It may be hard to believe now, but there was actually a time when punctuation was not used at all in the English language. If that wasn’t bad enough, there were also no LOWER CASE LETTERS or SPACE IN BETWEEN WORDS. That means this sentence would have read like this: THATMEANSTHISSENTENCEWOULDHAVEREADLIKETHIS! When you think about it, reading and writing had to be quite confusing. It would also make things much more difficult for everyone to understand. Luckily, someone came up with punctuations, lowercase letters and spaces. But when did people actually start using punctuation? Who introduced it to the English language and why? The history of punctuation and how people began to use it in English is very interesting.
The Start of Punctuation
When it came to all languages, punctuation has a different origin. The reason for this is that the earliest writings had no actual need for either punctuation or spacing. The writings such as Logographic and Syllabic had each word which contained itself within the symbol. These earliest writings are the Chinese and Mayan. However, when it came to the alphabetic writing, the lack of spacing and punctuation make it quite difficult to comprehend anything written. This was a huge problem back ancient Greece. Those that read things out loud to others, had to practice extensively before hand. Moreover, anyone who did read anything, had to re-read it several times before they really understood it.
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That all changed by the 3rd Century BCE. It was then when a librarian by the name of Aristophanes, from the Hellenic Egyptian city of Alexandria, said enough. He is credited with introducing most of precursors found on the punctuation marks of today. Aristophanes came up with the suggestion of inserting dots. These are what we call periods today. Those dots where to be used as a way to indicate a pause needed or the end of a passage. This was very useful since it was extremely difficult for someone to continue reading without catching their breath.
Still, back in those days, in both Rome and Greece, speaking persuasively was more important than writing. Case in point can be seen by the Romans who abandoned Aristophanes’s method once they conquered the Greeks. Cicero was considered one of the best and most famous public speakers in Rome. He argued that the end of a sentence should be determined by the ‘constraint of the rhythm’ and not by stroke positioned by a copyist.
The Re-introduction of Punctuation
Once the Roman Empire dissipated and crumbled in the 4th and 5th Centuries, punctuation got another chance. Once Christians began to spread the word via writings, they re-introduced the system created by Aristophane. As the writings using this method spread, more and more writers began to feel comfortable with their work. They started to experiment with new dots, introducing variables to the question marks and colons.
By the 7th and th centuries, Irish and Scottish monks are said to have popularized or invented spaces between words. Charlamagne is the one who is typically credited with introducing the lowercase letters by the end of 8th century. All of this came about once he requested to a monk named Alcuin, that he come up with a unified alphabet. Then, by the 1400s, the Boncompagno da Signa’s slash became what is known today as the modern comma.
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Although the English language contains many grammatical rules which can be confusing, the addition of punctuation was the best thing to happen to it. Without a doubt, we would have been lost without any of the punctuations we used today. Some refer to the Emojis we used today with our smartphones, computers and mobile devices, as the new form of punctuation. Who knows what the future generations may have in mind when it comes to punctuation.