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Scriptio continua

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Vergilius Augusteus, Georgica 141ff, written in capitalis quadrata and in scriptio continua.

Scriptio continua (Latin for "continuous script"), also known as scriptura continua or scripta continua, is a style of writing without spaces, or other marks between the words or sentences. The form also lacks punctuation, diacritics, or distinguished letter case. In the West, the oldest Greek and Latin inscriptions used word dividers to separate words in sentences; however, Classical Greek and late Classical Latin both employed scriptio continua as the norm.[1][2]



Although scriptio continua is evidenced in most Classic Greek and Classic Latin manuscripts, different writing styles are depicted in documents that date back even further. And it must be noted that Classical Latin did often use the interpunct, especially in monuments and inscriptions.

The earliest texts in Classical Greek that used the Greek alphabet, as opposed to Linear B, were formatted in a constant string of capital letters from right to left. Later, this evolved to “boustrophedon,” which included lines written in alternating directions. It was only later on that the Romans adapted the Etruscan alphabet to write Latin and, in the process, switched from using points to divide words to the Greek practice of scriptio continua.[3]

Before the advent of the codex (book), Latin and Greek script was written on scrolls by enslaved scribes. The role of the scribe was to simply record everything he heard, in order to leave documentation. Because the free form of speech is so continuous, adding inaudible spaces to manuscripts would have been considered illogical.[citation needed] Furthermore, at a time when ink and papyrus were quite costly, adding spaces would be an unnecessary waste of such writing mediums. Typically, the reader of the text was a trained performer, who would have already memorized the content and breaks of the script. During these reading performances, the scroll acted as a cue sheet, and therefore did not require in-depth reading.

While the lack of word parsing forced the reader to distinguish elements of the script without a visual aid, it also presented him with more freedom to interpret the text. The reader had the liberty to insert pauses and dictate tone, making the act of reading a significantly more subjective activity than it is today. However, the lack of spacing also led to some ambiguity because a minor discrepancy in word parsing could give the text a different meaning. For example, a phrase written in scriptio continua as collectamexiliopubem may be interpreted as collectam ex Ilio pubem, meaning "a people gathered from Troy", or collectam exilio pubem, "a people gathered for exile". Thus, readers had to be much more cognizant of the context to which the text referred.[4]


Over time, the current system of rapid silent reading for information replaced the older, slower, and more dramatic performance based reading,[5] and word dividers and punctuation became more beneficial to text.[6] Though paleographers disagree about the chronological decline of scriptio continua throughout the world, it is generally accepted that the addition of spaces first appeared in Irish and Anglo-Saxon Bibles and Gospels from the seventh and eighth centuries.[7] Subsequently, an increasing number of European texts adopted conventional spacing, and within the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, all European texts were written with word separation.[8]

When word separation became the standard system, it was seen as a simplification of Roman culture because it undermined the metric and rhythmic fluency generated through scriptio continua. In contrast, paleographers today identify the extinction of scriptio continua as a critical factor in augmenting the widespread absorption of knowledge in the Pre-Modern Era. By saving the reader the taxing process of interpreting pauses and breaks, the inclusion of spaces enables the brain to comprehend written text more rapidly. Furthermore, the brain has a greater capacity to profoundly synthesize text and commit a greater portion of information to memory.[9]

Scriptio continua is still in use in Thai, other Southeast Asian abugidas, (Burmese, Khmer, Javanese, Balinese, Sundanese script), Lao, and in languages that use Chinese characters (Chinese and Japanese). However, modern vernacular Chinese differentiates itself from ancient scriptio continua through its use of punctuation, although this method of separation was borrowed from the West only about a century ago. Before this, the only forms of punctuation found in Chinese writings were marks to denote quotes, proper nouns, and emphasis. Modern Tibetic languages also employ a form of scriptio continua; while they punctuate syllables, they do not use spacing between units of meaning.


Latin textEdit

Latin text in scriptio continua with typical capital letters, taken from Cicero's De finibus bonorum et malorum:


Which in modern punctuation is:

  • Neque porro quisquam est qui dolorem ipsum quia dolor sit amet, consectetur, adipisci velit…
  • "Nobody likes pain for its own sake, or looks for it and wants to have it, just because it is pain…"


Greek textEdit

Greek text in scriptio continua with typical capital letters, taken from Hesiod's Theogony:



Which in modern punctuation is:

  • Μουσάων Ἑλικωνιάδων ἀρχώμεθ᾽ ἀείδειν, αἵ θ᾽ Ἑλικῶνος ἔχουσιν ὄρος μέγα τε ζάθεόν τε καί τε περὶ κρήνην ἰοειδέα πόσσ᾽ ἁπαλοῖσιν ὀρχεῦνται καὶ βωμὸν ἐρισθενέος Κρονίωνος·[10]
  • "From the Heliconian Muses let us begin to sing, who hold the great and holy mount of Helicon, and dance on soft feet about the deep-blue spring and the altar of the almighty son of Cronos,"[11]

Modern Latin scriptEdit

A form of scriptio continua has become common in internet e-mail addresses and domain names where, because the "space" character is invalid, the address for a website for "Example Fake Website" is written as – without spaces between the separate words. However, the "underscore" or "dash" characters are often used as stand-ins for the "space" character when its use would be invalid and their use would not be.

Chinese languageEdit

The Chinese language did not encounter the problem of incorporating spaces into their text because, unlike most orthographic systems, where words are formed by combining a series of letters, each character already represented its own word or morpheme.[12] On top of that, Chinese also lacked any form of punctuation until the 20th century as a result of interaction with Western civilizations.[13] Below is an example of a normal Chinese sentence, then what it would look like without spaces or punctuation, followed by what it would look like with spaces between words, then afterwards by a pinyin transcription (in which words are normally divided), and finally an English translation:

  • 北京在中国北方;广州在中国南方。
  • 北京在中国北方广州在中国南方
  • 北京 在 中国 北方; 广州 在 中国 南方。
  • Běijīng zài Zhōngguó běifāng; Guǎngzhōu zài Zhōngguó nánfāng.
  • Beijing is in Northern China; Guangzhou is in Southern China.

Japanese scriptEdit

Like Chinese, Japanese implements extensive use of Chinese characters, called kanji in Japanese. However, due to the radical differences between the Chinese and Japanese languages, writing Japanese exclusively in kanji would make Japanese extremely difficult to read.[14] This can be evidenced in Japanese texts that predate the modern kana system, in which Japanese was written entirely in kanji and man'yōgana, the latter of which are characters written solely to indicate a word's pronunciation as opposed to its meaning. For that reason, different syllabary systems called kana were developed to differentiate phonetic graphemes from ideographic ones.

Modern Japanese is typically written using three different types of graphemes, the first being kanji and the latter two being kana systems, the cursive hiragana and the angular katakana. While spaces are not normally used in writing, boundaries between words are often quickly perceived by Japanese speakers since kana are usually visually distinct from kanji. Japanese speakers also know that certain words, morphemes, and parts of speech are typically written using one of the three systems. Kanji is typically used for words of Japanese and Chinese origin as well as content words (i.e. nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs). Hiragana is typically used for native Japanese words, as well as commonly known words, phrases, and particles, as well as inflections of content words like verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. Katakana is typically used for loanwords from languages other than Chinese, onomatopoeia, and emphasized words.

Like Chinese, Japanese lacked any sort of punctuation until interaction with Western civilizations became more common. Punctuation was adopted during the Meiji Period.

Below is an example sentence of Japanese written first in hiragana, katakana and kanji without spaces between words, second in hiragana, katakana and kanji with spaces in between words (including particles), third only in hiragana and katakana, fourth in romaji, fifth the sentence translated in English, and finally in kanji and man'yōgana.

  • ベサニー・ヒルズと高森昭は東京に住んでいます。
  • ベサニー・ヒルズ と 高森 昭 は 東京 に 住んでいます。
  • ベサニー・ヒルズ と たかもり あきら は とうきょう に すんでいます。
  • Besanī Hiruzu to Takamori Akira wa Tōkyō ni sundeimasu.
  • Bethany Hills and Akira Takamori are living in Tokyo.
  • 邊三仁伊日流頭吐高森昭歯東京仁須無弟位麻須

Thai scriptEdit

The modern Thai script, which was said to have been created by King Ram Khamhaeng in 1283, does not contain any spaces between words, but spaces only indicate the clear endings of clauses or sentences.[15]

Below is a sample sentence of Thai written first without spaces between words (with Thai romanization in parentheses), second written in Thai with spaces between words (also with Thai romanization in parentheses), then finally translated into English.

  • ในน้ำมีปลา ในนามีข้าว (Nın̂ảmīplā nınāmīk̄ĥāw)
  • ใน น้ำ มี ปลา ใน นา มี ข้าว (Nı n̂ả mī plā nı nā mī k̄ĥāw)
  • In the water there are fish; in the paddy fields there is rice.[16]

Javanese scriptEdit

An example of the first line of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Javanese script (if you can't see the script, you can see the sample image here), and when they are divided (in some modern writings) by spaces and dash sign, which looks different.

  • ꦱꦧꦼꦤꦸꦮꦺꦴꦁꦏꦭꦲꦶꦫꦏꦺꦏꦟ꧀ꦛꦶꦩꦢ꧀ꦢꦶꦂꦏꦭꦤ꧀ꦢꦧ꧀ꦧꦺꦂꦩꦠ꧀ꦠꦂꦧꦠ꧀ꦭꦤ꧀ꦲꦏ꧀ꦲꦏ꧀ꦏꦁꦥꦝ – (saběnuwongkalairakekanthimardikalandarbemartabatlanhakhakkangpadha)
  • ꧋ꦱꦧꦼꦤ꧀ ꦈꦮꦺꦴꦁ ꦏꦭꦲꦶꦫꦏꦺ ꦏꦟ꧀ꦛꦶ ꦩꦢ꧀ꦢꦶꦂꦏ ꦭꦤ꧀ ꦢꦧ꧀ꦧꦺꦂ ꦩꦠ꧀ꦠꦂꦧꦠ꧀ ꦭꦤ꧀ ꦲꦏ꧀-ꦲꦏ꧀ ꦏꦁ ꦥꦝ꧉(saběn uwong kalairake kanthi mardika lan darbe martabat lan hak-hak kang padha)
  • All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ E. Otha Wingo. (1972). Latin punctuation in the classical age. The Hague: Mouton.
  2. ^ Brent Harmon Vine (1993). Studies in archaic Latin inscriptions. Innsbruck: Institut für Sprachwissenschaft der Universität Innsbruck.
  3. ^ Moore, F. C. T.. (2001). Scribes and Texts: A Test Case for Models of Cultural Transmission. The Monist, 84(3), 417–436. Retrieved from
  4. ^ Parkes, M. B. "Antiquity: Aids for Inexperienced Readers and the Prehistory of Punctuation." Pause and Effect: An Introduction to the History of Punctuation in the West. Berkeley: U of California, 1993. 10-11. Print.
  5. ^ Richard A. Lanham (2006). The Economics of Attention. ISBN 0-226-46882-8. page 113-115
  6. ^ Burnley, D.. (1995). Scribes and Hypertext. The Yearbook of English Studies, 25, 41–62.
  7. ^ Saenger, Paul (1997) Space between words: the origins of silent reading, Stanford University Press, Stanford, California, page 21
  8. ^ Saenger, Paul (1997) Space Between Words: The Origins of Silent Reading, Stanford University Press, Stanford, California, pages 120-1.
  9. ^ Saenger, Paul (1997) Space Between Words: The Origins of Silent Reading, Stanford University Press, Stanford, California, pages 16-17.
  10. ^ "The Theogony of Hesiod (Unicode Greek)". Retrieved 2017-10-19.
  11. ^ "The Theogony of Hesiod". Retrieved 2017-10-19.
  12. ^ Moore, F. C. T.. (2001). Scribes and Texts: A Test Case for Models of Cultural Transmission. The Monist, 84(3), 417–436. Retrieved from
  13. ^ Fang, Angela. "How To Use: Chinese Punctuation". Retrieved 2017-09-25.
  14. ^ "Japanese Language & Characters - Hiragana, Katakana, Kanji". Retrieved 2017-09-22.
  15. ^ "Thai language, alphabet and pronunciation". Retrieved 2017-09-26.
  16. ^ "BBC - Languages - Thai - A Guide to Thai - 10 facts about the Thai language". Retrieved 2017-09-26.