Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home
Hostname: page-component-99c86f546-n7x5d Total loading time: 0.217 Render date: 2021-11-28T02:22:06.900Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "metricsAbstractViews": false, "figures": true, "newCiteModal": false, "newCitedByModal": true, "newEcommerce": true, "newUsageEvents": true }

Chapter 2 - Cracking Codes: Abbreviations in Medieval Script

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 February 2021

Get access

Summary

Having introduced script, the defining feature of the manuscript, this chapter addresses a ubiquitous feature of medieval handwriting: abbreviating words with specific, recognizable symbols. To a literate person, reading a book is fairly straightforward: just pick it up, flip to the first page, and start reading. However, if you want to read medieval script as a modern reader, there are some challenges to overcome. It turns out you need to decode quite a bit of text first. The first round of decoding happens when your eyes meet the page. As the previous chapter showed, medieval letters are shaped very differently from those today, and some are actually quite difficult to read.

See what happens, for example, when you start reading the famous Leiden Glossary (Figure 23). The paleographer E. A. Lowe defined this script as a pre-Caroline Alemannic minuscule, which means it dates from before the establishment of Caroline minuscule, which developed shortly before the year 800. It is relatively easy to decode Caroline minuscule with our modern brains. This is because early printers in Italy used the script as a model for Roman typefaces, which ultimately became our Times New Roman. Because most people read a version of Caroline minuscule in books or on their computer screens every day, they can identify the letters on a ninth-century page even if they don't know what the Latin words mean. The script in Figure 23, however, is far more difficult to consume, as you may have noticed, because our brains are not used to these letter shapes. Carolingian readers of around 800 would not have found this script illegible because they were trained to read it.

However, even when you are able to read a challenging script like this (and one can learn to do so in paleography classes), there is a second coding problem to overcome, which is much trickier: letters and words are frequently abbreviated with symbols. In fact, sometimes a full page or even an entire book is written in this “code.” Like any cipher, you can only read it if you know the key. It is this kind of decoding of abbreviated words, some made up of special signs, that stands centre stage here as a defining feature of medieval script.

Type
Chapter
Information
Books Before Print , pp. 39 - 46
Publisher: Amsterdam University Press
Print publication year: 2018

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

Send book to Kindle

To send this book to your Kindle, first ensure no-reply@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

Note you can select to send to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats
×

Send book to Dropbox

To send content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

Available formats
×

Send book to Google Drive

To send content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

Available formats
×