Orthographies in early modern Europe

Orthographies in early modern Europe. Ed. by Susan Baddeley and Anja Voeste. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton, 2012. Pp. vi, 383. ISBN 9783110288179. $140 (Hb).
Reviewed by David Elton Gay, Bloomington, IN

The orthographies of many early modern European languages are well-known to students of these languages for their often difficult and misleading spellings. The languages have, typically, shifted from the middle to early modern stages of their development, yet the orthographies often fail to reflect that changes have occurred. Other languages are just being written, and these orthographies often pose puzzles of their own. This book looks at both languages with long histories of writing and some that are only just coming into writing in the early modern period, offering a guide to the complexities of the early modern orthographies of these languages.

The book opens with a general essay on the orthographies and their problems by the editors.’ After the introduction to the problems of early modern orthographies, the book moves to studies of orthographies of selected Romance, Germanic, Slavic, and Finno-Ugric languages. The essays of the first section look at Romance languages. Elena Lamas Pombo writes about ‘Variation and standardization in the history of Spanish’. Andreas Michel then takes up ‘Italian orthography in Early Modern times’, which is followed by Susan Baddeley’s essay, ‘French orthography in the 16th century’. The book’s second section deals with early modern Germanic languages. Terttu Nevalainen describes ‘Variable focusing in English spelling between 1400 and 1600’. Anja Voeste then offers a study of ‘The emergence of suprasegmental spellings in German’, and, finally, Alexander Zheltukhin describes ‘Variable norms in 16th-century Swedish orthography’. The third section then takes up the Slavic languages. Daniel Bunčić looks at ‘The standardization of Polish orthography in the 16th century’. Tilman Berger then examines the intersection of religion and orthographies in ‘Religion and diacritics: The case of Czech orthography’. It is followed by Roland Marti’s essay, ‘On the creation of Croatian: The development of Croatian Latin orthography in the 16th century’. The book’s final section examines two Finno-Ugrian languages. Klára Korompay’s essay is on ‘16th-century Hungarian orthography’, and Taru Nordlund’s essay, ‘Standardization of Finnish orthography: From reformists to national awakeners’, then closes the book.

Although the essays in the book are somewhat inconsistent in their quality, the book does an important service for historical linguists in highlighting the importance of orthography and other philological and textual issues in the study of early modern languages. The essays remind historical linguists and others about the importance of editing and textual criticism in the interpretation of early modern texts. The texts that historical linguists use are typically the regularized editions of modern scholars, which sometimes differ in linguistically significant ways from the manuscript and early printed versions that are the basis for the editions. This book is a very useful guide back to the originals of these texts.