The Middle English verse romance, Capystranus, contains 32 numerical expressions in fewer than 580 lines, some of which are spelled out, others are in Roman numerals, while the rest are in mixed orthographical/numerical forms. Values range between one and 100,000 and contain up to four individual lexemes requiring as many as six syllables to be expressed orally. Although it was initially suspected that such complex expression might be silently “skipped over”, the verse shows that the poem’s metrical regularity is dependent upon full vocal/acoustic realization of all numbers expressed in Roman notation. While this does not preclude silent reading, it does at least suggest the text was suitable for oral recitation. This paper shows how even complex Roman numerals were either suitable or suitably adapted for quick and easy interpretation. Propositions are provided concerning the choice of orthographical representation or Roman notation and its treatment. In this romance it seems that line length was less important than a number’s position in a line, as well as the ease with which a number could be “subitized” or mentally visualized and approximated, resulting in high frequency, low-value numbers usually being realized as lexical items to be written out, while high-value numbers conceived of more abstractly would be represented symbolically. The exceptions seem to be certain high frequency numbers of account (e.g., 20, 100, 1000), which could be provided orthographically or numerically despite difficulty subitizing them, while common low-value numbers in time expressions could be expressed numerically as they would appear on time pieces.
Neophilologus – Springer Journals
Published: Jun 1, 2018
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