English Language and Linguistics

Research Article

Long-s in Late Modern English manuscripts


a1 Lexical Analysis Centre, Robarts Library, University of Toronto, 130 St George Street, Toronto, ON, M5S 1A5, Canada lyda.fens.dezeeuw@utoronto.ca

a2 Leiden University Centre for Linguistics, Leiden University, PO Box 9515, 2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands r.straaijer@hum.leidenuniv.nl


It is a generally accepted fact that the use of long-s, or <ſ>, was discontinued in English printing at the close of the eighteenth century and that by the end of the first quarter of the nineteenth century this allograph had all but disappeared. This demise of <ſ> in printing has been fairly well documented, but there is virtually no literature on what happened to it in handwritten documents. The disappearance of <ſ> and <ſs> (as in ʃeems and buʃineʃs) in favour of <s> and <ss> is generally ascribed to the printers’ wishes to simplify their type-settings. But at what point and to what extent did this simplifying process influence private writing of the period? In this article we have documented the rules, as observed by printers, for the use of long-s in the Late Modern English period, and we illustrate how printing practice during this period compared to the usage of this particular grapheme in letters written by two well-known codifiers of the English language, the grammarians Joseph Priestley and Lindley Murray.

(Received September 01 2011)

(Revised April 04 2012)

(Online publication June 01 2012)