Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home
Hostname: page-component-768ffcd9cc-kfj7r Total loading time: 0.25 Render date: 2022-12-06T17:30:55.839Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": false } hasContentIssue true

Writing the Germanic Languages: The Early History of the Digraphs <th>, <ch> and <uu>

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 June 2021

Orietta Da Rold
Affiliation:
University Lecturer, Faculty of English, St John's College, University of Cambridge,
Peter A. Stokes
Affiliation:
Senior Lecturer, Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
Philip A. Shaw
Affiliation:
Senior Lecturer, School of English, University of Leicester,
Rolf H. Bremmer
Affiliation:
Senior Lecturer in Medieval English and, by special appointment, Professor of Frisian at the University of Leiden.
Get access

Summary

THIS PAPER TRACES the origin and early history of the three digraphs <th>, <ch> and <uu> in early Old English and in some of the Continental Germanic languages. Today, the digraphs form part of the graphemic systems of various European languages. Their creation and application in the Early Middle Ages hence represents an important graphemic innovation, which has permanently solved some of the problems arising in the process of creating orthographic systems for the vernacular languages with the Latin alphabet – despite the fact that the transmission of the digraphs from the Early Middle Ages to the Modern Era did not proceed in a straightforward line. By way of an introduction, I will briefly describe the distribution and use of the three digraphs in the orthographies of modern European languages, which, to some extent, still reflect the areas in which the digraphs were used in the Early Middle Ages. I will then provide a detailed account of their use in Old English of the eighth century. It has been suggested that Irish influence is responsible for the use of <th> for a dental fricative and of <ch> for a palatal/velar fricative in Old English. While Irish influence should certainly not be underestimated, there is stronger evidence, as I argue, for attributing the origin of the digraphs to the Merovingian Franks or, more precisely, to the spellings used for Frankish names in Latin charters. The Merovingian hypothesis is strengthened by the fact that the same graphs were also adopted into Old High German writing. The adoption of the digraphs, however, should not be envisaged as a process of straightforward borrowing, but rather as an independent reinterpretation and extension based on a perception of the graphs as essentially Latin spellings. Thus, the paper highlights the complex relationship of the spelling systems of the early medieval vernaculars and Latin, the ‘father tongue’ of the Middle Ages. On a theoretical level, it yields some insights into the general mechanisms of graphemic change in non-standardised scriptae.

Type
Chapter
Information
Writing Europe, 500-1450
Texts and Contexts
, pp. 101 - 122
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2015

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure coreplatform@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats
×

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats
×