Punctuation

Notascooby

Active Member
This might be a dumb question but I've been asking a lot of them of late so the concern of coming across as dumb has already been realised, therefore I'll keep asking them.

Why do modern editions of Latin texts have punctuation?

My understanding is that the Romans mostly didn't use punctuation. Often it seems to me that adding punctuation is not always helpful. There are some instances where they are definitely handy but most of them seem less than necessary.
 
For ease of reading, as virtually all modern languages use some form of punctuation in written form. Just as they space between words in modern editions of Latin texts, instead of using scripto continua. Exempli gratia, de gustanibus non disputandum est vs. degustandibusnondisputandumest.
 
I've heard (not sure if accurate), that when reading aloud in Latin, the Romans read syllable by syllable, not word for word or phrase for phrase. If true, they might not have felt the need for punctuation as much. I expect the felt need for punctuation developed as book production of Latin classics increased in the Middle Ages or Renaissance. Certainly it would have after the invention of printing.

Solo denarii duo mei, :cool:

Devenius
 

Terry S.

Quaestor
Staff member
So far as I know, punctuation in Latin (which has evolved over the centuries) began with Irish scribes, who are also credited with introducing spaces between words. I have heard that this developed in Ireland, because Ireland had no tradition of spoken Latin in the classical period nor thereafter, therefore Latin for them was very much a written language which got into their heads via the eyes rather than the ears. This being the case, they looked for ways of making the individual words, clauses and sentences easier to recognise.
 

Issacus Divus

H₃rḗǵs h₁n̥dʰéri diwsú
Insular innovations!
 

Notascooby

Active Member
Thanks for the replies

I can see how spaces between words makes things clearer. Punctuation however often seems less than necessary. Clauses don't need to be broken up with punctuation because there are words introducing the clause that inform us. Questions, apart from the few instances when they are not, are mostly introduced by a word that tells you it is a question. Why the need for question marks?

The Romans might not have used punctuation marks but there would seem to be many features which work effectively as punctuation. Words introducing new clauses, particles and conjunctions, linking relatives, subject changes etc etc
 

Terry S.

Quaestor
Staff member

Issacus Divus

H₃rḗǵs h₁n̥dʰéri diwsú
Never really thought of that.

Just a side note: I thought the question mark itself came from a Q and a dot under, but looking now, that might be mistaken.
 

Ybytyruna

Civis Illustris
This might be a dumb question but I've been asking a lot of them of late so the concern of coming across as dumb has already been realised, therefore I'll keep asking them.

Why do modern editions of Latin texts have punctuation?

My understanding is that the Romans mostly didn't use punctuation. Often it seems to me that adding punctuation is not always helpful. There are some instances where they are definitely handy but most of them seem less than necessary.

Well, Latin had no punctuation as we happen to know it nowadays, but they kind of felt the need of it, just like the Greeks. The many particles in these two languages functioned as punctuation marks as well; they most certainly helped to improve the understanding of what was being read.
 

Gregorius Textor

Civis Illustris
I've heard (not sure if accurate), that when reading aloud in Latin, the Romans read syllable by syllable, not word for word or phrase for phrase. If true, they might not have felt the need for punctuation as much. I expect the felt need for punctuation developed as book production of Latin classics increased in the Middle Ages or Renaissance. Certainly it would have after the invention of printing.

Solo denarii duo mei, :cool:

Devenius
Which raises the question: when the Romans spoke, did they also speak syllable by syllable, and not word for word?

And what does reading or speaking syllable by syllable actually mean? That they paused between one syllable and the next (instead of between one word and the next), like a first-grader who has some difficulty with the reading, or that it was one continuous flow of syllables (with pause maybe only between phrases -- er, actually you're saying there was no pause there either, I guess)? Continuous flow is more the way we speak, if we're fluent in our language. At least that's my experience in the modern world.

So far as I know, punctuation in Latin (which has evolved over the centuries) began with Irish scribes, who are also credited with introducing spaces between words. I have heard that this developed in Ireland, because Ireland had no tradition of spoken Latin in the classical period nor thereafter, therefore Latin for them was very much a written language which got into their heads via the eyes rather than the ears. This being the case, they looked for ways of making the individual words, clauses and sentences easier to recognise.
Yay, Irish scribes!

My copy of the Vulgate does not have punctuation (or if any, it is very rare, except for hyphens), but it does separate the words. It is usually not difficult to figure out because the lines break at appropriate places, e.g.,

In principio creavit Deus caelum et terram
terra autem erat inanis et vacua
et tenebrae super faciem abyssi
et spiritus Dei ferabatur super aquas
dixitque Deus
fiat lux et facta est lux (Genesis 1:1-3)


The ets and -ques also help (as Ybytyruna has noted -- the particles).

Nevertheless, sometimes punctuation would make the structure and meaning clearer. I think I'd have considerable trouble without punctuation if I were reading, say, Cicero.

But if the punctuation is not in the original text, then there's sometimes a risk that the sentence(s) should have been punctuated otherwise than what the editor thought and did.
 
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