A Glimpse into the History of Punctuation

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Over at Good, Anne Trubek writesthat emoticons have a natural place in the history of punctuation. Moreover, she suggests that the development of punctuation marks irritated some people as much as emoticons irk today’s grammar police. Even the spaces between words are punctuation, Trubek reminds us:

A space is a punctuation mark, remember, so in those days, everyone used a script called scripta continua, which, as you may guessed, meant therewerenospacesbetweenwords. As more people began reading, itbecamehardertoreadthedamnedmanuscripts, and punctuation marks were invented to ease reading aloud.

The earliest marks indicated how a speaker’s voice should adjust to reflect the tone of the words. Punctus interrogativus is a precursor to today’s question mark, and it indicates that the reader should raise his voice to indicate inquisitiveness. Tone and voice were literal in those days: Punctuation told the speaker how to express the words he was reading out loud to his audience, or to himself. A question mark, a comma, a space between two words: These are symbols that denote written tone and voice for a primarily literate–as opposed to oral–culture. There is no significant difference between them and a modern emoticon.

It is true that some people go overboard, cluttering their writing with silly waving hands and kissy faces. But the same outpouring of new marks occurred in the Middle Ages, too, when the old hoary punctuation marks–the ones we now teach 5th graders–were new and exciting.

(Thanks, The Book Bench.)

Source: Good

Image by stewartpillbrow, licensed under Creative Commons.
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