Professor M.B. Parkes – Patron Saint of December, 2019

Goodness me, it’s already December!

Welcome to the first weekend of December and the First Sunday of Advent! It’ll be Christmas soon!


First though: new month = new patron saint!

Today, I’d like to introduce you to someone, whose works I pretty much use every single day: Professor M.B. Parkes.

Now, professor Parkes was not, strictly speaking, a linguist. He was a paleographer with an extraordinary eye for detail. His contributions to the study of medieval manuscripts have been significant in many ways. Today, though, I would like to tell you about Parkes’ contribution to my own field of study: punctuation.

You see, Professor Parkes seems to have decided that punctuation deserved more attention. In 1992, he published a book called Pause and Effect: An introduction to punctuation in the West. This work is of extremely high value for people like myself, who study the history of punctuation.

Pause and Effect is essentially a descriptive account of the history of punctuation from antiquity to the invent of the printing press and beyond. Most importantly, it is not yet another prescriptive account of punctuation throughout the ages.

Parkes masterfully managed to condense 2000 years of history into roughly 300 pages. The book is filled with illustrative imagery and a good glossary – the work, basically, is invaluable. (Though I would say that, I have consulted the book almost daily for about a year now).

Why is this so remarkable, you might wonder?

Well, you see, punctuation is often neglected in the study of historical texts. This means that we don’t really have a firm grasp on how it was used. Professor Parkes’ book was an enormous step forward in the study of historical punctuation (though it is, occasionally, somewhat dense – it is 2000 years after all).

In addition to his most excellent account of historical punctuation, Professor Parkes also extensively studied the Canterbury Tales. He eventually produced a highly influential article on the production of the copies of the tales.

But his work was primarily focused on paleography, of course. And at this, too, he excelled: his 1969 book English Cursive Book Hands, 1250-1500 remains authoritative even today.

He was also an entertaining lecturer – basically, most of what he took on, he mastered.

His work earned him an appointment to the ComitĂ© international de palĂ©ographie latine in 1986. In 1992, he also became a corresponding fellow of the Medieval Academy of America.

Professor Parkes sadly passed away in 2013, but his works certainly live on and his many contributions to the study of medieval manuscripts, and to the study of English historical linguistics, is what makes him December’s Patron Saint of the HLC!



Most of the general information we have here is from Wikipedia. However, much is also my personal impression of the scholar’s work.

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