Humanist Archives: April 14, 2021, 7:03 a.m. Humanist 34.329 - abbreviations abbreviated?
Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 34, No. 329.
Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
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Date: 2021-04-13 06:11:28+00:00
From: Willard McCarty
Subject: abbreviations abbreviated?
A friend has written to me to ask if any research has been done on the
abbreviation over time of abbreviations. The question was stirred by an
article in DHQ 3.1 (2009), "Digitizing Latin Incunabula: Challenges,
Methods, and Possibilities" by Jeffrey A. Rydberg-Cox. My friend goes on:
> Among other topics, it discusses the problem of digitizing the
> hundreds of abbreviations, ligatures, and variant characters in
> incunabula, which pose problems in capturing characters in early
> printed texts.
> That relates to a question about a phenomenon I've been pondering.
> Early printed books, especially in Germany. but also to some extent
> in Italy, were full of abbreviations, etc., but the frequency of such
> characters gradually diminished over the decades, until the character
> repertoires of fonts in the 16th century became closer to those of
> basic Latin alphabets (not including accented letters as in French,
> etc.), though some abbreviations and ligatures persisted for
> There is a possible explanation for the pruning of abbreviations in
> terms of economics - it was expensive to cut the punches, strike and
> justify the matrices, cast the thousands of sorts, store them,
> compose them, and distribute them, for hundreds of characters that
> had little linguistic significance, but did make printed books look
> more like manuscripts. After printing was acceptable on its own, and
> more competitive, there would have been an incentive to reduce the
> typographic costs.
> But one could speculate on another reason. Literacy that included
> recognition and understanding of hundreds of extra characters made
> learning to read more difficult. Would printers' efforts to expand
> readership, that is, more customers, have encouraged the printing of
> typographically simpler texts that were more accessible to a broader
> range of readers?
> Also, it may have been that the use of abbreviations etc. in
> manuscripts also decreased in the 15th century. I don't know of
> reasons for that.
Any suggestions to send back to him?
Professor emeritus, King's College London;
Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews; Humanist
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