alphabets-msg - 4/26/99
Alphabets and how they've changed. Roman numerals vs. Arabic numerals. Doing arithmetic in Roman numerals. How scribal errors change documents.
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Mark S. Harris AKA: THLord Stefan li Rous
Stefan at florilegium.org
From: bloodthorn at sloth.equinox.gen.nz (Jennifer Geard)
Subject: Re: Funny Spelling, was Re: Rules and honor
Date: Mon, 04 Jul 94 05:21:50 GMT
Organization: Lethargy Inc.
Bill McNutt asks why AElflaed and the AEthelmarc people capitalize that E.
The answer has to do with the letters in the Anglo-Saxon alphabet and the characters available in the basic keyboard character set.
Anglo-Saxon used a number of letters which are not used in English today,
including characters for "w" (looks like a triangular pennon on a pole,
called wynn), the "th" in "this" (looks like a D with a line through the
downstroke, called edh or eth), and the "th" in "thin" (looks like a wynn at
half-mast, called thorn).
Among the Anglo-Saxon letters was a vowel called aesc (ash - sounds like cat
and mat) which looks like an A and an E cuddling up to each other. People in
British-English-speaking countries still occasionally use the letter, but
it's not available in the common basic character sets for keyboards so it
tends to be typed as AE.
BTW, I know one child named AElfleda, and the aesc on her birth certificate
was made by typing an A and then backing up the typewriter before typing the
E. The Registry of Birth, Deaths and Marriages in NZ will consider allowing
other unusual characters in registrations once they upgrade to computers in a
couple of years time. (Yes, I did ask whether I could register a name with a
thorn.) I was surprised to find they've only recently progressed from manual
Pagan le Chaunster
Jennifer Geard bloodthorn at sloth.equinox.gen.nz
Christchurch, New Zealand
From: aj at wg.icl.co.uk (Tony Jebson)
Subject: Re: Funny Spelling, was Re: Rules and honor
Date: 4 Jul 1994 08:06:04 -0500
Organization: UTexas Mail-to-News Gateway
Jennifer Geard wrote:
> Anglo-Saxon used a number of letters which are not used in English today,
> including characters for "w" (looks like a triangular pennon on a pole,
> called wynn), the "th" in "this" (looks like a D with a line through the
> downstroke, called edh or eth), and the "th" in "thin" (looks like a wynn at
> half-mast, called thorn).
The character "eth" was called "thaet" (spelt "eth" + "aesc" + "t") by the
There was another "strange" character: "yogh" which is generally transcribed
into MnE as "g", but was pronounced either "y" (as in "yet") or "g" (as
in "get"). (One form of this character is shown below).
A bit of ASCII art below may help visualise these characters:
============= thorn ===== wynn === lowercase eth = Uppercase Eth ===
Ascender oo O Oo OO Oo
ooo Oo OO OO
o Oo Oo ooOOoo OO
Headline o oo oooooo oo OOOOOO OO
oo o o o oo Oo OO OO
o o o o Oo OO OO OO
o o o o oo OO OO Oo
Baseline o o o o oOOOo OOOOOOo
Descender o o
================= yogh ==============================================
================ aesc ===============================================
OO OO OO
Baseline oOOO Ooo
Apologies for the quality of the art, but some of these are hard to draw ;-)
Also, many "normal" characters looked very different in Anglo-Saxon times. In
particular: "s", "f", "t", "r"
If you have ftp, then some jpegs of folios 129r, 179r, 192v of "Beowulf"
can be found in directory mss/beowulf at othello.bl.uk
--- Tony Jebson --- International Computers Limited (ICL)
--- +44 625 617193 --- +44 61 223 1301 ext 3099 (work)
--- aj at wg.icl.co.uk --- All opinions expressed here (however stupid) are my own,
----------------------- and nothing stated here is an official statement by ICL.
From: corliss at hal.PHysics.wayne.EDU (David J. Corliss)
Subject: Funny Spelling
Date: 28 Jun 1994 16:02:33 -0400
Organization: the internet
Bill McNutt asks:
> Funny question for a 10+ year veteran, but how come you and the AEthelmark
> people capitalize that E?
Not at all a funny question, just something peculiar to a somewhat obscure
langauge. You have asked about what I will call the "Winchester AE".
The E is capitalized _along_with_ the A because _they_ are _one_ letter:
that is, a single rune in Anglo-Saxon. The name of this rune, in modern
English, is "ash", like either the tree or the remains of a fire. (These two
uses of "ash" are related and both could be spelled out or signified merely by
the use of this single rune.)
Now: "a" in Anglo-Saxon is pronounced "ah", not unlike the "o" in "hot".
The sound that begins the word "ash" is very different and is spelled
differently in Anglo-Saxon: _ae_. The sound now spelled "sh" was written
"sc" in Anglo-Saxon, so the modern English writes "ash" and the Anglo-Saxon
writes "aesc" with no difference in pronunciation. For purposes of
capitalization, the ae is considered to but a single letter, and so both
charecters are capitalized.
This is done in Anglo-Saxon, thus making AE an Anglo-Saxon capital. Therefore,
it must be Winchester.
From: sandradodd at aol.com (SandraDodd)
Subject: Re: Funny Spelling
Date: 1 Jul 1994 02:19:02 -0400
Organization: America Online, Inc. (1-800-827-6364)
Hey, I liked that Winchester Mystery Joke.
In article <9406281951.AA07959 at hal.physics.wayne.edu>,
corliss at hal.PHysics.wayne.EDU (David J. Corliss) writes: >>Now: "a"
in Anglo-Saxon is pronounced "ah", not unlike the "o" in "hot".
The sound that begins the word "ash" is very different and is spelled
differently in Anglo-Saxon: _ae_. The sound now spelled "sh" was
"sc" in Anglo-Saxon, so the modern English writes "ash" and the
Anglo-Saxon writes "aesc" with no difference in pronunciation. For
purposes of capitalization, the ae is considered to but a single
letter, and so both charecters are capitalized.>>
By Middle English (which I know more about that I know about Anglo
Saxon, which is very little, and judging by this sentence you might
think I know very little about Modern English) words were spelled
differently in different parts of England, and the combo ae [which
isn't always a capital, even in Winchester] was used in some places
and not so much in others, the explanation now being that it was a
dipthong (two sounds--a & then e), and it was used when, in the
pronunciation of the writer, it was pronounced that way. Likely it
was itself pronounced differently in different parts of England.
Hard to prove now, but scholars use clues like that (and rhymes, when
they can figure a pronunciation from rhymed verse) to try to trace
the history of dialects & migrations.
Me, I found it in a history book, and I pronounce it like Elf-led.
Some other famous (still used) which have been found spelled with AE
at the beginning are Albert and Elsie and Alfred. Now they're
spelled as they're pronounced, and probably then they were too. The
last modern English word to use that letter, I would guess, is
"aesthetic," which was spelled this way in the 1950's and is not
anymore. When I didn't know how to pronounce AElflaed (because
nobody really does), I took the initial sound of "aesthetic."
I'm an early-period Laurel, but I'm not in the Middle, and part of
what I got a Laurel for is late-period music. So it sometimes goes.
AElflaed [my keyboard can do it right, but this mailer can't]
From: djheydt at uclink.berkeley.edu (Dorothy J Heydt)
Subject: Re: Origins of 0
Date: 15 Apr 1997 14:10:26 GMT
Organization: University of California at Berkeley
Derek Mcdonald <thrash at interlog.com> wrote:
>Did the number 0 come about during the 15th century as I have read?
Lots earlier than that. A kids' History of Math would give you
more details, but the zero started in Indian (like, in India, not
Native American) notation many centuries back and spread into
Arabic notation. The Arabs brought it to Spain, and during the
Reconquista--which took more centuries than the 15th, but
culminated in 1492--Christian scholars learned it from Arabic
texts, frequently through Jewish interpreters. There's a lovely
scene in James Burke's _The Day the Universe Changed_ showing a
Dominican monk and a Jewish scholar sitting together in some
shady arcade, translating a book. (I paraphrase from the
"And the azimuth--"
"Yes, azimuth. That's the distance clockwise in degrees from the
"There isn't a word for that in Latin." (writing carefully) "A-zi-muth."
"Zero? What's that?"
"Well-- it's an empty space."
"How do I write an empty space?"
"Draw a little circle."
Dorothea of Caer-Myrddin Dorothy J. Heydt
Mists/Mists/West Albany, California
PRO DEO ET REGE djheydt at uclink
(My account might go away at any minute; if I disappear, I haven't died.)
From: pyotr at halcyon.com (pyotr filipivich)
Subject: Re: Origins of 0
Date: 17 Apr 1997 10:36:17 -0700
Organization: Northwest Nexus Inc.
morphis at niuhep.physics.niu.edu writes:
}dlblanc at earthlink.net (Louis leBlanc, O.L.) writes:
}>djheydt at uclink.berkeley.edu (Dorothy J Heydt) wrote:
}>>Derek Mcdonald <thrash at interlog.com> wrote:
}>>They used Roman numerals, which don't use *anything* in place of zero.
}>In reality, Roman numerals have an 'implied' zero, in that they used
}>different letters for each power of 10 (e.g. I and V for ones).
}Nit picking, but I don't think that really implies a zero.
}zero is either the concept on "nothing" in numerical form or
}a place holder (obviously as a place holder it is building on being
}a symbol for nothing)
Zero is not 'nothing' - zero is a count of none, or one less
than one, two less than two and so on. It is a quibble, it is a nuance,
it is a very important point,and the underlying "truth" of this higher
}>You CAN do
}>long arithmetic in Roman numerals (if you're TRULY masochistic). I know;
}>I've done it.
}silly person, that is what an abacus is for.
}I was rather surprized to learn recently that Hindi-Arabic numerals are
}apparently NOT period for much of the SCA period.
To confuse things - there were two variants of "Arabic" numbers
- and what we in Europe learned were the western forms. The numerals
used in the Eastern Med are different in a number of ways.
I just realized - the really important thing was the invention
of 'numerals': symbols for specific quantities that were not used for
recording verbal information. E.g. is "IV" six or an abreviation for
"IVPETER"? And I doubt anyone will mistake '6' as short of "Intervenious
}This leads one to hope that abacuses are.
Bothe Abacuses and counting boards. Doing math with roman numbers
is incentive enough to invent some form of analoge computer :-)
Remember "IV" is not so much "4" as "one less than five"
and MLXVI isn't "1066" so much as it is "one thousand fifty and ten and
five and one - or "one thousand three score and six'.
pyotr filipivich, sometimes owl, Nikolai Petrovich in the SCA.
From: jeffs at bu.edu (Jeff Suzuki)
Subject: Re: Origins of 0
Date: 18 Apr 1997 03:05:49 GMT
Organization: Boston University
Dorothy J Heydt (djheydt at uclink.berkeley.edu) wrote:
: You CAN do
: >long arithmetic in Roman numerals (if you're TRULY masochistic). I know;
: >I've done it.
: Yes, you can; I'd rather not, thanks; I have trouble enough with
: the Arabic kind.
Actually, it's easier to use Roman numerals for arithmetic problems
like addition, subtraction, and to some extent multiplication. Some
examples (trivial, but you can figure out the rest):
VII + VIII = VVIIII = XV
VIII times XII = LXXX VIII VIII = LXXXXVI
(This second is X times VIII, plus I times VIII twice)
Arabic numeral calculations _seem_ easier to us because most of us
have spent ten years or more learning how to do them. (Some of us
still have problems...I do all my accounts on Spreadsheets...)
As for a Roman Zero...eh? What's the point? Roman numerals don't
need a zero for any purpose. After all, the purpose of a zero in
Arabic is as a placeholder: it's what distinguishes 1 from 1000. In
Roman, you don't need the placeholder: I is not M, and anyone can see
(There are two basic types of numeration: additive, like Roman
numerals, and positional, like the Arabic system. For whatever
reason, the Greeks adopted the worst of both worlds, a hideous blend
of both positional and additive numeration.)
(Hmm...the mathematician in me says that it's a truism that
mathematicians can't do arithmetic. I wonder if the Greek numeration
system and the difficulty of doing arithmetic with it is what caused
the Greeks to be great mathematicians...hmmm..)
Subject: Re: Origins of 0
From: una at bregeuf.stonemarche.org (Honour Horne-Jaruk)
Date: Thu, 17 Apr 97 04:59:32 EDT
thrash at interlog.com (Derek Mcdonald) writes:
> Ok, so it goes back a long way and came into common use around 1500
> (1492) here but this still leaves one question..what the hell did people
> use in place of 0 before it became common place?
That's the whole thing right there- they _didn't_. They had no
way of marking an empty place. That's why the zero was adopted so
enthusiastically; it speeded mathematics up by something like 6:1 over
If this seems confusing, think of this; the whole set of
"Arabic" numerals are based on a series of counted angles. Thus,
one has one angle (1 didn't used to have a base line) two has two
angles (In the script used by the folks who developed this originally
there was no letter z, so the original 2 didn't get confused with
it). and so on, clear up to 9; but how do you signify a space-holder
under such a system? Obviously, you make a shape with _no_ angles-
Actually, by the standards of the time, the nice gentlemen of
India who invented the concept of O were _crazy_. Why would any sane
person invent a way to say "nothing" in mathematics? (_We_ know it
works. They had no reason to believe it had any point or purpose,
until "Arabic" numerals turned out to make math so astonishingly
Ever try subtraction in Roman numerals? Ugh.
Alizaunde, Demoiselle de Bregeuf
Una Wicca (That Pict)
(Friend) Honour Horne-Jaruk, R.S.F.
Date: Wed, 7 May 1997 13:08:27 -0400 (EDT)
From: Maradin at aol.com
To: sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu
Subject: Re: spelling
In a message dated 97-05-07 12:32:38 EDT, you write:
<< Anybody have satisfying answers? >>
As a specialist in the history of the English language, I'll put in my
ha'p'nce worths. First, understand that written systems tend to evolve
around arbitrary symbols which communicate commonly understood meaning.
Egyptian heiroglyphs (which I admittedly know little about) represent
concepts and objects. Ancient American Indian pictures also were forms of
communication. As far as *specific* written systems, one can go syllabic
(i.e., the Japanese system and, I think, Cherokee) or alphabetic. It is the
alphabetic systems which attempt to represent one character for each sound.
The problem which plagued Western Europe is that they basically used the
same alphabet (thought by some to be a Phonecian adaptation of Hebraic
characters), modified to include certain sounds which don't exist in other
languages. That said, understand also that there is strong evidence which
indicates that *all* spelling in its origins is phonetic (including Latin).
What Latin didn't have to contend with which other languages did is that the
language was not, originally, that of a nation but a group within the nation.
The dialect of Latin (at least, the one we associate with Latin) is that of
Rome. Other dialects eventually became the Romance languages: French,
Spanish, Italian, Romanian, and Portuguese. What happened to Latin (as in
other languages with an established spelling system) is that the spelling
remained frozen while the phonology changed. Hence, when scholars speak of
Latin, one must ask whether one refers to Vulgate Latin, Classical Latin, or
Ecclesiastical Latin. The spelling's the same, but the pronunciations differ
How does this apply to English?? First of all, understand that our spelling
reflects the pronunciation of around 500 years ago, *not* modern
pronunciations. The movable type printing press comes to England in 1474
when Caxton prints his first book. As a result of this sudden shift in
technology, the move to actually standardise English spelling began. The
problem we run in to is that the press didn't just hit one dialect region of
England; it hit several, and so there were for a number of years several
systems of spelling. It isn't until Dr. Samuel Johnson publishes his
_Dictionary_ in 1755 that the standardisation movement gains any level of
impetus. Johnson's work, however, omits two letters we use today: j and u.
All the words beginning with J are lumped in with the Is and the Us in with
the Vs (he was trying to go back to that "purer" Latin alphabet). As such,
the concept of "correct" spelling cannot truly be argued in period English
literature; one simply spelled. The French are an entirely different matter,
as they've had an entirely standardised language for several centuries before
England did. I believe that, to this day, the French Academie does not
recognise such commonly used words as "input" and "output" as parts of the
French vocabulary (they're still foreign borrowings).
Interesting sidenote: in Middle English, the main difference between F and V
were dialectical (F in the north and V in the south). Hence, the
standardisation movement compromised between the two dialects in certain
words, the most notorious being the male and the female fox. Up north, they
were "fox" and "fixen"; in the south, "vox" and "vixen".
My bibliography for this:
Fromkin, Victoria, and Robert Rodman. _An Introduction to Language._ 4th
ed. Fort Worth: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1988.
Holman, C. Hugh, and William Harmon. _A Handbook to Literature._ 6th ed.
New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992.
Houck, Charles. ENG 520: Introduction to Linguistics. Graduate course at
Ball State University. Fall semester, 1992.
---. ENG 622: History of English. Graduate course at Ball State
University. June-July 1993.
O'Grady, William, et. al. _Contemporary Linguistics: An Introduction._ 2nd
ed. New York, St. Martin's P, 1991.
Pyles, Thomas, and John Algeo. _The Origins and Development of the English
Language._ 4th ed. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College
Hope this helps---any unanswered questions?? :-)
From: gfrose at cotton.vislab.olemiss.edu (Terry Nutter)
Date: Sat, 10 May 1997 12:32:38 -0500
Subject: SC - Scribal errors
Having just responded to Allison (and then read Adamantius saying the same
thing I did rather more succinctly), I am reminded of another tale of similar
confusion, with the same moral (look at all the surviving manuscripts you can
If you work from the Pegge edition of Forme of Curye, you will find therein
a recipe for Viande of Cypres that calls for oatmeal. Taken by itself,
this is one heck of a puzzle. There are lots of other recipes in other
collections for the same dish, none of which call for oatmeal. Virtually all
do call for dates, which this one doesn't.
Go to Hieatt and Butler, _Cury on Inglysch_, where this is recipe 100.
They worked from a bunch of surviving related manuscripts, of which eight
(including one that Constance Hieatt found after publication, and described,
along with a list of errata and additions to CoI, in a separate article). Of
the eight, four call for "ootmele" or "mele" or something similar; one
(fairly far removed from the original) calls for damsin plums, and the other
three call for dates. At the same position.
What the heck happened?
It's impossible to know, but here's a simple conjecture. At one point in this
collection's history, a scribe was copying a manuscript. The recipe he was
copying was supposed to say "Take dates"; but the "d" on "dates" had lost
its ascender (either through aging of the MS, or by an error of the previous
scribe), so he found himself looking at "Take oates..."
"Take *oats*?" says our scribe to himself -- not a cook, and knowing just
enough to get future generations into trouble. "They *can't* mean fodder.
Surely it should be oat*meal*." And he "corrects".
There is very strong evidence that virtually all period culinary collections
went through the hands of a lot of scribes, most of whom weren't cooks.
Scribal error happens in all sorts of texts. When a scribe has trouble
making something out in a culinary text, he is likely to have less knowledge
to guide his choice than with other sorts. You have to look out for stuff
like this. It's why pros, given a choice, use as many original sources
as they can. Sometimes, that's still one, and you're stuck. But where there
are more, it helps.
A couple of other quick ones: there's a recipe in Laud 553 (published in
Austin, on page 113) titled "Cyuele". This, by itself, is not particularly
odd. (The medial "u" represents a "v" in this context, so it's not a
particularly implausible word.) The problem: there is no other recipe in
the corpus titled anything like that -- but there *are* two surviving
recipes (in Diuersa Cibaria, published in _CoI_, and in an Anglo-Norman
collection) called "Emeles" -- and they're clearly the same recipe as this one.
What's going on? Someone who has studied the Laud manuscript directly
tells me that it certainly does say "Cyuele" -- and it's hard to see
how Austin could have misread "m" as "yu". But look at it from the
other direction: the Emeles recipes are earlier, after all.
In this general time frame, an upper case E is easy to misread as C.
A lower case m is virtually indistinguishable from either in or iu.
A scribe looked as "Em", and saw "Ciu", giving him "Ciueles". That
being (as he well recognized!) hard to read, he "simplified"
orthographically by substituting a "y" for the "i". And voila.
Again, we can't know; but it's far more likely than the assumption
that this dish had two distinct names that are so similar from a
paleographic standpoint and so dissimilar from any other.
Editors can fall into the same trap. The Society of Antiquaries edition
of Arundel 334 (among many, many errors) provides "Raynecles" as the
title of a recipe. Raynecles? Another unique name....
Actually not. The editors misread it -- partly, I suspect, because
they weren't expecting the actual name, which they associated with
a totally different cuisine, but which is in fact a standard of the
I've seen the manuscript. What it says is "Rayueoles". The "u" is
again a "v"; what we have here, in a slightly dialecticized spelling,
is ravioles. And indeed, that's what the recipe describes.
That really is an "e" where the SoA edition has "c"; you can spot
the additional ductus stroke, if you look carefully, though you do have
to study for it. And "u" and "n" are virtually indistinguishable in
this hand (and most like it). The mistake was a reasonable one; but
it was a mistake.
So: when you spot something like "mastic" in a cammeline recipe, it
behoves you to be a little cautious. Even if you're reading right,
and the translator was translating reasonably, and the editor of the
original (whether the same person as the translator or another)
transcribed it reasonably (and the latter two certainly don't eliminate
the possibility of introduced error), the scribe who wrote the
manuscript may well have gotten it wrong. Determining that he did
is a complex job, usually requiring comparison with a number of
manuscripts (and similar recipes from other collections can shed
light on it). So one doesn't want to be too quick to assume. But
it's wise at least to keep it in mind.
But I've rambled more than enough!
- -- Katerine/Terry
Date: Sat, 16 Jan 1999 09:55:44 -0500
From: Wendy Colbert <WendyC at vivid.net>
To: sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu
Subject: Re: Period hebrew calligraphy
>>> Secondly, Yes, Hebrew, both modern & anciet has vowels: hay,
>>> vav,yud,eyin, and sometimes, sort-of....aleph.
>> Good luck, and remember, written medieval Hebrew is like Welsh:
>> there no #$%&*!#!! vowels! ;-)
>> Twcs (5 days til PhD defense...ahg!!!!!!)
>Actually, Twcs is right -- a lot of formal written Hebrew, even to today,
>does not indicate the vowels. Torahs are written without vowels.
But I am not doing a formal piece and I do need to write the vowels.
>Just in case you thought it was hard enough reading Hebrew going backwards,
>with accents, silent and spoken vowels (depending), AND two different
Ah, but hebrew does have vowels, to give them their transliterations_
Patach,Chataf Segol, Chataf Kamatz and Kamatz Katan.
Since the piece I am working from is a primer for children (a first
teaching book, as it were) it does include the vowels. And a kettubah from
the same era and region also shows vowels.
The vowels in this primer are Kamatz Katan, Patach,Segol,
Tzeirei,Chirik,Cholam (in the form without the vav),Kubutz and Shuruk
Date: Fri, 12 Feb 1999 22:11:10 -0500
From: James Gilly / Alasdair mac Iain <alasdair.maciain at snet.net>
Subject: Re: SV: SC - redaction challenge
At 21:19 11-2-99 +0100, Angus MacIomhair wrote:
>> [Brokk] What is this long s character?
>> Could someone please describe what it looks like?
>> A long s to me is an integration sign, but somehow i don't think
>> applies in this context.
The long S is the alternate form of S that's used in German (the old
Frakturdruekschrift) and Greek, and used to be used in English, except at
the end of words. It's what makes "success," for example, look like
"fuccefs." Not sure when, or why, it went out of favour....
Alasdair mac Iain
Laird Alasdair mac Iain of Elderslie
Dun an Leomhain Bhig
Canton of Dragon's Aerie [southeastern CT]
Barony Beyond the Mountain [northern & southeastern CT]