Marco Ponzi and I have been discussing for the last couple of weeks a curious observation regarding word position in Quire 20. Neither of us can think of a good explanation for what we’re can see, so I think it is worth simply publishing the observation and letting others comment.
It is well known that line patterns exist which cause words with certain characters—beginning with [d, y, s]—to appear at the start of lines. Such patterns are particularly strong in Quire 20. What Marco and I have discovered is that not only does a pattern exist regarding the second position in a line, but that it works in conjunction with the patterns of the first position.
Firstly, let’s go over what we know about first word positions. Using statistics provided by Marco (as all stats in this post are!), below are the words (with over twenty occurrences) most bound to line first position in Quire 20. Given that there are nine or so words in each line, we should expect each word to occur in the first position roughly 11% of the time*, but many have twice or more percent in that position:
These are the only words on the list with above average occurrences, the next lowest, [qol], has an occurrence of 11%. The eight words above all fit into the known preference for [d, y, s] at the beginning of lines. Only one other word beginning with one of these three characters and having twenty of more occurrences, [dal], appears on the list.
Now let’s look at the second position in a line. We should expect, given that the line is about nine words long and the first position often taken by an exceptional word, for the other words to appear in each of the other positions about 12.5% of the time—that is, one in eight (again, see note at the bottom).
Below are the words which appear in the second position at more than twice the rate expected, and have over twenty occurrences:
The numbers are less drastic than for first position, but still clear. The key point is, of course, the first character. Just as we saw that three characters dominated the most common words in first position, here 8 of the 10 words begin [ch, sh].
I don’t believe that this would happen by chance. The only reason I can think of is that, as discussed in the post about first-last combinations, the first character of second words is influenced by the last character of the foregoing word. Certainly [ch, sh] are ‘weak’ (as is [a]), and all but one of the common first position words end in ‘strong’ characters [r, n].
Yet is this a good explanation? Many combinations of the common first and second words exist in the manuscript, which is reassuring. But I’m doubtful this is the cause of the observation rather than a fact which happens alongside. As mentioned at the beginning, I’m at a loss.
*It’s really a bit higher, as all short lines bring the average line length down while still having identifiable first, second, third positions. That is, there are more first positions than second positions, more second than third, more third than fourth, and so on, regardless of how long the average line is.