Orthography in the correspondence of Lady Katherine Paston, 1603-1627.
MPhil(R) thesis, University of Glasgow.
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The following thesis examines the spelling practices of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries through the correspondence of one woman, Lady Katherine Paston (1578-1629). The increased availability of printed texts in the sixteenth century saw the spread of standardised spellings where previous generations had relied on idiosyncratic pronunciation-based spelling systems, and the collection of letters written by and received by Lady Katherine Paston offers an excellent opportunity to compare the spelling practices in private correspondence in the early seventeenth century and the extent to which personal orthographic systems remained in use alongside standardised forms.
British Library Additional Manuscript 27447 contains the correspondence of the Paston family, including 48 letters in Lady Paston’s own hand and a further 37 letters addressed to her. The letters received by Lady Paston are predominantly the work of male correspondents, many of whom would have received a high level of education and this allows a comparison between the spelling practices of male and female correspondents and the influence of education and the move towards a more standardised spelling system.
In addition to the comparison of male and female spelling habits, the inclusion of letters by Lady Paston’s son and younger sister raise interesting questions about education and the possible influence of the personal spelling habits of others. While no letters between Lady Paston and her elder sister, Lady Abigail Mundeford, have been preserved, the surviving letters by Lady Mundeford have also been examined to offer a comparison of the orthographies of three sisters, and the extent to which they differ from one another.
I began by transcribing all of the letters in the collection (even though an edition of the Correspondence of Lady Katherine Paston was produced in 1941), and those by Lady Mundeford, before applying a questionnaire of frequently occurring words to each letter to produce an inventory of spellings for each individual. These questionnaires were used to produce tables of spellings in order to compare the spelling practices of the correspondents as well as highlight patterns and developments within the spelling habits of an individual.
By conducting a detailed analysis of the spellings employed by Lady Paston and her correspondents it has been possible provide an insight into the range of spellings available, the frequency with which forms were used and, in some cases, the gradual adoption of one form over another and ultimately to reconstruct the personal orthography of Lady Katherine Paston based upon her surviving letters. The reconstruction of Lady Paston’s personal orthography in Chapter Four is based on the structure of modern spelling habits and the way in which Lady Paston’s spelling system fits within a modern spelling structure.
By comparing the letters of Lady Paston and those of her sisters it revealed that each woman had their own distinctive spelling system despite the initial appearances that the spelling habits of the women were more erratic and idiosyncratic than the male correspondents. The spellings employed by the male correspondents show an awareness of the standardised forms, though these were used alongside non-standardised forms and some of the non-standardised spellings were gradually replaced by the standardised form.
The examination of the spelling habits of Lady Paston and her male and female correspondents showed that the individuals represented in this collection were clearly aware of the standardised spellings which were becoming more common in the early seventeenth century, with some writers adopting standardised forms over a number of years and some of the male writers displayed an almost completely modern spelling system, however, many of the correspondents continue to use non-standardised forms within their own personal spelling systems.
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