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The influence of early monolingual dictionaries and word lists on the standardisation of English spelling

This paper aims to ascertain as precisely as possible what direct influence the early monolingual word lists and dictionaries may have had on the standardisation of English spelling. It is based upon research in which a quantitative analysis of the spellings of lemmas from the nine earliest published such lists and dictionaries was made and followed by a comparison of these lemmas and their spellings with the spellings from a manuscript and printed text of appropriate date. These word lists and dictionaries range from Mulcaster 1582 to Cockeram 1626, and the manuscript and printed copies of the same text are by William Cavendish, 1st Duke of Newcastle and dated c.1659 and 1667 respectively. A qualitative investigation into the nature of the words and spellings occurring in the data was then undertaken. The results show a high degree of consistency within and between the word lists and dictionaries and printed Newcastle text but no significant correspondence between these spellings and those found in manuscript. The research indicates that the spellings of the printed lists and text may be taken as the standard spellings of those words in that period (and this includes both variable spellings and those which later changed into our present standard forms) but that the manuscript writing, at least this case, remains largely unaffected by the standard. Whereas the lack of correspondence between these two bodies of data may be due to the sample of lay writing chosen, the lexical and grammatical restrictions of lemmas in word lists and dictionaries of this period set precise and important limits to the extent to which they can have directly influenced the course of spelling standardisation.