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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton November 10, 2017

Secretary letter-shapes in County Durham

  • Jacob Thaisen EMAIL logo
From the journal Folia Linguistica


This paper applies quantitative methods in palaeography. It develops tree-structured regression models of the palaeographical variation found in a synchronic corpus of texts written in orthographically less standardised late Middle English and establishes their accuracy. There are sixteen models, each one relating to a letter-shape known to distinguish the Gothic cursive scripts Anglicana and Secretary. The models predict the presence of the individual letter-shape from one or more of the following variables, in no particular order: (1) localisation of texts’ orthographic variation; (2) text-type; and (3) in-word position. The discussion asks why several Secretary letter-shapes cluster in documents localisable to County Durham and the area further north, given the script’s association with (a) institutions of national administration in the London-Westminster area and (b) orthographic standardisation. It concludes that the linguistics and the palaeography do not co-vary during this period in the history of the English language and suggests that it may illuminate studies of the gradient between Anglicana and Secretary to pay attention to provincial centres, not least Durham.


The author acknowledges a residential fellowship at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities and Social Sciences. He thanks Laura Wright, Kari Anne Rand, Muriel Norde, and the anonymous reviewers for this journal for their helpful comments, and also Merja Stenroos for access to photographic reproductions of the texts examined. He read the paper at the workshop devoted to “The Emergence of Standard English in Multilingual Britain”, University of Cambridge, 20–21 April 2017.


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Published Online: 2017-11-10
Published in Print: 2017-11-27

© 2017 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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