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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: July ::
Re: Shakespeare's Pronunciation
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0708  Thursday, 30 July 1998.

From:           Jonathan Hope <
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Date:           Thursday, 30 Jul 1998 12:44:29 +0000 (GMT)
Subject: 9.0696  Re: Shakespeare's Pronunciation
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0696  Re: Shakespeare's Pronunciation


> I've been consulting Helge Kokeritz's Shakespeare's Pronunciation. I am
> mainly interested in word forms and usage (not pronunciation) and it
> seems to me the book rests on some questionable assumptions. Can anyone
> tell if this book is a reliable source of information; has it been
> supplanted or discredited?

This, and related, questions seem to come up every now and then, so here
is what Charles Barber has to say in the 'Further reading' section at
the end of the chapter on 'Phonology' in his *Early Modern English*
(1997, Edinburgh UP):

"The standard work on English phonology in the period is Dobson (1968),
a work of prodigious scholarship.  Dobson demonstrates the great variety
of pronunciation that existed even in St[andard] E[nglish], and also has
a good deal to say about non-standard pronunciations.  He attaches great
importance (rightly, in my view) the evidence of the orthoepists of the
period, and analyses it with great care.  This kind of evidence,
however, does tend to give prominence to formal and conservative styles
of speech, and what Dobson presents as StE pronunciation at any given
date is often a very conservative brand of it.  In a subject so complex,
and with evidence often susceptible to different interpretations, there
are inevitable points of controversy, and Dobson's work has encountered
criticisms [...references to reviews omitted...] But, despite the points
of controversy, the work will undoubtedly remain for many years the
indispensable handbook on the subject.

Dobson's book, however, is a work for the specialist, not for the
general reader: it is enormously detailed, and moreover presupposes
in the reader a considerable knowledge of the phonology of Old
English and Middle English.  Other works in the field include
Zachrisson (1913), Wyld (1923), Kokeritz (1953), and Cercignani
(1981).  Kokeritz's book has long been popular with students of
English literature, but some of it rests on rather shaky evidence,
and it should be treated with great caution."

Dobson, EJ (1968) *English pronunciation 1500-1700* (2 vols, 2nd
ed.:Oxford)
Cercignani, F (1981) *Shakespeare's works and Elizabethan pronunciation*
(Oxford)
Kokeritz, H (1953) *Shakespeare's pronunciation* (Yale)
Wyld (1923) *Studies in English rhymes from Surrey to Pope*
Zachrisson (1913) *Pronunciation of English vowels 1400-1700*

Most people will find everything they need on this subject in Barber's
own chapter - reliable, and very clearly written.  I've just written a
chapter on Shakespeare's language for a forthcoming Blackwell's
Companion to Shakespeare, and the section on phonology borrows heavily
from Barber - he's the Top Man.

Jonathan Hope
Middlesex University
 

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