Abstract and Keywords
This chapter is designed to show some of the special properties of older, non-standardized orthographies, with nearly exclusive emphasis on early Middle English. In particular it shows that ‘emic’ analysis tends to break down, as the writers were rarely interested in biuniqueness or full representation, captured lexical diffusion in process, and did not use notions like phoneme and grapheme. Many of them were working in a way best characterized in terms of the Classical theory of littera. The paper deals with the typology of ‘economical’ and ‘prodigal’ systems, the nature of litteral substitution, and the kinds of evidence necessary to assign broad surface phonetic values to graphs in ancient systems.
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