The Origin of Punctuation Marks

Punctuations are described as the use of spacing and symbols in order to understand and properly read texts, whether they are read silently or aloud. It is derived from the Latin word punctus meaning point.

Use of punctuations can be traced to the 15th century in Hebrew texts. In this case, vowel points were used by placing them near consonants to indicate following vowels. In early civilisations of Greece and Rome, punctuations weren’t used. Speeches were given more importance than written text and the readers and listeners were expected to understand on their own which proved to be difficult.

Aristophanes of Byzantium is considered the inventor of many punctuation marks such as marks of critical signs, accents, breathings and many more in 200BC which were employed in Greek texts. He used the comma, colon and periodos in Greek texts.  

Due to the spread of Christianity, Aristophanes punctuations became more widely used. This is because the Christians preferred written texts to spread the word of God. In the 7th century, Isidore of Seville introduced his own version of Aristophanes punctuations.  

However, it wasn’t until the 16th century when the Italians and French introduced the modern system of punctuation in Greek texts. The Venetian editor and printer Aldus Manutius made improvements in the use of punctuation which his grandson of the same name continued to clarify in his book Orthographiae ratio (System of Orthography) in 1566. Aldus junior emphasized the use of punctuation was for easier formation of words and sentences. It was at the end of the 17th century when many of the punctuations were given their modern names.

Many of the punctuations are used especially when reading texts aloud. They can also be used to express emotions in writing. For instance, a question mark would indicate someone asking a question while an exclamation mark indicates surprise.

In other parts of the world punctuations were used differently. In Sanskrit, the ancient language of India used only vertical lines to distinguish sentences. One vertical line indicated the end of a sentence while two vertical lines indicated the end of a couplet. In early Arabic texts, clauses were so distinguishable that there was no need of punctuations. However, many languages have incorporated the use of punctuation marks used in English.

The modern digital use of punctuations has come in the form of emoticons and emoji. These are commonly used in text messages and posts of social media. They are used to show different types of emotions and mini pictures of many things which are always increasing in number. Let us also not forget the showing of three little dots we see when someone is writing a text or comment on posts.

Punctuation isn’t dead and who knows how much more it will evolve in the future.  


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