A Londoner's Chronicle: Dialect Features in Henry Machyn's Journal

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A Londoner's Chronicle: Dialect Features in Henry Machyn's Journal

Elize den Hollander


Philology 6: Early Modern English

Essay Assignment

Prof.dr. I.M. Tieken-Boon van Ostade

Leiden University

19 May 2014


The Early Modern Period lasted from approximate 1500-1700 in England. These were the ages that journal writing flourished in England. Cusack's definition of a journal seems to be most accurate: 'Journals commit to paper the events of a day. They are private documents, aiming at no reader other than oneself at some future time, looking back to review past events and experiences.' (Cusack, 1998:158) The journal I will look at in this essay is Henry Machyn's journal.

Machyn was a man from the middle class. This means that he would not have had formal education, as writers from a higher social standing would have had. His spelling is incorrect and inconsequent and if you look at it from a grammarian point of view one can only conclude that he is a poor writer; even his editor Nichols thought so.

As stated in Mortimer's article Nichols declared that Machyn himself was of 'no great scholarship or attainments, as his language and cacography plainly testify, sufficiently prejudiced, and not capable of any deep views either of religious doctrine or temporal policy.' (2002:982) But his 'bad' spelling does reveal something of importance. Because he did not have an education he would not have known the conventional way to spell words, so he would have written the words in a way that matched his pronunciation. There are no sources that tell how words were pronounced in the Early Modern Period, but because of uneducated writers like Machyn it is possible to have a rough idea.

Novels and chronicles written by high established authors or historians contain only the view of upper...