An information-theoretic approach to the written transmission of old English Academic Article uri icon


  • Information theory offers a means for analyzing some constraints on the reading and copying process in Old English. Entropy for strings of various lengths offers a baseline measure of the uncertainty involved in transmission of Old English texts, while avoiding the pitfalls of applying models of modern reading to early medieval practice. Analysis of lengthy prose and verse texts in Old English revealed uniformly high values for entropy at all string lengths. High entropies may be the result of the language's irregular orthography, poetic koin√©, and several dialects and imply that the language may have been easy to write but difficult to read. The low redundancy of the language which its high entropy values indicate suggests that the reader of Old English played an enhanced role in "decoding" a text and may provide an explanation for the high variability in the transmission of Old English verse. Katherine O'Brien O 'Keeffe is Professor of English at Texas A&M University and a co-director of its Interdisciplinary Group for Historical Literary Study. ¬© 1989 Kluwer Academic Publishers.

altmetric score

  • 3

author list (cited authors)

  • O'Keeffe, K. O., & Rundell, W.

citation count

  • 3

publication date

  • December 1989