The Development of the English Graphemics

September 25th, 20115:03 am


The Development of the English Graphemics

Graphemics is the study of systems of writing and their relationship to the systems of the languages they represent.

An alphabet is a standardized set of letters – basic written symbols – each of which roughly represents a phoneme, a spoken language, either as it exists now or as it was in the past. There are other systems, such as logographies, in which each character represents a word, morpheme, or semantic unit, and syllabaries, in which each character represents a syllable.

The English language was first written in the Anglo-Saxon futhorc runic alphabet (also called Northumbrian), in use from the fifth century. Futhorc was descended from the Elder Futhark of 24 runes and contained between 26 and 33 characters. It was used probably from the fifth century onward, for recording Old English and Old Frisian. This alphabet was brought to what is now England, along with the proto-form of the language itself, by Anglo-Saxon settlers. Very few examples of this form of written Old English have survived.

Fhe Latin alphabet, introduced by Irish Christian missionaries, began to replace the Anglo-Saxon futhorc from about the seventh century. First the scripts shifted to a {minuscule) half-uncial script of the Latin alphabet. This was replaced by insular script, a cursive and pointed version of the half-uncial script. This was used until the end of the 12th century when continental Carolingian minuscule (also known as Caroline) replaced the insular.

Futhork and Latin scripts continued in parallel for some time. The letter yogh was adapted from Irish ecclesiastical forms of Latin < g >; ðæt (called eth or edh modern English) was an alteration of Latin < d >, and the runic le tters thorn and wynn are borrowings from futhorc. The a-e ligature æsc (ash, æ) was adopted as a letter of its own right, named after a futhorc rune.

In very early Old English the o-e ligature œðel (ethel, œ) also appeared as a distinct letter, likewise named after a rune, odal. Additionally, the v-v ligature w (double-u) was in use. Also used was a symbol for the conjunction and, a character similar to the number seven (called a Tironian note), and a symbol for the relative pronoun ðæt a thorn with a crossbar through the ascender. Macrons over vowels were rarely used to indicate long vowels. The ampersand (&, &) has sometimes appeared at the end of the English alphabet, as in Byrhtferð’s list of letters in 1011. Properly speaking the figure is a ligature for the letters Et. In English it is used to represent the word and and occasionally the Latin word et, as in the abbreviation &c (et cetera).

Modern orthography had been finally established by the 13th century. After Samuel Johnson’s dictionary (first publication in 1755) had been published, some insignificant changes were introduced. S.Johnson tried to keep to the orthography of his time without any innovation by choosing the only variant if there were some. These rules of spelling were accepted as model ones; schools and publishing houses tried to keep to them. The phonetic structure forming the basis of modern English orthography is the phonetic structure of the late ME period. Modern orthography does not take into consideration the weakening of unstressed syllables in the words borrowed from French and Latin.

Besides, in many cases the historical spelling adopted in the late ME period was preserved. This fact explains numerous contradictions of ME and that especially concerns the vowel system. The expression of consonants is more distinct; although there is a number of polysemantic graphemes and quite often one sound is marked by different graphemes: the phonetic changes of the late ME and NE period are not taken into account.

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