De maiusculis

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Lucus Eques
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De maiusculis

Post by Lucus Eques » Sat Apr 22, 2006 5:23 am

Salutem omnibus!

I have seen frequently the convention of writing Latin without capitalizing the first letter of the first word of the sentence, contrary to custom in all other Western languages. I'm curious what purpose is served by not capitalizing them.

Sescetenas gratias,
Valete atque ualete.
L. Amadeus Ranierius

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Chris Weimer
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Post by Chris Weimer » Sat Apr 22, 2006 5:33 am

Because early Latin only had capitals, and the miniscule script was created to preserve space, thus, for parallel, they decided to do it in all miniscule. That, and often it is subjective where a sentence stops and where it begins, so to keep it minimal they don't use punctuation, but use miniscule to conserve space? What book are you reading that does this?

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Post by bellum paxque » Sat Apr 22, 2006 5:55 am

Good question.

Along with the reasons Chris gave, here's another possibility. One tricky thing with Latin is distinguishing proper nouns from common nouns. By using capitalization only as a signal for proper nouns, editors can avoid the ambiguity that would arise whenever a proper noun begins a sentence. This might be especially difficult in the Aeneid, for instance, where there are a lot of obscure words and place names that would not be immediately evident from the context.

-David

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Post by catfish » Sat Apr 22, 2006 9:32 am

I remember when I first saw a text with capitals at the start of sentences I thought it was so weird because I had learnt with texts that only had them on proper names - and now I have to agree that even if David's may not be an actual reason (I don't know) it certainly makes life alot easier in this way.

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Post by Lucus Eques » Sat Apr 22, 2006 2:31 pm

The book (an Italian version of Petronii Satyricon, "testo latino a fronte") does naturally capitalize proper nouns, use spaces and punctuation, even the letter 'v', so the thing is full of modern conventions; it just lacks capitalized words at the beginning of sentences. I don't see how this solves any particular ambiguity, since as a Westerner we're completely used to the convention. So why should Latin be different?

Catfish, in Australia you don't normally have texts with majuscules beginning sentences?
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Post by Interaxus » Sun Apr 23, 2006 2:00 am

Hi,

3 cheers for lucus eques! at last someone dares to raise a subject almost as taboo as the muhammad cartoons.

1. As Lucus Eques points out, it seems absurd to abolish capitals while retaining most of the other Guthenberg typographical conventions. When learning Arabic (which apart from being written right-to-left has no upper-case), I found it helpful to transcribe sentences into English letters and I certainly used capitals at the beginning of sentences then. It was merely a practicality, a learning device. Anyway, in Cicero's day no-one read printed books and they had probably never ‘heard’ of ‘silent reading’ à la Dickens novels. The current sentimental fiction of being ‘historical’ or ‘authentic’ is a repeat of the 18th century gentry’s fashion for building ‘ruins’ in their parks. It is a Disneyfication of Latin, a Dan Brown disfiguration of where we are. The past is painfully past and if anyone tells you otherwise they’re trying to sell you something.

2. Meanwhile the Internet is affecting our perception of what is acceptable as ‘writing’, ‘spelling’, etc. Capitals are likely soon to be a thing of the past, whether they signal sentence-beginnings or names. Modern Latin textbooks will then be easier on the eye. But I suspect the full-stop [=Amer. period] (as unknown to the Ancients as the concept of zero) will be jostling with emoticons and smileys for some time to come.

Int

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Post by bellum paxque » Sun Apr 23, 2006 2:51 am

I still contend that using capitals to indicate proper nouns is useful. Using capitals as a redundant signal of the beginning of a sentence (redundant, that is, when the full stop/period is retained) is much less useful and also makes initial proper nouns ambiguous.

Simply as a learning device, capital letters of this sort perform the essential role of letting the reader know when to look up a noun in a dictionary and when to look up a name in the encyclopedia .

-David

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Post by Lucus Eques » Sun Apr 23, 2006 6:00 am

I see your point, David, but how is that different from reading Shakespeare? wherewith the convention is to capitalize the first of every line no less. It's something that we're all used to — and in Vergil, as you noted, it's usually exceptionally easy to identify names even if all were miniscule, since most of the names are blatantly Greek.

Thank you for the cheers, Interaxe, and I enjoyed the many references. :-)
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Post by mraig » Sun Apr 23, 2006 6:58 am

The only problem is that there isn't some universal standard of capitalization that applies to all languages except Latin. German capitalizes all nouns (as did English, once), and the formal version of the second person pronoun; English capitalizes the first person singular pronoun (I know of no other language which does so), adjectives formed from proper names (we write 'French'; the French write 'français'), days of the week (we write 'Monday'; the French write 'lundi'). So there is no one monolithic set of capitalization rules that we can call 'normal' from which Latin deviates.

The better question would be, "what compelling reason is there to capitalize the first word of what we call a 'sentence'?" Because there are certainly cases where ambiguity is avoided by leaving all words other than proper nouns lower-case, and I see no compelling reason to do otherwise.

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Post by catfish » Sun Apr 23, 2006 10:13 am

Mraig don't call that a problem - thats the fabulous thing about learning languages, they are all different and strange and weird at times and thats why studying them is so GREAT!!!

Lucus Eques I just meant in my first year of learning latin those were the only texts I experienced.

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Post by bellum paxque » Sun Apr 23, 2006 5:35 pm

Luce, your point is taken, though I'm of the opinion that capitalizing the first word of every line of verse is distracting and confusing.

And, for one who hasn't studied Greek, names can hardly be blatantly Greek.

David

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Post by Chris Weimer » Sun Apr 23, 2006 8:11 pm

I would even make a case for all nouns including proper names to be put in lower case - this leaves more room for the translator to understand the text and in case the editor would get it wrong.

Chris

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Post by mraig » Mon Apr 24, 2006 2:37 am

catfish wrote:Mraig don't call that a problem - thats the fabulous thing about learning languages, they are all different and strange and weird at times and thats why studying them is so GREAT!!!

Lucus Eques I just meant in my first year of learning latin those were the only texts I experienced.
I meant 'problem' not in the sense of 'problem with the world' but in the sense of 'problem with Luc. Eq.'s theory'. He seems to be suggesting that it's somehow non-normal to begin a sentence with a lower-case letter, and I am countering with the fact that there is no universal 'normal' in the case of capitalization.

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Re: De maiusculis

Post by Democritus » Mon Apr 24, 2006 3:03 am

It's a great question. For example, Harrius Potter does not have initial capitals. But the book maintains all sorts of other modern orthographic conventions.

Initial captitals are useful because periods are small, and your eye might overlook a period from time to time.

Perhaps the people who enjoy Latin just enjoy doing things differently, in general? :)

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Post by Lucus Eques » Mon Apr 24, 2006 3:21 am

My theory, or rather, observation based upon facts in promptu, is that all western languages, in particular those which utilize the Roman alphabet, capitalize the initial letter in the first word of every sentence as a rule. It is universal. The divergent majuscule conventions of other languages such as German and French are superficial by comparison, and I think each set of conventions ought to have a place in the writing of living Latin (as I witness it and participate in it every day among writers of many different nations), but that is all beside the point: all our languages capitalize the first letter of a sentence. Why should Latin suddenly be different?

This is the quæstion whose answer I initially sought: why has this miniscule first-letter convention been instituted and therefore why is it so widespread?
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Post by Ulpianus » Mon Apr 24, 2006 8:40 am

IHAVENOIDEAUNFORTUNATELYWHYTHECAPITALISATION
CONVENTIONINLATINISASITISOREVENWHENITFIRSTAROSE
ITCERTAINLYDOESNOTRESTONANYTHINGINTHEORIGINAL
MANUSCRIPTSFORMYOWNPARTIREALLYDONTCAREMUCH
ABOUTCAPITALISATION&FEELICOULDFUNCTIONQUITE
WELLIFSENTENCESBEGANWITHCAPITALLETTERSORIF
PROPERNOUNSDIDNOTBUTIAMVERYGRATEFULFORSPACES
BETWEENWORDSANDFORSOMEPUNCTUATIONITHOWEVER
WHATWOULDBEREALLYANNOYINGISIFTHECONVENTION
WERENOTUNIFORMTHINGSAREALREADYBADENOUGHWITH
PEOPLEGETTINGWILDLYOVEREXCITEDABOUTWHETHERTOUSE
ALOWERCASEVEEFORCONSONANTU&HOWTOSPELLVERGIL
ORVIRGILSNAMEINENGLISH

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Post by Chris Weimer » Mon Apr 24, 2006 10:15 am

Actually, the Romans did use dots to separate words. It was rare that it was continually running like that, if at all.

Cheers.

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Post by Ulpianus » Mon Apr 24, 2006 11:13 am

Err ... Chris ... that was not supposed to be taken altogether seriously, though heaven knows my knowledge of paleography is limited to a few anecdotes, which may all be quite wrong. In so far as there is any serious point to it at all, it is that a modern text may well look nothing like an ancient manuscript, and is none the worse for that. If by "rare that it was continuously running ... if at all" you intended to imply "actually never", I am surprised because I thought I had seen photographic reproductions of very old manuscripts with no separations at all, but perhaps my eyes deceived me.

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Post by Chris Weimer » Mon Apr 24, 2006 11:42 am

Hrm, actually, I can't recall if *Latin* majuscules were written with the dots in between. Certainly most inscriptions contained them, and thus my mind defaulted to such. Let me go look around for some photos and I'll get back to you on that.

Ah, found one, Codex Bezae, from the sixth century. Quite right. Let me look for some non-Biblical examples.

Image

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Post by Ulpianus » Mon Apr 24, 2006 11:57 am

Thanks. That's fascinating. Some interesting examples here, helpful if you read French. I have no idea whether the book is reliable or not. From a very superficial glance, it seems as if practice varies: sometimes separations, sometimes not, sometimes marks to separate, sometimes not, sometimes original, sometimes added later.

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Post by nostos » Mon Apr 24, 2006 12:48 pm

When I first started learning Latin I was using the Oxford Latin Course (with its funny pictures!) which I remember didn't use capitals and I thought that was amazing. I had no idea why it didn't; but when I thought of it, I figured there was really nothing other than convention making me use capitals for the beginning of sentences. However I didn't generalise that into all my writing, only Latin. I know one girl who doesn't use capitals at the beginning of sentences or with proper nouns/adjectives in English and it ain't pretentiousness: she likes it better that way, just because it seems more natural to her. When she hands in an essay, she capitalises where conventionally necessary. She speaks no Latin nor has any interest to learn it.

Personally I simply like beginning the Latin sentence without a capital. It's the only reason I do it. Ostensibly we should probably go by the conventions of the Romance languages; that would be the most logical thing. All Romance tongues capitalise the first letter of a sentence. But French and Spanish don't capitalise adjectives from proper nouns, yet it's a Latin convention. Does Italian capitalise them, Luce?

Anyway all of this begs the question of using modern conventions: why use some and ditch some others? The theory that not using capitals simulates past conventions is iffy (see the last paragraph of this article - I at least find it iffy because I'd have to research it more, primarily not online). And whose modern conventions do we go by? Do we take capitalisation of proper adjectives from English even though the Romance tongues (at least two for sure) don't use them? It's funny to see my Latin-Spanish dictionary writing 'Graecus, a, um, griego;' when Spanish comes from Latin. You'd think they would have kept their own conventions.

I can think of no reason to change the way I or anyone else likes writing Latin except for the authority of convention, which to me is no reason at all. The decision for following conventions (at least once you've been made aware of them) is a purely emotional one. When it comes to something 'official' like publication, you (mostly) have to follow the conventions of the publisher anyway if you want to get published. And the facts of the matter seem to be that Latin has two published conventions, capitalising (e.g. DOMVS LATINA) and not (e.g. OUP) the beginnings of sentences.

EDIT: I don'tmean that the 'authority of convention' isn't useful! Obviously it is since I'm using it now and everyone who wants to be understood has to use it (else people would spell all funky and use alternate scripts for English etc). But with minor points like these, the adjuncts of convention, the tips of fingernails on the hand of convention, I don't really see anything wrong with going by one method over the other.

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Post by Lucus Eques » Mon Apr 24, 2006 1:13 pm

You asked, Noste, if Italian capitalizes certain adjectives and proper nouns of importance like in English, and the answer is that id does not, and pretty much follows the same Iberian pattern of French and Spanish, while Italians when writing Latin take to retaining the capitalizations that English yet possesses — near as I can figure, this is because all our languages used to have more liberal and more frequent majuscules, which custom has simplified in the modern tongues, while Latin has been preserved. Still, the first letter capitalized isn't simply Romance, but Universal.
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