LINGUIST List 11.1614

Tue Jul 25 2000

Disc: Writing and Speech

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Michael Lewis, RE: 11.1606, Disc: Writing and Speech

Message 1: RE: 11.1606, Disc: Writing and Speech

Date: Tue, 25 Jul 2000 10:31:36 +1000
From: Michael Lewis <>
Subject: RE: 11.1606, Disc: Writing and Speech


Surely the genesis of spelling anomalies in English arises, above all, from
its "rich and varied" parenthood. At the time printing (with its potential
for the propagation of "standard" forms) developed, there were many
different varieties of spoken English (as, indeed, there still are). Who
doesn't recall Caxton's plaintive question about whether to use "eigies" or
"eyren" for what we now call "eggs"? (Apologies for my own deviant

Pyles & Algeo's The Origins and Development of the English Language
(Harcourt Brace, 3d edn, 1982) is, despite its age, a relevant and readable

This doesn't really bear on Moonhawk's point about how long ago written
language diverged (evolved? declared independence?) from speech, except to
emphasise that -- until the development of radio -- there was no vehicle for
standardisation of spoken language. Written language, on the other hand,
began to be set in concrete (lead, anyway) about 550 years ago; while we can
trace many changes from Chaucer through Shakespeare and Dickens to Pynchon,
English orthography has changed comparatively little since Caxton.

Michael Lewis

Department of Linguistics
Macquarie University
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