Spelling, punctuation and material culture in the later Paston letters

Weir, Gillian (2018) Spelling, punctuation and material culture in the later Paston letters. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Printed Thesis Information: https://eleanor.lib.gla.ac.uk/record=b3327224


This thesis examines the spelling practices and letter-writing conventions to be found in the letters and papers of the Paston family and their circle during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Hitherto, most scholarly attention has been on the fifteenth-century material found in Paston archives, with comparatively little research undertaken on the extensive later materials. This thesis is intended as a partial attempt to address this lacuna, drawing on new approaches to the study of early modern English letters. It draws upon a new comprehensive diplomatic transcription of the materials, consisting of approximately 500 documents containing 200,000 words.

Building on an earlier pilot study (Weir 2009), the thesis falls into three main chapters, each addressing the collection from a distinct perspective, framed by a contextualising introduction (chapter 1) and a conclusion summarising the findings of the thesis and offering suggestions for future work (chapter 5). Chapter 2 begins with a key question: (1) How did letter-writing conventions of address and subscription alter and develop - if at all - through the Early Modern period, and are these changes reflected in the Paston family correspondence? The thesis demonstrates how the letters preserved in London, British Library, Additional MSS 27447, 27448 and 36988 displayed adherence to formulaic usages, even though, across the 150 years of their construction, there is a notable shift towards shorter constructions. Further research questions linked to these issues involved in address and subscription engage with the material culture of the correspondence: (2) What materials are used for the letters in question? (3) How do writers relate text to space? (4) How were the letters delivered to their recipients, and how and for what reasons were they preserved? Across the collection of letters, there was a clear development in the material culture of letter-writing, most notably through the development of the postal networks in the period, even though letter-writing tools remained relatively unchanged for centuries.

Chapter 3 examines spelling practices in the letters. It addresses the following research questions: (1) How standardised were the Paston letters? (2) To what extent do spelling practices differ between male and female letter- writers? (3) Where such practices vary within an individual’s lifetime is it possible to identify the social factors which contributed to that change? (4) To what extent – and if so why -- do these habits vary between generations of the same family? In order to answer these questions, the spelling habits of Robert Paston and his family were examined, along with a number of letters by identifiable female letter-writers. The thesis demonstrates that the letters in the collection displayed a move towards more standardised spellings, but that the use of personal spelling systems and non-standard variants was still very much in evidence.

Chapter 4 focuses on further pragmatic features characteristic of Early Modern English correspondence, with a special focus on the function of punctuation. Research questions addressed include: (1) If punctuation is used at all, in what context is it deployed? (2) How – if at all -- does the use of punctuation vary between male and female correspondents? In addition, this chapter will look at communicative acts within the letters including politeness, terms of address, and the use of formulaic constructions, leading to a further question: (3) To what extent do more general pragmatic features vary across the generations and genders of letter-writers? The thesis finds that punctuation practices of female writers vary considerably, even within the output of single individuals, but also that such variation and unconventional usage was not restricted to them. However, during the period covered by the archive there is a clear progression from the use of virgules and limited punctuation through to the deployment of punctuation broadly recognisable to present-day readers.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Early Modern English, spelling, punctuation, correspondence, material culture, Paston family, early modern letters, 17thC letters, women's letters.
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts & Humanities > School of Critical Studies > English Language and Linguistics
Supervisor's Name: Smith, Professor Jeremy J.
Date of Award: 2018
Depositing User: Gillian Weir
Unique ID: glathesis:2018-30912
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 18 Oct 2018 15:11
Last Modified: 12 Nov 2018 16:27
URI: https://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/30912

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