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Regionalism in Late Medieval Manuscripts and Texts: Essays Celebrating the Publication of 'A Linguistic Atlas of Late Medieval English.'

Ed. by Felicity Riddy, York Manuscripts Conference: Proceedings Series, 2 (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1991). xiv + 214 pp.; 6 plates; 20 maps; 6 figures. ISBN 0-85991-311-2. 35.00[pounds].

The programme of the 1989 York Manuscripts Conference was set up to celebrate the publication some two years previously of A Linguistic Atlas of Late Medieval English (henceforward LALME), and to honour the scholars whose efforts, in the case of Angus McIntosh and Michael Samuels over nearly forty years, had produced this major research tool. The brief contributions of these two here reflect their ongoing concern with the area they have opened up to others. Michael Benskin, in a paper that will be widely consulted by those endeavouring for the first time to place a text from the material in LALME, explains the logic of the basic |fit'-technique and how this should be usable by others to add further localizations. LALME, it must be said, is not user-friendly: its four volumes lack any overall list of contents, let alone any clear instruction as to how it can best be used; the organization of its maps depends upon a questionnaire (in more than one version), evidently built up over time, that is arranged in a largely arbitrary order (and its numbered questions are only fitfully entered in the list of maps at the end of Volume I); the caveats recorded at various points, especially on the more |broad-brush' methods of the southern half of the area, are hard to remember. Recent doubts on the reliability of the whole, expressed by Tom Burton and refuted by Michael Benskin in the pages of Leeds Studies in English, reflect chiefly the frustration of the investigator of one text before the evident wealth but impenetrability of the whole. Had the enterprise begun twenty-five years later, publication would doubtless have been in database form. In fact much of the information in the printed material must be on computer, since the maps (we are told I, ix) were computer-generated; it would certainly help if that material could be made available (though the current plight of LALME's publisher will doubtless preclude that for many years). But perhaps it is right that we should continue to struggle, if only because it may reinforce in our minds the repeated insistence of the editors that the work is a starting-point and not a final grid. The next two essays in the present volume, those by Margaret Laing and Jeremy Smith, look not to the past but to the future. Work is now beginning to produce a comparable atlas covering the period between the end of standard Old English and the starting date of LALME (c. 1350). Dr Laing examines the problems both of definition at the earlier limit (especially over copies, more or less faithful, of Old English after the Conquest) and of the restricted number of texts localizable on non-linguistic evidence in this period (a correction is required on page 49 to the evidence cited for Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Bodley 34 -- the Herefordshire names added to the manuscript are in a sixteenth- not a fourteenth-century hand). Dr Smith looks at material from the Corpus, Cleopatra and Nero MSS of Ancrene Wisse in an attempt both to localize these and to discern the extent to which the scribes of the second and third were influenced by the apparently standard orthography underlying the first, and arguably also the author's original (though his description of the |OAB' distinction between <e> and <ea> (p. 59) Simplifies the problem in this area misleadingly). Mr Waldron provides an interesting study of some linguistic characteristics of manuscripts of Trevisa's Polychronicon translation (to which Ralph Hanna's subsequent study in Speculum 64 (1989) forms an enlightening supplement), and Dr Beadle a valuable prolegomenon to a study of the Norfolk dialect in later mediaeval times (though why is the fragment of Dives and Pauper in Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Ashmole 750 (5), ff. [42.sup.v]-[48.sup.r], a copy whose Norfolk markings seem uncontrovertible, not mentioned?).

After this the direction of the volume somewhat changes: we are still in the realm of regionalism, but not strictly of linguistic regionalism: the final five papers look rather at textual, or in the case of Colin Richmond's paper historical, material concerning particular areas of the country. Peter Meredith provides further evidence of the complexity in the make-up of the N-town play manuscript (the reader who has to chase amongst several publications, whether by Meredith himself, or by Greg, Swensen, Fletcher and Spector, might well wish that a single volume should bring together all the argument). Julia Boffey and Carol Meale look at Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Rawlinson C.86, which they connect with London, and some other related manuscripts. The last two papers, by John Scattergood on some Skelton manuscripts and by Priscilla Bawcutt on the early texts of Dunbar, usefully bring to the fore the problems regarding the basis for works that most readers meet in a blandly homogenized, often partly modernized, form; both are evidently reviews of important work in progress. The volume has, then, a number of valuable papers, even if the connection of some of them with LALME or its compilers is at best tenuous.
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Author:Hudson, Anne
Publication:Medium Aevum
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1993
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