Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

How *do* you spell that?: Adventures in Spelling Reform

October 18th, 2017

The relationship between the pronunciation of English and its system of spelling (or orthography) is inconsistent at best. Cough and through or great and meat appear as though they should rhyme, but (alas!) do not. Other words are spelled identically, but are pronounced differently according to their meaning, for example, “bow and arrow” vs. “Congratulations! Take a bow.

Within the American context, Noah Webster is perhaps the figure best known for tackling spelling reform. At the end of his Dissertations on the English Language (1789), he includes an essay addressing this topic. In it, he appeals to national pride (in both the positive and negative senses of that phrase) and asks his readers a rather leading question:

…ought the Americans to retain these faults [in English spelling] which produce innumerable inconveniencies in the acquisition and use of the language, or ought they at once to reform these abuses, and introduce order and regularity into the orthography of the AMERICAN TONGUE?

The revolutionary sentiment of America’s recent War of Independence, it seems, animated Webster’s thinking on orthography as well.

Image of the first page of Noah Webster's "Appendix: An Essay on the Necessity, Advantages, and Praticability of Reforming the Mode of Spelling, and of Rendering the Orthography of Words Correspondent to the Pronunciation"

Laying out a revolution in an appendix: Noah Webster’s essay on spelling reform in his Dissertations on the English Language: with Notes, Historical and Critical, to Which Is Added, by Way of Appendix, an Essay on a Reformed Mode of Spelling, with Dr. Franklin’s Arguments on That Subject. Boston: Isaiah Thomas and Company, 1789. Call #: C1514. Click image to enlarge.

Webster’s  essay continues by proposing a series of relatively radical alterations. He advocates for 1) the omission of all superfluous or silent letters (changing bread to bred, give to giv, built to bilt, and so on),  2) the replacement of characters with vague or indeterminate sounds by characters with more clearly-defined ones (changing laugh to laf and key to kee), and 3) making a “trifling” alteration to a character in order to help differentiate between sounds (such as adding a “small stroke” across “th” to distinguish between the sounds in “thorn” and “mother”).

Image of a passage outlining Webster's second proposed reform to orthography

Machine vs. Masheen: a passage outlining the second of Noah Webster’s three proposed reforms to American orthography from page 395 of his Dissertations on the English Language […]. Boston: Isaiah Thomas and Company, 1789. Call #: C1514

Although Webster did not ultimately adopt all of these proposals in his subsequent (and immensely popular) grammars and dictionaries, he did aid in establishing several changes that are still with us today. Americans now write of the defense of honor, but for the British, or even our Canadian neighbors (to them, neighbours!), it remains the defence of honour.  This national differentiation through orthography was something that Webster considered to be a point in favor of his proposed changes. Webster also argued that his reforms would “facilitate the learning of the language” for both children and non-native speakers alike. They would make it, he asserted in a memorable phrase, “as difficult to spell wrong, as it is now to spell right” (emphasis Webster’s).

Leap ahead 60 years and the Fonetic Advocat  (Phonetic Advocate) adopts an even more radical approach to spelling reform than that of Noah Webster. Published in “Sinsinati” (Cincinnati) in the mid-nineteenth century, the periodical announces in the phonetic spelling of its banner that it is “devoted to education by means of the spelling reform to literature, science and art.”

First page of the Fonetic Advocat for 15 May 1850, with its text in the English Phonotypic Alphabet.

Sound it out?  The front page of the Fonetic Advocat. Vol. II, No. 20 (May 15, 1850). Call #: MS P286C:1.
Click image to enlarge.

Its publisher, E. Longley, was the director of the American Phonetic Society. Longley championed the use of the English Phonotypic Alphabet, which had recently been developed in England by Isaac Pitman and Alexander John Ellis.  This phonetic alphabet predates and differs from the International Phonetic Alphabet now used by linguists to specify the sounds of spoken language.  Try your hand at reading Longley’s front-page proclamation. If you get stuck, click here to consult the phonetic alphabet chart included on the periodical’s next page.

The issue of the Fonetic Advocat shown above bears an interesting provenance. It once passed through the hands of Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, yet another figure interested in spelling reform. Shaw was so concerned with the subject that he left a bequest to explore the establishment of an alternate phonetic alphabet. Interestingly, Shaw’s manuscript notation at the bottom the front page does not address the issue of phonetic spelling itself, but rather the typeface used for it. He writes, “This type, if ‘justified’ by [William] Morris, and the mutton quads [large spacing type] between the sentences taken out, would make a page of medieval beauty, far superior to any modern psalter.”

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian
(Adapted from the Summer 2017 exhibition Histories of the English Language).

 

October Exhibit: The Russian Revolution

October 6th, 2017

Spencer’s renovated North Gallery includes two new cases in which staff members can display materials on a short-term basis. During October, we’re exhibiting items in Spencer’s holdings that relate to the Russian Revolution of 1917. The exhibit is free and open to the public in the Spencer North Gallery during the library’s regular business hours.

The cover of the pamphlet entitled Eugene V. Deb’s Canton Speech, published after 1921

One of the most well-known and popular American socialists
during the early 20th century, Eugene V. Debs was the
Socialist Party’s candidate for U.S. President five times.
As a result of this speech, Debs was arrested and convicted
in federal court under wartime espionage law.
Call Number: Josephson 5687. Click image to enlarge.

“During a revolution, millions and tens of millions of people learn in a single week incomparably more than in a whole year of every-day sluggish life.”

Vladimir Lenin

Marking the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, Spencer Research Library is currently displaying highlights from the Leon Josephson Collection on Modern Socialism. Extensively documenting the international socialist movement during the first half of the 20th century, the Josephson Collection contains over 8000 pamphlets, books, and ephemeral materials.

Examples of materials on display include Lessons of the Revolution and The Land Revolution in Russia by Vladimir Lenin, as well as a copy of the first constitution adopted by the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) in 1918.

Image of the cover of The Masses, September 1917

As a result of the magazine’s consistent denouncement of
World War I and American involvement, nearly all of the
editors and writers of The Masses were charged with violating
the Espionage Act of 1917. Call Number: D2009. Click image to enlarge.

Image of the cover of The Liberator, March 1918

John Reed later published his eyewitness account of the Bolshevik Revolution
as a book, Ten Days that Shook the World (1919). Reed died in a Moscow hospital
in 1920; he is buried in the graveyard of revolutionary heroes near the
Kremlin Wall. Call Number: RH WL D1614. Click image to enlarge.

“The Russian Revolution is an incomparably mightier even than any previous revolution; larger in scope and deeper in ultimate meaning than the French Revolution.”

Louis C. Fraina, a founding member of the American Communist Party

Socialist publications from America such as The Masses and its successor The Liberator are also on display. These magazines were illustrated with realist and modernist artwork, which they combined with poetry, short stories, and articles discussing and interpreting the Russian Revolution and its influence on the international socialist movement.

Statement from Public Services student Zachary Lassiter

I started KU in the fall of 2015 as a History major, and began working at Kenneth Spencer Research Library in August 2016. I’ve spent most of my time as an undergraduate studying the former Soviet Union, Eastern Bloc, and the Cold War. I had the desire to take part in researching and constructing one of the many exhibits that are showcased at Spencer throughout the year. With the recent renovation of Spencer’s North Gallery, and with the 100th Anniversary of the Russian Revolution, it was a perfect opportunity. Going through countless pamphlets, magazines, and ephemeral materials, I have gained a better understanding of the Russian Revolution from the perspectives of the Bolsheviks and American socialists in their own words as it was happening. I also gained experience in the research and development process of constructing an exhibit, knowledge I hope to utilize in future work. Finally, I want to thank Caitlin Donnelly, Head of Public Services, for helping me through this process and providing me with this opportunity.

Zachary Lassiter
Public Services Student Assistant

Gegrindswile: KU’s Old English Word

June 5th, 2017

Old English is the earliest form of English spoken by the Germanic tribes residing in England between 5th-century CE through the middle of the 1100s. It is the language of Beowulf, and most speakers of modern English would find it largely unreadable without some training. The first lines of Beowulf, for example, are “Hwæt! We Gardena in geardagum / þeod-cyninga, þrym gefrunon, / hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon!” (Try your hand at translating the lines, then highlight the remainder of this parenthesis to see an English translation:  “Yes, we have heard of the greatness of the Spear-Danes’ high kings in days long past, how those nobles practiced bravery.“)*

In 1066 at the Battle of Hastings, William of Normandy earned his epithet “the Conqueror” by defeating the the forces of England’s King Harold. The Norman Conquest brought with it an influx of the French language from the new rulers and this combined with other linguistic influences to transform the English language over many decades, ultimately yielding Middle English, the language we associate with Chaucer.

Spencer Research Library holds three Old English leaves, each with its own fascinating story. The leaf shown below (in its recto and verso sides) is an early 11th century glossary giving brief definitions of difficult Latin words. Most of the glosses are also in Latin, but some are in Old English. The two sides of the leaf cover the Latin words interkalares to istingum.

Latin glossary with Latin and Old English glosses, covering the words interkalares to istingum (recto). Worcester (?), West Midlands, England, circa 990 - 1010. Call #: MS Pryce C2:1 Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Latin glossary with Latin and Old English glosses, covering the words interkalares to istingum (verso). Worcester (?), West Midlands, England, circa 990 - 1010. Call #: MS Pryce C2:1

Latin glossary with Latin and Old English glosses, covering the words interkalares to istingum.
Worcester (?), West Midlands, England, circa 990 – 1010. Call #: MS Pryce P2A:1 Click images to enlarge.

Though rather weathered-looking, the leaf contains perhaps the sole surviving instance of an Old English word: gegrindswile. Like many words of Germanic origin, gegrindswile is a compound.  Its two parts —gegrind and swile– survive in other texts, but this leaf is the only instance recorded in the Dictionary of Old English Corpus of the two combined.  Together they form a single word meaning “a swelling caused by friction, a chafing or galling (of the skin),” which glosses the Latin word intertrigenes.

Old English word "gegrindswile" glossing the Latin word "intertrigenes"

Look closely and  you’ll notice that gegrindswile contains a letter that does not survive, as such, in modern English: “ƿ.” This is the runic letter “wynn,” which represents our modern “w” sound.  KU holds only a single leaf (two pages) from the glossary; however, the British Library holds a seemingly related manuscript. Its collections include a Latin glossary for the letters A-F, also with Old English glosses, written in the same scribal hand as KU’s leaf.

This leaf is currently on display as part of Spencer’s Research Library’s exhibition Histories of the English Language:

Histories of the English Language Exhibit Title

From the Old English of Beowulf to the Middle English of Chaucer to the many dialects that make up our modern tongue, the history of English is a history of change. Featuring materials from KU’s Kenneth Spencer Research Library, this exhibition explores English as embodied in the writings of its practitioners, whether celebrated authors, such as John Milton and Toni Morrison, or scholars, lexicographers, and  grammarians, such as Elizabeth Elstob, Samuel Johnson, Robert Lowth, and Noah Webster, or anonymous and little-known writers of “everyday” English. In manuscripts and books dating from 1000 CE to the present, visitors will encounter the varied forces at work growing, codifying, standardizing, governing, reforming, describing, and reinventing English.

The exhibition is free and open to the public in Spencer Research Library’s gallery space any time that the library is open.  Histories of the English Language will be on display through August.

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian

*The English translation of Beowulf is from that by R.D. Fulk in The Beowulf Manuscript: Complete Texts and The Fight at Finnsburg. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library 3. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press 2010. Call #: PR1583 .F85 2010 (Watson Library)

 

 

Education: The Mightiest Weapon

March 22nd, 2017

Spencer’s current exhibit Education: The Mightiest Weapon is free and open to the public in the Spencer Exhibit Space through May 18, 2017, during the library’s regular business hours.

Field Archivist and Curator Deborah Dandridge with
her student assistant Arielle Swopes. Click image to enlarge.

“While white folks have been wrangling as to whether colored children should be admitted into the public schools,” reported the Evening Dispatch newspaper in 1859, “Mrs. Burnham, a colored woman, has been teaching a school for Negro children on the corner of Potawatomie and Third streets,” in Leavenworth, Kansas. Like Mrs. Burnham, African American settlers in Kansas found a variety of ways to pursue their cultural tradition of placing a high value on formal education, despite laws and practices that denied them equal access to all public schools.

Education: The Mightiest Weapon highlights the public school experiences of African Americans governed by the 1879 Kansas law allowing public school boards in cities of 10,000 or more to decide whether to establish racially segregated grade schools. Except for special legislation passed in 1905 for Kansas City, Kansas, Kansas law prohibited racially segregated public high schools. It features schools in Kansas’ urban and rural areas, African American state supported schools, and the 1951 U.S. District Court case in the landmark 1954 Brown v. Topeka Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Setting up the Education exhibit

Setting up for the exhibit. Click image to enlarge.

Photograph of Zachary Lassiter and Arielle Swopes

Zachary Lassiter, a Public Services student at Spencer Library
majoring in history, with Arielle Swopes. Click image to enlarge.

Statement from student assistant Arielle Swopes

In 2014 I started at KU as a Behavioral Neuroscience major, and began working as a student assistant in Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Working on the current exhibit, Education: The Mightiest Weapon, has given me even greater insight about how enduring and adaptable African Americans have been. For this exhibit I’ve had access to hundreds of pictures and been able to read letters, petitions, newspapers, and posters that all show the daily life and struggles of African Americans from the 1890s to the 1970s. From all of these materials it is easy to see the determination that these people had to always find a way to persevere.

Photograph of the Sumner High School Second Orchestra, 1918

Sumner High School Second Orchestra,
Kansas City, Kansas, 1918. Sumner High School Collection.
Call Number: RH MS-P 1137. Click image to enlarge.

Photograph of the first page of a letter to the Lawrence School Board, 1942 Photograph of the second page of a letter to the Lawrence School Board, 1942

A letter from the city’s African American community to the
Lawrence, Kansas, School Board opposing the Board’s
suggested plan to place all African American elementary students
in Lincoln School in North Lawrence, November 12, 1942.
USD 497 (Lawrence School District) Collection.
Call Number: RH MS 1255. Click image to enlarge.

Photograph of the Monroe School eighth grade class, 1932

Eighth grade graduating class of Monroe School, Topeka, Kansas, 1932.
Cooper-Sheppard-Cox Family Collection. Call Number: RH MS-P 576.
Click image to enlarge.

Arielle Swopes
Spencer Research Library Student Assistant
African American Experience Collections

Deborah Dandridge
Field Archivist and Curator
African American Experience Collections

Exhibition Snapshot: Sumner High School, Kansas City, KS

February 27th, 2017

Spencer Research Library’s current exhibition, Education: The Mightiest Weapon,” highlights African American school experiences in the state of Kansas, focusing primarily on the period before 1955.  In the coming days we’ll feature a longer post on the exhibition, but today we share an image and a label to whet your appetite. “Education: The Mightiest Weapon” is on display in Spencer Library’s gallery space through May 18th, 2017.

Sumner High School, Kansas City, KS

Sumner is a child not of our own volition but rather an offspring of the race antipathy of a bygone period. It was a veritable blessing in disguise—a flower of which we may proudly say, “The bud had a bitter taste, but sweet indeed is the flower”

Photograph of Students in Chemistry Classroom, 1930s, Sumner High School, Kansas City, KS

Chemistry Classroom, 1930s, Sumner High School.  Sumner High School Collection. Call #: RH MS-P 1137.
Click image to enlarge.

In 1905, the Kansas State Legislature passed a law exempting Kansas City, Kansas from the state law prohibiting racially segregated public high schools. Reluctantly, the Governor of Kansas E. W. Hoch signed the bill, but persuaded the majority of Kansas City, Kansas voters to construct a new high school building for African Americans at no less than $40,000 and to be as well-equipped as the existing Kansas City, Kansas High School. Determined to overcome the inequities of racial segregation, the teachers, students and community members of Sumner High School strove to develop a tradition of academic excellence. They countered the local school board’s proposals for an emphasis on manual training courses by implementing a curriculum that emphasized college preparatory classes at Sumner.  By 1914, Sumner was a member of the prestigious North Central Association of Secondary Schools. Until the 1970s, the majority of African American students attending the University of Kansas were graduates of Sumner High School.

Sumner closed in 1978 under a federally mandated plan for racial integration of schools in Kansas City, Kansas.

Deborah Dandridge
Field Archivist and Curator, African American Experience Collections