In the Early Modern English period (roughly 1500s–1700s), the use of the letters <u> and <v> went through a change from a positionally constrained system (i.e., initial <v>, medial <u>) to a system based on phonetic value, with <u> marking vowels and <v> consonants. The exact dynamics of this transition have received little attention, however, and the standard account is exclusively based on printed sources. Using a data set of 3,801 examples from 107 handwritten legal documents from the witch trials in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692 and 1693, this study indicates that the current narrative is oversimplified and that behind the transition from one system to another lies a complex process of experimentation and variation. The study charts the <u> and <v> usage in the handwriting of nineteen recorders who subscribe to various “mixed” systems that conform neither to the positional nor the phonetic system. In addition to the positional and phonetic constraints, a range of other linguistic and extralinguistic factors appears to have influenced the recorders’ alternation between <u> and <v>, from lexical item and graphotactics to textual history.
The <u> and <v> Alternation in the History of English: Spelling Dynamics in the Handwritten Legal Documents from the Salem Witch Trials (1692)
peter j. grund is associate professor of English language studies at the University of Kansas. He is coauthor of Testifying to Language and Life in Early Modern England: Including a CD Containing “An Electronic Text Edition of Depositions 1560–1760” (ETED) (with Merja Kytö and Terry Walker; Benjamins, 2011) and coeditor of Records of the Salem Witch-Hunt (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2009), Speech Representation in the History of English (Oxford Univ. Press, 2020), and Boundaries and Boundary-Crossings in the History of English (Mouton de Gruyter, 2020). He serves as the coeditor of Journal of English Linguistics. His research focuses on stance, evidentiality, and speech representation in historical periods. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
matti peikola is professor of English at the University of Turku, Finland. Situated in historical linguistics and textual scholarship, his research addresses textual communication during the late medieval and early modern periods. Recent publications include the coedited Verbal and Visual Communication in Early English Texts (Brepols, 2017) and The Dynamics of Text and Framing Phenomena: Historical Approaches to Paratext and Metadiscourse in English (Benjamins, 2020). Peikola is coeditor of Records of the Salem Witch-Hunt (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2009) and editor of the series Crossing Boundaries: Turku Medieval and Early Modern Studies for Amsterdam University Press. Email: email@example.com.
johanna rastas is a doctoral candidate at the Department of English, University of Turku, Finland. Her research interests are in historical pragmatics, digital humanities, correspondence, and rhetoric. She is currently working on a dissertation project provisionally titled “Verbal Weapons for Independence: Letters from American Colonies to Rockinghamites 1764–1777,” in which the colonists’ linguistic means of influencing the Rockinghamites are examined. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
wen xin is a doctoral candidate in English at the University of Kansas. His research areas include English language studies, corpus linguistics, and rhetorical genre studies. His dissertation explores metadiscourse in first-year composition teachers’ written comments on students’ writing and correlations between metadiscourse and extralinguistic factors, such as location of comments (marginal or end) and teachers’ gender, years of teaching experience, and disciplinary background (rhetoric and composition, literature, or creative writing). Email: email@example.com.
Peter J. Grund, Matti Peikola, Johanna Rastas, Wen Xin; The <u> and <v> Alternation in the History of English: Spelling Dynamics in the Handwritten Legal Documents from the Salem Witch Trials (1692). American Speech 1 May 2021; 96 (2): 127–160. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00031283-8661851
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