December 09, 2007

Antedating hyphenation

In response to "American Indian Hyphens" (12/1/2007), David Nash has a guest post at Transient Languages and Cultures, "The hy-phen at Port Jackson" (12/9/2007), showing that

Here in Australia, by about 1791 hyphens between syllables were common when the Sydney Language was being written down by the English colonists (who had arrived in 1788).

David cites the example of the word lists in David Collins' 1798 work An account of the English colony in New South Wales. However, he observes that

Lt William Dawes, the best recorder, did not use hyphenation this way, as can be seen in the facsimile sample from his notebook illustrating HRELP's Dawes online.

The first vocabularies recorded in Australia were Cook's and Banks' lists taken down at Endeavour River in 1770. Those did not use hyphens. They are similarly absent from the 1777 vocabulary recorded for Cook by his surgeon Mr Anderson at Adventure Bay (Tasmania), at least as published in 1821.

Several people have suggested to me that the North American hyphenation practices, apparently developed in the 1820s, might have been influenced by Sequoyah's highly successful syllabary for Cherokee, whose development is described in an account from the Cherokee Phoenix, "Invention of the Cherokee Alphabet", 1(24) p. 2, August 13, 1820. A compilation of some other early sources is available in this 1930 article from the Chronicles of Oklahoma.

[Update 12/16/2007 -- the erudite commenters over at Language Hat have taken the practice back to some 17th-C examples. Mike McMahon writes there:

Eliot's Indian Primer (1669) proceeds as follows:

1. Alphabet.
2. Possible syllables.
3. Brief passages with hyphens.
4. Lord's Prayer.
5. Longer passages.

So, that third section seems to be following the convention from the earliest time; later ones dispense with the hyphens. It begins:

Wa-an-tam-we . uſ-ſeonk. ogke-tam un-at . Ca-te-chi-ſa-onk.
Ne-gon-ne . og-kee-taſh. Primer.
Na-hoh-to-eu . og-kee-taſh.
Ai-uſ-koi-an-tam-o-e . weh-kom-a-onk.
Ne-it . og-kee-taſh . Bible.

Which I believe is recommending a graduated reading program from among his many publications. If you've got access to Early American Imprints : Evans, and many American libraries do (the BPL has a proxy), it's page 8 of that scan.

It seems that it is indeed, as marie-lucie hypothesized, a scheme for pedagogy and narrow transcription that leaked over into normal writing for a while.

Here's the section that Mike cites:

And here's a sample of the main part of the primer, which (like other publications of the period) lacks the hyphenation:

(The poor quality of the scans is original, alas.)

I'm still curious about exactly who made the change to pervasive hyphenation, apparently in the 1820s, and why.]

Posted by Mark Liberman at December 9, 2007 07:54 AM