Alexander John Ellis: a study of a Victorian philologist

Sanders, Robert Alan (1977) Alexander John Ellis: a study of a Victorian philologist. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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Abstract

Symbols, both graphic and mathematical, exercised a lifetime fascination for the Victorian scholar, Alexander John Ellis (1814-90) in connection with his investigations into spelling reform, phonetics, mathematics, physics, and particularly philology. In conjunction with the phonographer Isaac Pitman, he undertook during the 1840's to revolutionize reading instruction for the illiterate masses by utilizing a special phonotypic alphabet. In 1866, Ellis devised Palaeotype, a system of sound notation employing combinations of existing type faces to represent minute phonetic distinctions. Ellis then constructed an account of the evolution of English speech sounds through the course of twelve centuries in his monumental study On Early English Pronunciation (1867-89). Central to his account are his conjectured pronunciations of the sounds represented in the texts of Chaucer and Shakespeare. Expanding his investigation, Ellis conducted the first dialectal survey of the British Isles and drew the first reliable map of English dialectal boundaries. This landmark in English dialectal history was based upon dialect tests, comparative specimens, word lists, and viva voces. Providing assistance and encouragement with the complex survey were Thomas Hallam, Prince Louis Lucien Bonaparte, J.G. Goodchild, and hundreds of dialectal informants. In order to preserve the nation's vanishing dialectal forms, in 1871 Ellis took the lead in establishing the English Dialect Society, whose efforts later were the basis for Joseph Wright's great English Dialect Dictionary. Ellis likewise conjectured the sounds of both Latin (1874) and Greek (1876). His vigorous leadership in the affairs of the Philological Society of London brought him into close contact with scholars like F.J. Furnivall, James A.H. Murray, William Aldis Wright, Francis J. Child, and Henry Sweet. Ellis figured prominently in those events leading to the publication of the Oxford English Dictionary, undertaken by the Philological Society. Extensive studies into theoretical mathematics, particularly his work on stigmatics, earned for him the admiration of his colleagues in the Royal Society of London. His experiments regarding the nature of pitch in organs included a major revision and translation of Helmholtz's study Tonempfindungen (1875) and a scientific determination of the scales of non-European instruments (1885).

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/9492
Item ID: 9492
Additional Information: Bibliography: leaves [898]-965. -- The original item has been divided into three parts for binding, which have been reassembled here as one digital item.
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > English Language and Literature
Date: 1977
Date Type: Submission
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Ellis, Alexander John, 1814-1890; English philology; Philologists

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