LINGUIST List 6.1395

Wed Oct 11 1995

Disc: Between-word Delimiters

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1. "Lass, RG, Roger, Prof", Subject 6.1342, Between-Word Delimiters

Message 1: Subject 6.1342, Between-Word Delimiters

Date: Tue, 10 Oct 1995 09:20:58 Subject 6.1342, Between-Word Delimiters
From: "Lass, RG, Roger, Prof" <>
Subject: Subject 6.1342, Between-Word Delimiters

In reference to Christopher Upward's posting of 25 September 1995.
The story about silent reading as a great surprise does indeed
involve St Augustine, but it was not Augustine who did it. It was in
fact his teacher St Ambrose, whom he observed when he came to Rome to
study, sitting in his study and reading silently. Augustine makes
some remarks about how (as I recall) it might have been the case that
he did it to avoid damaging his voice. The story appears in the book
of the Confessiones that details his meeting with Ambrose.

On Old English writing: there are some very interesting things that
haven't been studied enough, about WHAT precisely is delimited. The
Beowulf MS for instance typically (both scribes) writes the elements
of compounds separately, as well as separating affixes with fairly
heavy structure from their stems, e.g. suffixes like -lice
'adverbial'. It is also common for prepositions to be written as
proclitic to their objects, or even for a whole string of light
elements to be handled this way: e.g. (substituting <th> for 'thorn'):

thacomofmore = tha com of mor-e 'then (he) came from the moor'

The guiding principle appears to be largely prosodic, in that clitic
groups are written as orthographically clitic as well. There are also
funnies in word-division due to other things, like line-division,
e.g. the name 'Grendel' written (impossibly)


when space ran out at the right margin, and a couple of funny
divisions of geminates within the word, like

 frem man = fremm-an 'to perform'

 I always find it a salutary exercise to get my Old English students
to read some stuff in MS facsimile after they've been used to
editions with punctuation and modern word-division. This also makes
them realize that in texts that don't punctuate, or punctuate only
metrically, like much Old Germanic verse, syntactic decisions are not
clear-cut, and notions like 'subordinate clause', even 'sentence'
are matters for the reader to work out. This makes them suspicious of
both editions and work on Old English syntax that assumes 'modern'
definitions of parataxis, hypotaxis, etc., which is all to the good.

Roger Lass

Roger Lass
Department of Linguistics
University of Cape Town
Rondebosch 7700/South Africa
Tel +(021) 650 3138 Fax +(021) 650 3726
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