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One of the most important skills which any student of medieval manuscripts and early printed books must develop is an understanding of the abbreviations which are common in these texts.
Partly because of the expense of parchment, partly to achieve efficiencies in the labour of copying, perhaps partly to reduce the size of books which needed to be stored, scribes developed for Latin texts an elaborate system of abbreviating words and for replacing some especially common words (or common, formulaic phrases) with shorthand symbols.
This medieval suspension mark is the origin of the modern apostrophe to indicate missing letters in contractions, as in "don't." a mark shaped like a small number "9," or opened up like a reversed letter "c" with the stroke continuing down and to the left, and lowered on the line (so that the top of it is aligned with the top of lower case letters) appearing at the beginning of a word represents the syllable "com" or "con": " a character in a word-final position and shaped something like a number "4" (placed low on the line so that the top of it is aligned with the top of lower case letters) is frequently used to represent the syllable "rum" or "run" (or "arum" or "orum"); "line There is a fairly complex system of small variants added to the letters p and q to represent some common Latin prefixes and words: p with tilde or superscript a = "pra"; p with macron = "pre"; p with superscript i overtop of it = "pri"; p with a curled line bisecting the descender (sometimes forming a loop on the left side of the descender) = "pro"; p a straight line bisecting the descender = "per," "par," or "por." q with tilde or superscript a overtop of it = "qua" (sometimes "quam"); q with macron = "que"; q with superscript o overtop of it = "quo"; q with a curled line bisecting the descender (sometimes forming a loop on the left side of the descender) = "quae" or "qui" or "quod" (or English "quoth"); q a straight line bisecting the descender = "que" or "quam" or "quid"; q with a following punctus = "quasi"; q with a punctus before and after = "quaestio" or "quondam"; q with a following yogh = "quia"; q [ Course Notes: Introduction ] | [ I.
Towards a definition of "manuscript studies" ] | [ Topics in the social history of texts ] | a The "Rescue" of Medieval Manuscripts from Grocers and Fishmongers | [ II.
Note also that the shapes of Arabic numerals are also useful in dating a manuscript.
Manuscript abbreviations are of basically two types: marks to indicate missing letters (suspensions) and marks which represent a whole word ("notae," such as in Tiro's shorthand system). Examples of over emendation on insufficient grounds ] | [ VI. Bodleian Library Manuscript Collections ] © 1998, 2015 Stephen R.
A few of the most common of the thousands of symbols (especially ones which are common in both Latin and vernacular manuscripts) are described here; for a fuller sense of what can be involved, take a glance through Adriano Cappelli's Tironian nota for "et" (this frequently looks like a small number "7" or, later, a "z" or a "z" inside a circle; cf. Linguistic competence (an example): An Outline History of the English Language ] | [ VII. Reimer English; University of Alberta; Edmonton, Canada All rights reserved.
the ampersand: &): Tiro was a member of Cicero's household who developed one of the first shorthand alphabets (called "Tironian notes"; the system involved about 13,000 separate symbols).
The Tironian "et" sign was used in Insular scripts, and it gradually, in the twelfth century, replaces the ampersand which was used in early Caroline minuscule; it survives through the Gothic period, but the ampersand re-emerges in the early modern period. B." (or just a hand with a pointing finger) frequently can be found in the margin of a page, indicating "nota bene" (note well the passage marked).
My specialty is studying the changes that have occurred over the centuries in Latin and French.
I’m also working on the catalogues of the UCLA manuscript collections, in collaboration with UCLA’s Center for Primary Research and Training and the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.
"I.e." for "id est" and "e.g." or "exempli gratia" survive in modern English.
Suspension marks The two most common (and most variable) marks are a macron above a letter or an apostrophe-like curl after or part of a letter; both can mean "some letters are missing" (though in late medieval manuscripts the apostrophe-like mark is frequently otiose: purely decorative, without significance).