January 26, 2004

Medieval punctuation

Punctuation, is used primarily as an aid to help one read out loud. This aid is and was especially useful in religious circles where readings in churches were a common practice. An interesting note, the Spanish language places an upside down question and exclamation mark before the sentence as well as at the end. This gives a reader fair warning of how he should properly enunciate and inflect. (Does anyone else remember how annoying it was to read some Shakespearean play in high school? People would read in a monotone the whole time, and then the narrator would read how they were supposed to have said it in a whisper or a rage).

One example of medieval punctuation would be the punctus elevatus, which means, and yes, I will explain... 'One of the positurae which passed into the general repertory; used to indicate a major medial pause (after a colon, or membrum), where the sense is complete but the meaning is not' (Parkes 1992).

Wow, what utter nonsense without some explanation, but that is coming. Some great examples of the punctus elevatus and other medieval punctuation can be found by clicking here.

The punctus elevatus looks like an inverted semicolon, and was used in a very similar manner to our modern day comma or semicolon.

The punctus (. or ) changed meanings depending on where it was located. If it was found in the middle of a sentence it acted like a semicolon; at the beginning like a comma, or at the end like a period. A punctus versus, which looks like the number seven placed over a period could also be used at the end of a sentence to indicate a final pause.

The question mark, which is quite necessary to our modern day writing, wasn't invented until the seventeenth-century. Until then the punctus interrogativus was used. It is represented by a little squiggle or tilde.

Finally, the virgula suspensiva was used in the same way as our comma, often in the middle of a line of poetry, but could be doubled and tripled for a longer pause.

Posted by JohnHaddad at January 26, 2004 04:57 PM

But WHY do they use reverse question marks in the spanish language at the beginning of the question? Does anybody know the history of this?

Posted by: Mehmet Metin at April 18, 2004 09:30 AM
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