Language Trivia

Ever wonder why capital letters have mostly straight lines, especially in Latin? Carving is much easier with straight lines. Think of all those Greek and Roman buildings and their location names carved in stone. You’d straighten all the curves too if you had to carve someone’s name into a piece of granite. Lower case letters came much later in history, once we started writing with ink.

Another recent invention is the system of using spaces to delimit words. At first sentences were just strings of letters. Then we started using straight lines (pipe symbols) or high dots (multiplication symbols). Irish Christian scribes invented the space between words in the 6th century and settled on a standard convention in the 12th century. They started adding them to Latin to help them understand this written foreign language which, at the time, was just a string of unfamiliar symbols without spaces.

Fortunately punctuation was invented in Aristophanes of Byzantium in 200BC, long before spaces. So we could tell questions from statements. And at least the scribes could tell where sentences began an end. And now machines have a relatively easy time of sentence segmentation.

Thank you The Allusionist for these tidbits.

Written on April 24, 2015