I'm working on the transcription of some late seventeenth century English Manorial Court Rolls in Latin. They're heavily abbreviated.

In some places the scribe has visibly written a ligature in e.g. præ

In other places, the same scribe has written words in full that one might have expected to contain a ligature but don't, e.g. prefatus

In other places, I see an abbreviation mark at the end of a word or a name ending in a e.g. Maria where the context demonstrates that the text intended is Mariae.

Where the ligature is clearly visible, or is clearly absent, I believe my transcription should reflect the original (either with or without the ligature).

My question is: how do I transcribe Maria[] ? Maria[e] ? Mari[æ] ?

Is there an accepted convention?

  • 6
    I refrained with difficulty from titling this 'How do you solve a problem like Maria'? Commented May 1, 2022 at 11:33
  • Maybe you can update it once it's established what the convention is. ;)
    – Adam
    Commented May 1, 2022 at 13:36
  • The issue is there are several accepted conventions. Some belong to different points in history, some belong to different Latin contexts, some have coexisted. For transcribing, though, I believe it's better to follow the writer's choice, though I'm no scholar to say it for sure
    – Rafael
    Commented May 1, 2022 at 15:12

1 Answer 1


In this context, I would transcribe "Maria + contraction mark" as "Mariae" or "Mariae̲" and include a note explaining that your transcription expands contractions and indicates the contracted material by italicized or underlined text.

It sounds like you are aiming for what is called in paleography a "semi-diplomatic transcription". There is no single univeral standard for this (the purpose of the transcription may affect the way that the transcriber chooses to balance faithfulness to the original text with normalization), but it seems a common technique is to use italicization (or underlining, as an equivalent to italics when italics are not available) to mark characters that have been expanded by the transcriber from a contraction mark.

Here are a couple of resources that mention this paleographic convention:

  • "Transcribing Medieval Manuscripts and Archival Material", Kathleen Walker-Meikle for the CENDARI project (October 2015), on the Consortium of European Research Libraries web site.

    "Abbreviations are conventually italicised or underlined when expanded by the transcriber in a semi-diplomatic transcription."

  • English Handwriting Online 1500-1700: an online course, "Basic Conventions for Transcription"

    States that a conventional method of rendering contractions in semi-diplomatic transcription is to expand them and italicize supplied letters; they also advise that the transcriber include a statement that this practice was followed in their transcription, and that the transcriber should follow the original scribe's spelling conventions when supplying letters. I suppose, if your original text always uses the spellings æ or e and never ae, my recommendation at the top conflicts somewhat with this last piece of advice. But I don't think that's a serious issue in this case. Mariæ seems inadvisable, as it would have the more serious shortcoming of incorrectly indicating that the original text omitted the letter a.

  • Those look like useful resources. I must be careful not to vanish down a rabbit hole exploring every nook cranny and link! Commented May 1, 2022 at 15:32

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.