3.424 old spelling, cont. (65)

Fri, 1 Sep 89 20:22:05 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 424. Friday, 1 Sep 1989.

Date: Fri, 01 Sep 89 11:39:01 BST
Subject: Spelling

I've been reading the debate on the issue of spelling with
interest, but decreasing patience. Tom Thomson may feel
that it is easy to tell that the German thon should be
read as ton, but I can assure him that some of us find
this a big hurdle to jump. He is, in fact, doing something
that enrages humanists when done by computer experts.
This is a common problem. Once one figures out what variable,
CPU, RAM, VGA card, MIPS, memory paging, SGML, etc., mean or
that one uses a mouse by moving it across the table so that
the ball touches the surface, for example, it is all too easy
to forget that others may not yet know these things, however
trivial they may seem. And spelling is no different (although
not necessarily so trivial, I hasten to add!).

It seems to me that three points must be made. First, it is not
clear who the audience of the texts is meant to be, and this
must influence the choice of spelling. This is a point Willard
and a couple of others have already made. If the audience
is intended to be scholars then there may be no need to
modernise spellings. But if the audience includes undergraduates,
for example as part of a hypertext teaching package, then
it may be a good idea to modernise spellings or at least include
a critical apparatus (and what could be easier in hypertext?).

Second (to agree with Bob Kraft), surely
the advantage of the computer is that we don't have to choose
between spellings when we encode;
but we need software to help the reader decide which route
to take--e.g. spelling of manuscript A, of the 1712 edition or
of a modern spelling edition.

Finally, I am surprised no one has pointed out that for some
purposes it may be desirable to standardise spellings,
for example, for concordancing. On the other hand, one
might also wish to do a concordance on original spellings
thus revealing patterns in how words were spelled. So,
again, the ability to choose is important.
(I appreciate that the term original spelling is
meaningless, since it doesn't identify whose original spelling!)

And what about historical documents? I am thinking less of those
with varying spellings than of those which use substantial abbreviations,
particularly those in medieval latin. Should those abbreviations
be expanded? I would argue that they should, although again it
should be possible to see the abbreviation used. This is an
excellent application for a digitised or videodisc copy of the
document, so that the reader can count minims and identify
abbreviation squiggles for him/herself.

Donald Spaeth
Computers in Teaching Initiative Centre for History
University of Glasgow