When was punctuation invented?

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Writing < Middle Ages < History

Did it start with the space?

Yes. Punctuation as we know it began to develop in the Middle Ages. Monks copying manuscripts in the 7th to 9th centuries started using spaces between words to improve readability and speed up their work. By the time the Magna Carta was written in 1215, punctuation was still mostly just spaces, with limited use of other marks. However, by the time Copernicus published his famous book in the 16th century, we had modern writing with periods, commas, paragraphs, and even chapters.

As part of telling the story of the printing press in 30 Philosophers, the narrative is shared like this:

“Prior to 900 CE, [writing] had no case—it was all uppercase or lowercase. It had no punctuation at all: no spaces, no commas, no periods, no paragraphs. It was just letters strung together. For example, most historical documents written before 900 CE in the West, particularly Latin and Greek texts, employed scriptio continua, featuring all uppercase letters, with no spaces between words, no punctuation, no paragraphs.

Before around 900 CE, reading was an experience most of us would not recognize. Instead of having grammar guide the reader’s interpretation, they had to interpret the text. Sure, they grew up seeing patterns of words in a string of letters, but a reader of the time would read and interpret the text much more than we accept today. The aim was to convey meaning through the arrangement of words alone. Sometimes the process required rereading the text several times. In fact, there was the profession of a professional reader—someone who would stand in the town square and read announcements the way the authors wanted them read.” 

The simple innovation of word spacing brings you needed context to our ancient spiritual texts, showing you the primitive format that forged our story and captured our thoughts. For more, take the deep dive, take a few minutes and explore the timeline: Medieval History Timeline.

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