Lectures in 2023/4 – abstracts

1) Prof. Gijsbert Rutten,Transmission and diffusion in the history of spelling

Labov (2007) introduced transmission and diffusion as the two main mechanisms in sound change. In this talk, Prof. Rutten will explore to what extent these concepts can be applied to orthographical changes in the history of European languages such as Dutch. He will argue that the approach needs to be complemented by a contact- and community-based perspective in the line of Milroy (2007). Taking examples from a variety of languages, he will discuss cases of transmission and diffusion in different types of communities. He will then focus on Dutch, and argue that the pattern of supralocalization (through diffusion) followed by standardization (in which transmission is important) needs to be extended to include the supra-national layer of pluricentricity.

2) Prof. Anja Voeste, Catechisms as primers: the role of catechisms in assisting early readers of German in the sixteenth century

In her contribution, Prof. Voeste will focus on the functions of catechisms in the development of literacy. Luther’s Small Catechism (1529) was written as a short introduction to the Christian faith and was intended to serve as a basis for teaching children and uneducated persons. In German Protestant countries, it quickly became a popular primer for novice readers and was printed in many regional editions. However, it is unclear to what extent spelling and layout reflected the intended readership and how regional features were dealt with.

3) Dr. Mel Evans, Spellings across unruly borders: the royal correspondence of James V of Scotland and Henry VIII of England, 1513-1542

The sixteenth century marks the divergence between print and manuscript spelling in Scots and in English. As spelling began to regularize in print, manuscript writing, such as letters, shows increasing individualization within local communities and in individual practices. This talk explores the dynamics of spelling variation in the correspondence exchanged between King James V of Scotland and King Henry VIII of England, identifying and interpreting the orthographic norms and developments within the letter-writing professionals, or secretariats, of each monarch. As well as considering these trends against the macro-level history of spelling in each language, Dr. Evans will consider the extent to which orthography in royal correspondence was starting to accrue symbolic, sociolinguistic meaning: as potential markers of monarchic authority, of national identity, and of solidarity and divergence of power between the two kings.

4) Prof. Carol Percy, Colonial orthographies and their contemporary consequences: focus on North American Englishes

Historically, the names of Indigenous places and peoples were often imprecisely represented or invisible in colonial orthographies, in part because the writing systems of many Indigenous languages were developed to facilitate their speakers’ acquisition of dominant colonial languages and cultures. Currently, there are efforts to adopt Indigenous representations of proper names in Canadian English, especially in the province of British Columbia, which in 2019 became the first jurisdiction in Canada to formally adopt the internationally recognized standards of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Drawing on historical and contemporary sources and current sociolinguistic theories, Prof. Percy’s talk will identify and contextualize some of the orthographical impediments to these contemporary efforts.

5) Prof. Giedrius Subačius, Development of prestandard Lithuanian orthography and certain theoretical insights: symbolism, materiality, aestheticity, and graphochronology

Prof. Subačius will focus on the prestandard Lithuanian orthography, trends of its 16–18-c. development in two major milieus: East Prussia (mostly based on German) and Grand Duchy of Lithuania (mostly based on Polish). Also, he will address aspects of the 19-c. orthographic specificity: symbolism, materiality, aestheticity, method of graphochronology, and specific variables. The speaker will conclude with the dramatism of the final selection of graphemes for standard Lithuanian at the end of the 19 c. (during the 1865–1904 ban on Latin script for Lithuanian by the Russian empire).