blanks

07Jul07

“Blank spaces between the words seem so obviously crucial for intelligible reading that it can be difficult for us to comprehend that they were once considered redundant. Before the introduction of vowels to the Phoenician alphabet, all ancient languages of the Mediterranean world (Semitic and Indo-European) were written with word separators (spaces, dots, or decorative elements). When the Greeks invented vowels as codes for sound interpretation, they eliminated the spaces in written documents. They considered word separation superfluous and adopted an uninterrupted flow of characters. The Romans followed their example and used scriptura continua for nearly six centuries. This might seem a curiously retrograde development in western civilization, and is only possible to understand in the social context of reading: the ancients were not much interested in the spreading of literacy, making reading swifter and easier. They preferred collective oral reading rather than the autonomy of the reader. Furthermore, as Paul Saenger observes in his book Space Between Words: “Interpuncts [word separators] were a sign of the Latin reader’s slower cadence, rather than an aid to augment the speed of decoding”. Space, the graphic element which is most unambiguous and clearly understood in all sizes as a word separator, made its dramatic comeback in the late 7th century. Reintroduction of word space by the Irish scribes enabled the spread of a new phenomenon: silent reading. Using vowels and word spaces allowed for greater peripheral vision for the perception of words and their decoding. According to Saenger, the introduction of space changed the activity of reading from oral and collective to silent and solitary. Silent reading also supported the long-term memory of the reader and allowed him to concentrate on understanding the text.”
– Peter Bilak, ABOUT NOTHING, MAINLY
in Casco 8 (2004), Multiplicityhttp://www.cascoprojects.org



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