From this overview of punctuation in Classical Latin, I understand that word spacing as we know it didn't really exist at that time: either an interpunct was used to separate words, or there was no word break at all.

What do we know about the origins of word spacing (with an actual space) in Latin? When did it become standard practice? Did it do so on a particular medium first, or in a particular geographical area, perhaps?

1 Answer 1


Roland Hinterhölzl (2009) Information Structure and Language Change p. 177 (via Google Books):

Roman scribes would usually operate by "copying texts in scriptio continua – that is, without separating words or indicating any pauses within a major section of text (Parkes 1993: 10). Separation by spaces first appears in the Insular area (see Saenger 1997: 84-99). It is then used in the Carolingian period (see Müller 1964: 35, Bischoff 1986: 229, Saenger 1990); Parkes (1993: 31) discusses several cases in which Carolingian scribes copying older manuscripts introduced separation. However, spaces were not yet used in a consequent manner (see Saenger 1997: 100): in Carolingian minuscule manuscripts "space was present, but not consistently between every word" (Saenger 1997: 32). Saenger (I997: 32) refers to this kind of separation as "aerated script" (as opposed to "word separation" proper). In central and southern Germany "scribes, after the mid-ninth century, began to write Latin in intensely aerated script, sometimes approaching separation, and began to develop modes for writing the vernacular that were clearly stimulated by Anglo-Saxon models." (Saenger 1997: 102). It is notable that "only at the Abbey of Saint Gall, one of the larger Continental colonies of Irish and Anglo-Saxon monks, did the evolution of text format go so far as to continue consistent emulation of Insular word separation." (Saenger 1997: 103). The Vocabularius Sancti Galli, a Latin-Old High German dictionary, provides an early example of Continental word separation (see Saenger 1997: 103).

A whole book on the topic (with a surprising twist) is the one repeatedly cited above, Paul Saenger (1997) Space Between Words: The Origins of Silent Reading.

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.