Please consider registering as a member of the International Spenser Society, the professional organization that supports The Spenser Review. There is no charge for membership; your contact information will be kept strictly confidential and will be used only to conduct the business of the ISS—chiefly to notify members when a new issue of SpR has been posted.

Hanna Rutkowska, Orthographic Systems in Thirteen Editions of the Kalender of Sheperdes (1506-1656)
by Laura Esteban-Segura

Rutkowska, Hanna. Orthographic Systems in Thirteen Editions of the Kalender of Sheperdes (1506-1656). Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2013. 299 pp. ISBN: 978-3631626245. $68.00 cloth. 

Much has been written about variation and change in the history of English both diachronically (arguably completed changes) and synchronically (changes in progress). In Orthographic Systems in Thirteen Editions of the Kalender of Sheperdes (1506-1656), Hanna Rutkowska breaks new ground by looking into variation and consistency of orthographic systems in the Early Modern English work Kalender of Sheperdes (hereafter KS). She selects for the purpose thirteen editions published between 1506 and 1656, as well as writings by Early Modern authorities reflecting on the English language. The KS belongs to the almanac tradition, a popular collection of texts on a variety of subjects (astronomy and astrology, medicine, religious instruction, farming, etc.), which usually incorporated a calendar and illustrations. Originally printed in French, the English translation was based on the work Le (Compost et) Kalendrier des Bergiers (63-64).

The English editions analyzed in the book under review comprise those issued by Richard Pynson (1506), Julian Notary (c. 1518), Wynkyn de Worde (1528), William Powell (1556), John Wally (c. 1570; c. 1580; c. 1585), Thomas Adams (c. 1600; 1604; 1611; 1618), John Wright (1631) and Robert Ibbitson (1656). The rather long history of publication of the KS makes it, as the author suggests, a good source for diachronic linguistic analysis, which nevertheless has been neglected (77). Transcriptions of the thirteen editions, carefully prepared by the author, form the main corpus of the study, which amounts to nearly a million words and which has been used as the basis for the quantitative analysis of data. The second corpus is made up by the most significant works (dictionaries, treatises, handbooks, etc.), published between 1552 and 1654, by language authorities of the period, such as William Bullokar, John Hart and Richard Mulcaster. This other corpus provides solid ground for the qualitative analysis. The author follows an autonomistic approach to the writing system which “as a subsystem of language, deserves research interest as much as the spoken one,” and labels her analysis as “a corpus-based variation study” (20).

Together with the Acknowledgements, List of tables, List of figures, List of abbreviations and symbols, Introduction, Conclusions, Bibliography, Index of names, Index of terms and Appendices, the book contains 10 chapters, in which the information is presented in a clear and well-organized way. The first chapter provides theoretical notions on language, speech and writing (with a special focus on the latter), as well as on corpus linguistics. The main orthographic principles in English (e.g., phonological, etymological, historical, etc.) are explained and the importance of orthographic variation as a source of evidence for pronunciation is highlighted. Orthographic variables can be correlated with extra-linguistic ones; thus, the study of orthographic variation reveals itself as a valuable tool for historical sociolinguists, for whom written records represent the only source of information. Apart from supporting the approach taken in the study, this chapter is useful for readers with a basic knowledge of linguistics as it can clarify terms and concepts.

Theoretical considerations are also central to chapter 2, which is concerned with Early Modern English and its socio-historical and cultural contexts. A key concept associated with this period is that of language standardization, which comes up regularly all through the book. The second half of the sixteenth century saw an increase in the number of works by spelling reformers, orthoepists, grammarians and theoreticians, who propounded a restructuring of the English spelling system and prescribed rules about what was considered correct and incorrect. There is general agreement among modern scholars about the influence that dictionaries had on the process of standardization, but opinions are divided when it comes to the role of printers in spelling regularization (52-61). The author tackles and skilfully develops these issues throughout this chapter.

Chapter 3 moves on to explore the KS editions under study by taking into account historical, textual and bibliographical elements. These include publication history, information on printers and publishers, similarities and differences in contents, and woodcuts. The reader can learn interesting facts about the business of printing in England at the time, such as the preclusion of foreigners from membership in the Stationers’ Company or one of the ways printers entered the profession, which involved marrying a widow of a previous printer (65-67).

Manuscripts and printed books are two of the most important witnesses to help describe past periods of the language.[1] In chapter 4 the transition from one form to the other is discussed based on actual evidence from the editions. These share features of format, layout, typefaces, use of signatures, running heads and catchwords, etc. with the manuscript tradition. An in-depth analysis of punctuation and word division is carried out, which yields interesting results about the use and demise of medieval marks and the adoption, as a consequence, of new ones, including an increased use of the word-medial hyphen (not common in manuscripts). Furthermore, light is shed on capitalization practices.

Chapter 5 also deals with a recurrent element found in manuscript writings: abbreviations. The materials from which manuscript folios were made (vellum or parchment) were expensive and abbreviations saved space, but also—obviously and importantly—time.[2] However, in early printed books and particularly in the editions of the KS, the author concludes, after a thorough analysis of different methods of abbreviation (brevigraphs, contractions, elision, etc.), that space seems to be the most important factor and that, in this sense, abbreviations were employed as a typographical tool for line justification and page layout. As with handwritten texts, the use of abbreviations decreases in printed texts for a number of extra-linguistic reasons.

In chapter 6 the discussion centres around graphemic variation in several orthographic sets, namely, <u> and <v>, <i>, <y> and <j>, <d> and <th>, <ssh> and <sh>, and <ge> and <dg(e)>. Although the distribution of some of these graphemic variants may seem quite random, evidence shows that in some editions there were clear rules and patterns of usage.

More orthographic variables are taken into consideration in chapter 7, this time in connection with vowel length marking. Thus, the methods employed by the KS printers for this (i.e., the use of final <e> to indicate the presence of a long vowel in the preceding syllable; the doubling of vowels; the digraphs <ea> and <oa>) are examined and general trends identified. The interrelation between phonology and orthography is also tackled in chapter 8, where homography among words with different meanings and mostly unrelated etymology is studied by looking at the representation of certain lexemes (for example, the occurrence of the variants son and sonne as representations of both the lexemes son and sun). The time span covered by the different KS editions allows noticing how the phenomenon tended to be avoided and reduced over the years through the introduction of graphemic differentiation.

Chapters 9 and 10 are devoted to morphological and etymological spellings respectively. With the criterion of morphological spelling, the author makes reference to “the consistency in the orthographical representation of particular morphemes,” which plays an important role in spelling regularization and standardization (191). Both native and borrowed common derivational suffixes, including nominal (-ness, -ship, -dom, -hood and -head, -ance, -ity, -tion, -or), adjectival (-ful, -ly, -al) and adverbial (-ly) suffixes, and their graphemic realizations are assessed in order to establish the level of consistency among the KS printers. Dialectal spellings are also discussed in this chapter.

As far as etymological spelling is concerned, the significant number of borrowings from Latin and Greek during the Early Modern English period “triggered the tendency to etymologize the spelling of earlier borrowings from the Romance languages” (217). Such etymological “corrections” were an attempt to regularize the orthography of words “by altering them so as to reflect their supposed Latin etyma” (27).[3] These respellings often involved inserting letters in the middle of words (e.g., Middle English avis ~ advice; Middle English dette ~ debt), and chapter 10, the last one, surveys spelling variants with and without the epenthetic graphemes <d>, <l>, <p>, <b> and <c>, in addition to the replacement of <f> with <ph>.

All in all, the book under review is well-documented and planned, enlightening and written with ample knowledge of the topic, and thus represents an excellent and welcome contribution to the field of English historical (socio)linguistics. The use of corpus-based research methods and the combination of quantitative with qualitative analyses of the data offer an innovative approach to the study of the writing system and orthography regularization in Early Modern English, where the opportunities for research are almost limitless thanks to an easier accessibility to materials made possible through the advent of historical corpus compilation, electronic editing and digitization projects. 

Laura Esteban-Segura
Universidad de Murcia

[1] Roger Lass, Historical Linguistics and Language Change (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1997), 44. 

[2] Anthony G. Petti, English Literary Hands from Chaucer to Dryden (London: Edward Arnold, 1977), 22.

[3] Vivian Salmon, “Orthography and Punctuation,” The Cambridge History of the English Language, Volume III: 1476-1776, ed. Roger Lass (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999), 13-55.




  • There are currently no comments

You must log in to comment.


Cite as:

Laura Esteban-Segura, "Hanna Rutkowska, Orthographic Systems in Thirteen Editions of the Kalender of Sheperdes (1506-1656)," Spenser Review 45.2.46 (Fall 2015). Accessed March 19th, 2018.
Not logged in or