Editing early English texts

Simon Horobin

in The Oxford Handbook of the History of English

Published in print November 2012 | ISBN: 9780199922765
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

 Editing early English texts

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  • Linguistics
  • Historical and Diachronic Linguistics


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A well-known fact in historical linguistics is that the only surviving evidence exists in the form of written texts, but the important implications of this truism for the kinds of texts upon which linguistic analysis relies have often been overlooked by linguists. Written texts produced prior to the introduction of printing in the fifteenth century were all handwritten, indicating that their status as evidence is not the same as that of texts from the print era. This article examines the different editorial methods that are commonly applied to such texts and considers their significance for linguistic analysis. It discusses various types of edition such as diplomatic editions, best-text editions, eclectic editions, and electronic editions. In order to demonstrate the practical differences that these different kinds of edition can have upon the texts available for analysis, this article looks at a single example which concerns three different editions of the B version of Piers Plowman.

Keywords: historical linguistics; written texts; linguistic analysis; editorial; Piers Plowman; diplomatic; best-text; eclectic; electronic; editions; evidence

Article.  4212 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Historical and Diachronic Linguistics

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