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CHA PT E R II.
143. THE spelling of our language has admitted a succession of changes from the earliest times to the present day. We now call our orthography fixed: but perhaps the next generation will detect some changes that have taken place in Our time. Orthography is always in the rear of pronunciation, and this distance is continually increasing. As a language grows old, it more and more tends towards being governed by precedent. We spell words as we have been taught to spell them. The more literature is addressed to the eye, the more that organ is humoured, and the ear is less and less considered. A settled orthography is a habit of spelling which rarely admits of modification, and tends towards a state of absolute immutability.
When a language has become literary, its orthography has already begun to be fixed. The varieties of spelling which have taken place from the fourteenth century until now, may appear considerable to those who have only glanced at old books; but in reality they are very limited. A few slight variations, often repeated, will make a great difference in the legibility of a page, to the eye that is unaccustomed to such variations. It might be thought that the idea of orthography was a modern affair, and that the spelling of our early writers was chaotic and unstudied. But this would be a great mistake.
144. The poet of the Ormulum (A.D. 1215) earnestly begs that in future copies of his work, respect may be had to his orthography. The passage has been quoted and translated above, 50. Chaucer also, in the closing stanzas of his Troilus and Creseide, begs that no one will ‘miswrite’ his little book, by which he means that no one should deviate from his orthography: Go, little booke, go my little tragedie And for there is so great diversite In English, and in writing of our tong, So pray I to God, that none miswrite thee, Ne the mis-metre, for defaut of tong: And redd wherso thou be or eles song, That thou be understond,It was not for want of interest in orthography that so great diversity continued to exist, but it was from the obstacles which naturally delayed a common understanding on such a point. A standard was, however, set up in the fifteenth century, or at furthest in the sixteenth, by the masters of the Printing-press. It was the Press that determined our orthography. This may easily be discerned by the fact that whereas private correspondence continues for a long time to exhibit all the old diversity of spelling, the Bible of 1611, and the First Folio of Shakspeare (1623) are substantially in the orthography which is now prevalent and established. 145. If any one will be at the trouble to compare the following verses from the Bible of 1611 with our present Bible, he will see that the variation is not so great as at first sight appears. Diuers opinions of him among the people. The Pharisees are angry that their officers tooke him not, & chide with Nicodemus for taking his part.
37 In the last day, that great day of the feast, Iesus stood, and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come vnto me, and drinke.
38 He that beleeueth on me, as the Scripture hath saide, out of his belly shall flow riuers of liuing water. 39 (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that beleeue on him should receiue. For the holy Ghost was not yet giuen, because that Iesus was not yet glorified.) 4o " Many of the people therefore, when they heard this saying, saide, Of a trueth this is the Prophet. 4I Others said, This is the Christ. But some said, Shall Christ come out of Galilee ? 42 Hath not the Scripture saide, that Christ commeth of the seede of Dauid, and out of the towne of Bethlehem, where Dauid was 2 43 So there was a diuision among the people because of him. 44 And some of them would haue taken him, but no man layed hands on him. 45 " Then came the officers to the chiefe Priests and Pharises, and they said vnto them, Why haue ye not brought him? 46 The officers answered, Neuer man spake like this man. 47 Then answered them the Pharisees, Are ye also deceiued? 48 Haue any of the rulers, or of the Pharises beleeued on him 7 49 But this people who knoweth not the Law, are cursed. 5o Nicodemus saith vinto them, (He that came to Iesus by night, being one of them.) 51 Doth our Law iudge any man before it heare him, & know what he doth 2 52 They answered, and said vnto him, Art thou also of Galilee ? Search, and looke: for out of Galilee ariseth no Prophet. 53 And euery man went vnto his owne house.
146. A large part of the strange effect which this specimen has to the modern eye is due to something which is distinct from spelling—namely, to a change of form in certain characters. The modern distinction of J the consonant from 1 the vowel was not yet known. The v was not practically distinguished from the U. Instead of judge we see iudge; and instead of deceived it is deceiued. These may come under the notion of orthography, but they cannot be called diversities of spelling. To these have to be added a few instances of e final, which have since been disused. Also a few more capital letters. Such are the chief elements to which the strange aspect is due. The only real differences in this piece from our present use, are beleeue, layed (for laid), commesh, true!h.
Let us glance at a few of the changes which have produced the present settlement. For this purpose we must look back to the last great disturbance, that is to say, to the Conquest and its sequel. At that time there had been a fixed orthography for a hundred years; hardly less fixed than ours now is, after four centuries of printing. We must remember that the Press is a sort of dictator in orthography. If we were to judge of present English orthography by a collection of manuscripts of the day, it would be a different thing from judging of it by printed books. For a manuscript literature, that of the last hundred years of the Saxon period is singularly orthographical.
Modifications of the old Saxon Orthography.
147. The clashing of dialects in the transition period, and the French influence, combined to raise up a new sort of spelling in the place of the old. Even the Saxon words could not escape the new influence. A very large proportion of the words beginning with c were now spelt either with K or with CH.
Examples of a Saxon c-initial turned into K :—
Examples of Saxon words beginning with c, which in modern English have taken CH instead of c :—
Ceafu chaff Cidan chide
In the close of words also ch has taken the place of the Saxon c (or sometimes ce), as in church cyrice, speech spaec, reach raecan, leach taecan; and sometimes it has taken the form sch, as in latch laeccan, thatch paec, match gemaecca, zwatch wacie, wretch wreccea. This -sch extended at one time beyond its present bounds; thus in Spenser's Faery Queene, i. 2. 21, we read rich for ‘rich.' The quaint old Scottish grammarian, Alexander Hume, who was ‘Scolemaester of Bath' in 1592, speaks contemptuously of this ch and sch development of our pronunciation, calling it “an Italian chirt': With c we spil the aspiration, turning it into an Italian chirt; as, charite, cherrie, of quhilk hereafter . . . . . This consonant, evin quher in the original it hes the awne sound, we turn it into the chirt we spak of, quhilk indeed can be symbolized with none, neither greek nor latin letteres; as from cano, chant; from canon, chanon'; from castus, chast; &c.—Of the Orthographie of the Britan Tongue by Alexander Hume (Early English Text Society, 1865), PP. I3, I4. 148. It is a point of much interest and of some uncertainty, how the ch is to be accounted for in this class of examples. Was this simply a reform in the direction of phonetic spelling, and had these words been pronounced with the ch sound even while they were written with the ch That this was not the case universally the Scotch form Kirk is a sufficient evidence. But may it have been so partially— may the chirt have been in the southern and western pronunciation ? Something of this sort may be seen at present in Scandinavia. The Swedish and Danish languages have initial K in common in a large number of words. The Danish K has no chirt anywhere; but the Swedish K is pronounced as English ch when it is followed by certain vowels. The Danish word for church is kirke; the Swedish word is Åyrka. In the former case the K-initial is pronounced as in Scotland; in the latter it sounds like the first consonant in