Spelling in Middle English

If you are a poor speller, you may wish that you were a scribe in the 13th century.  During this Middle English period there was a huge amount of variation in the spelling of words. For example, in the Oxford English Dictionary of that era there were over sixty variants of the spelling of ‘night’:

Neight, neghte, neyƷt, neyƷte, neyƷth, neyth, ehyght, nichƷ, nicht, nichte, nicst, nict, nieht, nig, night, nighte, night, nih, nihht, niht, niƷht, nihte, nihtt, nijƷt, nikte, nist, niƷst, niƷt, niƷte, niƷth, niƷtt, nite, nith, nithe, niþt, noyƷth, nycht, nygh, nyght, nyghte, nyghth, nyghtt, nygt, nygth, nygthe, nygtt, nyhet, nyht, nyhte, nyhyt, nyt, nyte, nyth, nythe, nytƷ, nyught, nyƷ, nyƷht, nyƷt, nyƷte, nyƷth, nyƷthe, nytht, nyƷtt

In the 13th century this wouldn’t have been a problem because, unlike today, it was not considered a problem to spell a word differently in different manuscripts or even within a single line within a manuscript.

It is also interesting to note that the ‘gh’ would have always been pronounced in this era in a similar guttural sound as the ‘ch’ is pronounced by the Scots in ‘loch’  or the Germans in ‘Bach’.

Reference
Crystal, D. (2012). Spell it Out: The Singular Story of English Spelling. Profile Books: London.

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