

Alexander Zheltukhin, “Variable Norms in the 16th-Century Swedish
Orthography” (p. 193-218)

The author of this paper critically examines the variation of certain
spelling sequences in 16th century Swedish, for example, the variation
between th/dh/d and the sequences V/VV/Vh/hV, where ‘V’ stands for any
vowel and ‘h’ only means the letter h. In his analysis, Zheltukhin
separates the corpus into two categories: Chanceries and printed
literature. Within those two groups, he further separates each into four
subgroups: for the Chanceries, the four subgroups are called Royal Chancery
from 1521-1588, Royal Chancery from 1588-1599, Duke Charles from 1571-1588
and Duke Charles from 1588-1599; for printed literature, the four subgroups
are called religious from 1541-1588, religious from 1588-1599, secular from
1541-1588 and secular from 1588-1599. The author mentions several
socio-historical factors which affected orthography in the 16th century,
including the Civil War between King Sigismund and Duke Charles , as well
as the fact that education increased contact with German and Dutch.

Daniel Bunčić, “The Standardization of Polish Orthography in the 16th
Century” (p. 219-254)

The author of this paper takes readers through a history of Polish
orthography changes which occurred mainly in the 16th century. This time
period was extremely important, as it was the end of Old Polish and the
beginning of Middle Polish and a literary tradition. The Latin alphabet was
adapted for writing Polish, but it was not sufficient to represent its 35
consonants and 10 vowels. In particular for consonants, there was no way to
make the three way distinction between dental, postalveolar and palatal
affricates and sibilants. This paper traces the changes made to the writing
system in order to better represent the complex phonemic inventory of
Polish. A previous system included many graphemes which correlated to more
than one sound sequence. Thus, in an effort toward “single
representations”, writers began using dots (single and double) above
letters, before subsequently transitioning to further diacritics such as
acute accent marks. The author finishes with a brief discussion of
post-16th century changes to orthography and extralinguistic factors
affecting them.

Tilman Berger, “Religion and Diacritics: The Case of Czech Orthography” (p.

This paper outlines the history of how Modern Czech came to have the
extensive system of diacritics that is has today. Like other Slavic
languages, Czech’s complex phonemic inventory proved difficult to represent
with the Latin alphabet. Berger takes us through several stages of
orthographic reforms. The first reforms introduced digraphs to express
sounds which did not exist in Latin; they also showed palatalized
consonants by following them with an ‘i’ and used geminate vowels to show
length. The next reform brought Czech much closer to its modern form. A
treatise attributed to Jan Hus introduced the use of diacritics in lieu of
digraphs. This proved to be a more desirable system; even as the printing
press came to the area, many of Hus’ innovations survived. This paper
concludes with a note about how Hus’ habit of delivering sermons in the
vernacular aided in the orthographic reform which brought about Modern
Czech orthography.

Roland Marti, “On the Creation of Croatian: The Development of Croatian
Latin Orthography in the 16th Century” (p. 269-320)

This paper outlines the situation of Croatian orthography mainly in the
16th century. Croatian is unique in this volume, as it is the only language
which has not always used a Latin alphabet. Marti describes two other
alphabets used in the area we now call Croatia (i.e. Cyrillic and
Glagolitic) but notes that neither affected Latin orthography. Like other
Slavic languages, Croatian has a colorful inventory of fricatives and
affricates. While pre-16th century Croatian used a system in which one
grapheme could represent many phonemes and one phoneme could be represented
by many graphemes, 16th century Croatian reduced the number of
representations through the use of digraphs and several diacritics.

During this time period, 4 distinct orthographic traditions existed: two
similar to Italian and two similar to Hungarian. Croatian orthography was
not standardized until the 19th century, which is late compared to other
European languages.

Klára Korompay, “16th-Century Hungarian Orthography” (pg. 321-350)

The main focus of this paper is the complex system of orthography in 16th
century Hungarian. Various systems existed, all of which attempted to
effectively represent Old Hungarian’s 35 sounds. While Chancery orthography
used a system without a one-to-one correspondence between graphemes and
phonemes, Hussite orthography used diacritics to eliminate digraphs and
ensure a one-to-one correspondence. Thus, while in Chancery orthography <z>
represented both /s/ and /z/, Hussite orthography used <z> and <ź>. Later,
a third system emerged which reintroduced digraphs but maintained
diacritics. Each of the three systems existed in the 16th century and were
used at the discretion of each scribe. Eventually, Hungarian was
standardized to reach the one-to-one correspondence between graphemes and
phonemes that it contains today.

Taru Nordlund, “Standardization of Finnish Orthography: From Reformists to
National Awakeners ” (p. 351-372)

This paper explores variation and standardization of Finnish orthography in
both the 16th and 19th centuries. Finnish was not a written language until
the 16th century, when its closest models were Swedish, Latin and German,
none of which are closely related to Finnish. The task of molding an
alphabet to Finnish without nearby models proved difficult, and as such,
the first system of orthography showed extensive variation. However much of
this was eradicated in the first translation of the Bible. Later, in the
19th century, Finnish was further standardized and “purified”, as Swedish
loanwords and grammatical constructions were removed. The modern system of
Finnish orthography shows a nearly one-to-one correlation between graphemes
and phonemes.


This volume explores orthographic variation and standardization in Early
Modern Europe. Many of the papers analyze the 16th century, while others
consider a longer time period ranging from as early as 1400 to as late as
the 19th century. Certainly, each language is unique and has its own
pivotal time period for orthography.

This volume is aimed toward Indo-European linguists; indeed, all of the
articles require a fairly in depth knowledge of phonology and historical
and comparative linguistics, especially in regard to Indo-European
languages. Each paper makes reference to certain socio-historical factors
that affected languages, for example, the Reconquista in Spain, the
Cinquecento in Italy, the Protestant reformation across Europe and the
Hussite movement in Bohemia. Any reader without a fairly clear
understanding of these events will not understand their importance to
orthography. Some papers give a brief explanation of events of this type
for the benefit of the reader, while others assume that the reader has
prior knowledge. It is my belief that this volume could reach a much wider
audience if each paper contained a more detailed description of the
socio-historical situation during the Early Modern period.

The organization of the papers in this volume is very deliberate. The
eleven papers are arranged by language family: three Romance languages are
followed by three Germanic languages, then three Slavic languages, and
finally, two Finno-Ugrian languages. I am not sure how the editors decided
the order of the language families, although it appears they come in order
from westernmost to easternmost. Each of these languages currently uses the
Latin alphabet, which is why other major European languages, such as
Russian and Greek, are not included in this volume. One comment I will make
on the organization is that many papers mention the influence of Jan Hus, a
reformer who introduced diacritics to Czech, although Tilman Berger’s paper
on Czech does so with the most detail. Placing this paper before Daniel
Bunčić’s paper, which mentions the influence of Hus on Polish orthography,
would make the latter more comprehensible.

I appreciate the neutral (and sometimes even positive tone) toward
variation in this volume. While many authors have called orthography in
Early Modern times “erratic”, “arbitrary” and even “chaotic”, none of the
authors in this volume have such a negative view of variation. I also
appreciate the inclusion of pictures of original text of the time in many
papers. It is beneficial to see what the characters actually looked like in
order to fully understand what complications they might have caused.

While I believe the volume reached what I perceived to be its goal, to give
an overview of various phases and developments in Early Modern orthography,
I found that the papers ranged greatly in character. Some were very short
(13 pages), while others were extremely long (51 pages). I found some
papers to be easily comprehensible without much prior knowledge of the
orthography of that language, while others required quite a bit of research
on my part. I specifically found the chapter titled “Italian Orthographies
in Early Modern Times” difficult to read. I feel that this paper is more
suited for Italian linguists. One paper that I found particularly well
written was that on French, by Susan Baddeley. Baddeley’s description of
the chronology of French orthography was very clearly written and easy to
follow. She also provides a very detailed and comprehensive description of
the orthographic system of the 16th century: not only of the phonemic
inventory, but also of specific uses of letters, for example, using the
mute ‘s’ to show long vowels. This paper was both very detailed, yet very
clear and coherent.

Finally, I did encounter one typo. The name of the author of the paper
titled “Variation and Standardization in the History of Spanish Spelling”
was written once as Elena Lamas Pombo (in the table of contents) and once
as Elena Llamas Pombo (on the first page of her paper).


Auer, Peter. 2005. Europe’s Sociolinguistic Unity, or: A Typology of
European Dialect/Standard Constellations. In Perspectives on Variation,
Nicole Delbecque, Johan van der Auwera, and Dirk Geeraerts (eds.), 7-42.
(Trends in Linguistics 163.) Berlin, Mouton de Gruyter


Sarah Hart is a PhD student in Spanish linguistics at the State University
of New York at Buffalo. Her research interests include comparative and
historical Romance linguistics, especially concerning Spanish of the 13th
century. She is currently working on her dissertation on the loss of the
Old Spanish –udo participle in addition to teaching Spanish language

N.b.: Listing on the lgpolicy-list is merely intended as a service to its
and implies neither approval, confirmation nor agreement by the owner or
sponsor of the list as to the veracity of a message's contents. Members who
disagree with a message are encouraged to post a rebuttal, and to write
directly to the original sender of any offensive message.  A copy of this
may be forwarded to this list as well.  (H. Schiffman, Moderator)

For more information about the lgpolicy-list, go to
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://listserv.linguistlist.org/pipermail/lgpolicy-list/attachments/20130411/0fb178dd/attachment.html>
-------------- next part --------------
This message came to you by way of the lgpolicy-list mailing list
lgpolicy-list at groups.sas.upenn.edu
To manage your subscription unsubscribe, or arrange digest format: https://groups.sas.upenn.edu/mailman/listinfo/lgpolicy-list

More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list