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Politics of Spelling



     We have discussed the politics of language. Now Ron Bracewell brings up the politics of spelling:
     On July 4 I was reading the full page reproduction of the Declaration of Independence in the paper and noticed that the signatories use two different kinds of script lower-case r: the good r (the one I use) and the bad r.
     There are 25 occurrences of the good r and 10 of the bad r. Charles Carroll of Carrollton uses three good and two bads in his signature. My impression is that the bad r is in a majority in the US today, presumably being taught in school.
     What can you tell me about the origin of the two variants? I seem to recall that Renaissance pen-written Latin has two kinds. One would seem to be the ancestor of the good cursive r, and the other, which lacks the hook in the NE corner, may be ancestral to the bad cursive r. What was the rule for choosing between the two in those times? I do not have a sample in front of me to see whether there is some initial, medial, final distinction.
     The bifurcation must go back some time because I do have here in the office the Encyclopedia Britannica article on Calligraphy showing a penned alphabet with two kinds of r (but only one kind of s) dated 1576 (Arte de Escrivir by Fran. Lucas).
     In Australia the good r was taught in school, but in England people seemed to use both. I don't know about the continent.
     My comment: I seem to use both. What about other WAISers? Australian-born Ron uses "good" to mean Australian. I don't know which in good and bad, but "orthography" means correct spelling. The Spaniards spell Méjico with a j, while Mexican revolutionaries use the colonial México on the grounds that it is more Mexican! In Nazi Germany, the old Gothic spelling was revived as being more German; my host said the Roman alphabel tired his eyes. Now the Nazis are out, and so is Gothic spelling. Anyhow, we must heed Ron and keep our eyes peeled.

Ronald Hilton - 07/09/99


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