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PUNCTUATION : HISTORY : LANGUAGE AND LINGUISTICS: The Mysterious Origins of Punctuation


David P. Dillard
 

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PUNCTUATION :

HISTORY :

LANGUAGE AND LINGUISTICS:

The Mysterious Origins of Punctuation

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The Mysterious Origins of Punctuation

By Keith Houston

2 September 2015

BBC

http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/ 20150902-the-mysterious-origins-of-punctuation

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A shorter URL for the above link:

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http://tinyurl.com/nbjzk7f

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Commas, semicolons and question marks are so commonplace it seems as if they were always there but thats not the case. Keith Houston explains their history.

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Aristophanes breakthrough was to suggest that readers could annotate their documents, relieving the unbroken stream of text with dots of ink aligned with the middle (), bottom (.) or top () of each line. His subordinate, intermediate and full points corresponded to the pauses of increasing length that a practised reader would habitually insert between formal units of speech called the comma, colon and periodos. This was not quite punctuation as we know it Aristophanes saw his marks as representing simple pauses rather than grammatical boundaries but the seed had been planted.

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Unfortunately, not everyone was convinced of the value of this new invention. When the Romans overtook the Greeks as the preeminent empire-builders of the ancient world, they abandoned Aristophanes system of dots without a second thought. Cicero, for example, one of Romes most famous public speakers, told his rapt audiences that the end of a sentence ought to be determined not by the speakers pausing for breath, or by a stroke interposed by a copyist, but by the constraint of the rhythm.

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And though the Romans had experimented for a while with separatingwordswithdots, by the second century CE they had abandoned that too. The cult of public speaking was a strong one, to the extent that all reading was done aloud: most scholars agree that the Greeks and Romans got round their lack of punctuation by murmuring aloud as they read through texts of all kinds.

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Writing comes of age

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It was the rise of a quite different kind of cult that resuscitated Aristophanes foray into punctuation. As the Roman Empire crumbled in the 4th and 5th Centuries, Romes pagans found themselves fighting a losing battle against a new religion called Christianity. Whereas pagans had always passed along their traditions and culture by word of mouth, Christians preferred to write down their psalms and gospels to better spread the word of God. Books became an integral part of the Christian identity, acquiring decorative letters and paragraph marks (G, , 7, and others), and many were lavishly illustrated with gold leaf and intricate paintings.

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As it spread across Europe, Christianity embraced writing and rejuvenated punctuation. In the 6th Century, Christian writers began to punctuate their own works long before readers got their hands on them in order to protect their original meaning. Later, in the 7th Century, Isidore of Seville (first an archbishop and later beatified to become a saint, though sadly not for his services to punctuation) described an updated version of Aristophanes system in which he rearranged the dots in order of height to indicate short (.), medium () and long () pauses respectively.


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The complete article may be read at the URL above.

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Links to Sources About the Book The Above BBC Article is Derived From:

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Google Books

http://tinyurl.com/nkgxnm9

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Shady Characters:
The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols, and Other Typographical Marks
Author Keith Houston
Publisher W. W. Norton & Company, 2013
ISBN 0393241548, 9780393241549
Length 320 pages

Google Books Preview of The Above Book

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