Sunday, December 03, 2006

Middle English Handwriting.

My recent library time has been spent on the second floor of HESSE in front of a big clumsy microfilm projector. I have fun flipping through the notebook and reading the descriptions of the manuscripts. That is if I can find the corresponding text on the scroll. Although I'm looking for a text ca. 1350-1450 my first standard is the handwriting. So I've printed out several excerpts and studied them only to find that they're either much later or indecipherable or too short to meet the requirements of my project. Here are a few interesting items.

mye blode (ra(n)ne) down be mye cheke

thow prowde man þ'fore be meke

I'm not absolutely sure about "ranne". The 'r' and the 'e' look certain. The 'n' looks clear and the 'a' is a probable. I have found the following spelling of 'man' (at least I hope it's 'man') in another line.

This is pretty good evidence for 'ranne'.

Not every puzzle is so easy. I found the following two lines in another MS.

And what he sall be at his ende
And whyderward þt he sall wende

I see that the 'y' and the 'þ' are almost identical.

In this same MS I found the following.

And what he is & whe?der sall he

The character in question could be either a 'y' or a 'þ'. If I translate the word as 'whether' both are reasonable as errors. The Middle English Dictionary I use online (click here for Purdue access) provides the following as some possible spellings for the word:
whethere, whethir(e, whethur(e, whethre, whetir, wheder(e, whedir(e, whedur, whedre, whedder, wheddir, wheither(e, wheithir, wheidir, whither, whithur, whider, whidir, whother, whothir, whoder, whather, wher(e, wheer, wherre, whor, whar(e, wer(e, war(e, hweðer(e, hweðre, hwaðer, hwæðer, hwæder, hwere, hwor, wheþþr(e, whær, 3weþer, 3weþur

(errors) wheper, wherther, weðe, queþe, hewðer, fader, spyer, dur, whe3(h)er, whoyþer

So I start thinking it looks like an error. But could I have found a spelling error not yet found by the MED? I doubt it.

If I translate it as "whither" the MED gives me these possible spellings:
whider, whid(e)re, whidir, whidur, whither, whithir, wheder, whedir, whedur, whether, whethir, whethre, whethur, wheoder, whader, whoder(e, whodir, whodur, whother, whuder, wider, widir, widur, widdere, wiþþere, weder, wether(e, wethir(e, woder(e, wuder, qweder, qwedir, quid(d)er, quither, queder, quedire, quedur, quether, quethur, hoder(e, houdere, huider hwider, hwiðer, whudere, hwuder, 3wodere, wheyder, wheyther, whaþer, qwhider, qwheyer, quehdir, qhedder, hweder

(errors) w3ide, fwider, (?error) wherther

And so I find the form. This word 'wither' is closely tied to the "heaven or hell" question which is appropriate to this MS. I think I found my answer. And there's a bonus. 'wheyder' appears to be an uncommon form that may give me just the necessary boost towards finding the regional dialect.

But then I find this.

I figure the first letter is a "v" followed by some minims. There's an "h" and probably a "y". The last few letters look like "ngtyng". The minim before the "h" looks crossed. My guess is it's a "t". So: vinthyngtyng? Vuithyngtyng? But what if it's not a "t"? I have two weeks to figure it out.


  1. So what can you tell from a handwriting analyst's perspective? Are they angry or lying or maybe a bit egotistical? :)

  2. It looks like "wheyder" to me, so I guess that would make it "wither?" But among so many variations for "whether," how could "wheyder"--if "whether" was intended--be an "error?" Seems like these crazy middle-English speakers didn't really have orthodox spellings and their necessary opposite: errors.

    I don't even know what I'm talking about anymore--how do you have the patience for this stuff? If they had a medicine for Attention Surplus Disorder (ASD), I would strongly recommend you try it.


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