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Thread: Upper case and lower case

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    Upper case and lower case

    I have a simple question, and I hope some of the smart people who inhabit this board and have an interest in history will have answers.

    Basically, it's often said (and I agree) that strings of lowercase letters are easier to read than strings of uppercase letters. What I wonder is, why then did the Romans use all caps? Maybe it's just a very simple answer: because they hadn't developed them. But I could go a bit further and say, people say the reason that lowercase letters are easier to read is because of the ascenders and descenders (meaning, uppercase letters are all of the same height, but with lowercase letters, the "p" goes under the baseline whereas the "t" goes higher up). So why, then, did the Romans use letters without ascenders and descenders?
    As above, so below

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    Stone graffiti is easier with its (mostly) straight lines.

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    Yeah, that's something that occurred to me. But I think the Romans also wrote on parchment and vellum as well. Though maybe that was a later development? Perhaps it's just that the straight lines were more appropriate for chisels, and as writing moved to vellum, the development of lowercase letters became beneficial.
    As above, so below

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    I would think part of the answer is that the roman alphabet wasn't exactly designed for speed reading, or much else, as a goal. It evolved. No ID. Mutations happened. Good stuff tended to be kept. Some bad stuff survived anyway.
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    According to this page (and it doesn't cite sources, but it sounds reasonable):

    The Roman alphabet originally contained only a single form of letters, which today are referred to as upper case letters or, more commonly, capital letters. (Moreover, there was no spacing between words, nor was there any punctuation!)

    Lower case letters originated from manuscript writing in the Middle Ages. Writing with pens caused the original, largely angular, characters to become rounder and simpler, and it also resulted in some of them extending beyond the lower boundary that restrained capital letters. Lower case became irresistible to manuscript writers because it was faster to write, it was easier to read and it conserved space on the costly parchment (which was made from animal skins and used instead of paper).

    As it had already been common to make the first letter of each sentence as well as the first letter of each noun slightly larger than the other letters, it was a fairly logical progression to retain upper case letters for those situations and use lower case letters for almost everything else.


    I did find other pages stating that lowercase came as a result of the development of cursive writing. So, it seems that the reason was that it hadn't been invented yet. As Bman said, it evolved.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jens View Post
    Yeah, that's something that occurred to me. But I think the Romans also wrote on parchment and vellum as well. Though maybe that was a later development? Perhaps it's just that the straight lines were more appropriate for chisels, and as writing moved to vellum, the development of lowercase letters became beneficial.
    the romans did write on some sort of "paper", whether it was parchment or the earlier papyrus i'm not sure, but i'd lean toward parchment or vellum
    Last edited by Damien Evans; 2007-Mar-22 at 05:35 AM. Reason: added quotation marks

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    As Van Rijn says, there wasn't a system to write anything but capitals yet. Besides, if you'll note, almost all capital letters are nothing but straight lines, whereas lower case letters are primarily curves. You try carving lots of curved lines on stones; it may be faster to read, but it's certainly slower to carve!
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    Yes, that sounds quite reasonable to me as an explanation. I guess it's something like, "the media evolves in response to the technology". In a time when messages were primarily carved, the upper case letters were more convenient, and then the use of papyrus and vellum and parchment began to spread, and (with a delay) the letters evolved to fit the new medium.
    As above, so below

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    For Greek inscriptions, they hadn't invented the space between words yet, and writing direction was a matter of taste, to the point where you'd have alternating direction from line to line.

    Writing evolved.
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    How hard is it to invent spaces between words? I mean really? After all they're already there on the page before you start writing.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gillianren View Post
    As Van Rijn says, there wasn't a system to write anything but capitals yet. Besides, if you'll note, almost all capital letters are nothing but straight lines, whereas lower case letters are primarily curves. You try carving lots of curved lines on stones; it may be faster to read, but it's certainly slower to carve!
    I haven't noticed that !

    That is informative Gillianren.

    Thanks!

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    I never thought of that evolution, but I have always wondered what the evolution of "V" was. Why didn't "V" stay a "V" and our "V" be something new like "U"?

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    The "V" was originally like "U" when placed where it had to be a vowel and a "W" when placed where it had to be a consonant. There was just one letter because it's possible to conceive of those sounds as the same thing and they apparently did. The use of it as a consonant later came to sound like our modern "V", which could no longer be thought of as the same thing as the vowel, so then it became appropriate to have two separate letters. "W" (called "double-V" in Spanish) came along centuries later, literally by the doubling of either "U" or "V" to represent a third sound related to the other two but not the same as either... although different languages don't agree on which ones get which sounds, the need for three letters to show three sounds is the same. (In German, "W" is like our "V", and "V" is usually like our "F", for example, but either way, they're two different sounds.)

    "C" and "G" have a similar history.

    When and how did the Greeks come up with their lowercases? They're always given along with the capitals when the alphabet is taught, but the Romans would have known about them if they were there all along. (Maybe they knew and just ignored?) And they also usually have no resemblance to the capitals, so derivation is hard to picture...

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    maybe they tried to make their arguments stronger by PUTTING THEM IN ALL CAPS !!!1!!11!ONE!



    It's a good question though, Greek has (and I assume had) lower case letters, but Roman didn't.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nicolas View Post
    maybe they tried to make their arguments stronger by PUTTING THEM IN ALL CAPS !!!1!!11!ONE!
    OOH, light bulb just blinked... I think I see a connection with one of our posters from the same country.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ronald Brak View Post
    How hard is it to invent spaces between words? I mean really? After all they're already there on the page before you start writing.
    It'sapparentlyhard, in that plenty of writing systems fail to do it. I think it's a figure-ground issue. The blank page's possibly being already filled with (or containing one giant) interword separation punctuation is far from an obvious thing.

    To the casual observer, written words are composed of marks on a 2D surface. That there are also non-marks on that surface, that there is negative space that is equally important to the words' identities and existence, takes keen observation and somewhat deep thought.

    I enjoyed the tale from interword separation:

    The Irish appear to have been the first to consistently use blank spaces to delimit word boundaries in the Latin alphabet, sometime between 600 AD and 800 AD. As Irish is from a different branch of the Indo-European language family than Latin, the Irish would have had much more difficulty reading Latin than people with, for example, Spanish or Italian (which descended from Latin and are still quite close to it) as their first language. Thus they would have had greater incentive to make reading Latin easier.
    (Hmm, someone had to write the book: Saenger, Paul Spaces between Words. Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-4016-X.)
    Last edited by 01101001; 2007-Mar-22 at 05:06 PM. Reason: missing space typo
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    Quote Originally Posted by Delvo View Post
    When and how did the Greeks come up with their lowercases?
    Wikipedia: Minuscule:

    Similar developments have taken place in other alphabets. The minuscule script for the Greek alphabet has its origins in the seventh century [...]
    Wikipedia: History of the Latin alphabet, not very precisely:

    The lower case (minuscule) letters developed in the Middle Ages from New Roman Cursive writing, first as the uncial script, and later as minuscule script.
    Wikipedia: Calligraphy:

    Western calligraphy is the calligraphy of the Latin writing system, and to a lesser degree the Greek and Cyrillic writing systems. Early alphabets had evolved by about 3000 BC. From the Etruscan alphabet evolved the Latin alphabet. Capital letters (majuscules) emerged first, followed by the invention of lower case letters (minuscules) in the Carolingian period (Mediavilla 1996).
    Carolingian: AD 780 to 900
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    According to some sources, such as this one, lower case letters in the Latin alphabet were developed and standardized by (or for) Charlemagne.

    The most durable and significant of all Charlemagne's efforts was the revival of learning in his kingdom. This was especially so among the clergy, many of whom were barely literate. On the whole, the monks were not much better educated. Even those monks who spent their days copying manuscripts could barely read or understand them. The manuscripts from the 7th and 8th centuries were confusing. They were all written in uppercase letters and without punctuation. There were many errors made in copying and handwriting was poor. There were, however, a few educated monks as well as the beginnings of a few great libraries. But Charlemagne could not find one good copy of the Bible, nor a complete text of the Benedictine Rule. He had to send to Rome for them. Above all, Charlemagne wanted unity in the Frankish Church, a Church wholly under his supervision. Charlemagne, although illiterate as a youth, was devoted to new ideas and to learning. He studied Latin, Greek, rhetoric, logic and astronomy. He wanted to meet an educated man -- he was very lucky. He was in northern Italy when he met the Anglo-Saxon scholar, Alcuin.

    Alcuin (c.735-804) lived in York where there was a library which contained a vast collection of manuscripts. Charlemagne persuaded Alcuin to come to Aachen in order to design a curriculum for the palace school. Alcuin devised a course of study that was intended to train the clergy and the monks. Here we find the origins of the seven liberal arts: the trivium comprised grammar (how to write), rhetoric (how to speak) and logic (how to think) while the quadrivium was made up of the mathematical arts, geometry, arithmetic, astronomy and music. All of this meant a classical and literary education. Students read Homer, Virgil, Horace, Ovid, Juvenal, Plato and Cicero.

    By the 9th century, most monasteries had writing rooms or scriptoria. It was here that manuscripts were copied. The texts were studied with care. It was no longer merely a matter of copying texts. It was now first necessary to correct any mistakes which had been made over years of copying. Copying was indeed difficult: lighting was poor, the monk's hands were cramped by cold weather and there was no standard scholarly language. What Charlemagne did was institute a standard writing style. Remember, previous texts were all uppercase, without punctuation and there was no separation between words. The letters of the new script, called the Carolingian minuscule, were written in upper and lower case, with punctuation and words were separated. It should be obvious that this new script was much easier to read, in fact, it is the script we use today. Charlemagne also standardized medieval Latin. After all, much had changed in the Latin language over the past 1000 years. New words, phrases, and idioms had appeared over the centuries in these now had to be incorporated into the language. So what Charlemagne did was take account of all these changes and include them in a new scholarly language which we know as medieval Latin.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jens View Post
    Basically, it's often said (and I agree) that strings of lowercase letters are easier to read than strings of uppercase letters. What I wonder is, why then did the Romans use all caps?
    The lowercase letters we now use were essentially a medieval creation, usually traced back to the Carolingian period.

    It seems the Greek alphabet also developed lowercase letters only in the medieval period.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jens View Post
    But I could go a bit further and say, people say the reason that lowercase letters are easier to read is because of the ascenders and descenders (meaning, uppercase letters are all of the same height, but with lowercase letters, the "p" goes under the baseline whereas the "t" goes higher up). So why, then, did the Romans use letters without ascenders and descenders?
    I always thought the advantage of lowercase type was that it was easier to write, not read...

    Quote Originally Posted by Jens View Post
    Yeah, that's something that occurred to me. But I think the Romans also wrote on parchment and vellum as well.
    The Romans used a special script for informal writing.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Whirlpool View Post
    I haven't noticed that !

    That is informative Gillianren.

    Thanks!
    You're quite welcome. I aim to inform wherever possible, and it's not often possible for me around here, being the English major that I am. I can't help with physics and engineering and optics, oh my, so I content myself with just kind of knowing stuff and correcting people's spelling and grammar when I feel it's necessary.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Disinfo Agent View Post
    I always thought the advantage of lowercase type was that it was easier to write, not read...
    I hand-write all caps because it's my achitect style. I toss out reabability and writability and go with esthetics. Charles Shulz was my lettering hero.

    I feel mixed case writing is easier to read than uppercase only. I've long heard it said. I think research backs it up. Let's see...

    Readability of websites...

    Several word style factors (letter case, bold, italicized, etc.) may also affect readability. For example, text displayed in mixed upper and lower case letters is faster and easier to read (Tinker, 1963). This increase in speed is due to a person's tendency to recognize the shape of the word as opposed to each individual letter in a word. When text is in all upper case letters, it takes away the characteristic shape of words. The reader is forced to identify the individual letters of each word, which slows the reader down.
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    I never thought about it until right now, but could 'uppercase' and 'lowercase' be printer's terms? As in keeping the capital letters in the upper case of type sitting by the printing press?

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    Quote Originally Posted by 01101001 View Post
    Readability of websites...

    Several word style factors (letter case, bold, italicized, etc.) may also affect readability. For example, text displayed in mixed upper and lower case letters is faster and easier to read (Tinker, 1963). This increase in speed is due to a person's tendency to recognize the shape of the word as opposed to each individual letter in a word. When text is in all upper case letters, it takes away the characteristic shape of words. The reader is forced to identify the individual letters of each word, which slows the reader down.
    I bet they didn't control for the fact that most people are already more used to reading in mixed case.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jens View Post
    people say the reason that lowercase letters are easier to read is because of the ascenders and descenders (meaning, uppercase letters are all of the same height, but with lowercase letters, the "p" goes under the baseline whereas the "t" goes higher up)
    I write in all uppercase letters. The capital letters are just larger than the rest of the letters. I can take my time and make sure every letter is perfectly formed and defined, and there are still people who find it hard to read. I always figured that was because they weren't use to seeing things written that way. To my eyes, this is easier to read. All the letters are the same size and I don't use and ascenders or descenders. The letters end up being more square-like (as long as I don't write too quickly, in which case everything becomes a scribble).

    It reminds me of cursive writing. I don't write that way very often, so when I do see something written in cursive I have to look at it carefully. I can read it, just not as quickly.

    On a side note, if there is one thing I despise about the internet, it's mispelling words on purpose. Seeing someone write "ur" instead of "your" makes me cringe, and people who write "teh" on purpose all the time make me never want to talk to them again. I've seen things written this way on paper, and those are the moments where I want to cry.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ronald Brak View Post
    How hard is it to invent spaces between words? I mean really? After all they're already there on the page before you start writing.
    I think that's one of those ideas that is only obvious after the fact. Afterallyoudon'tputspacesbetweenwordswhenyouspeak. Well. unless. you're. William. Shatner.

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    Quote Originally Posted by lpgeorge123 View Post
    To my eyes, this is easier to read. All the letters are the same size and I don't use and ascenders or descenders. The letters end up being more square-like (as long as I don't write too quickly, in which case everything becomes a scribble).
    This is exactly the reason why it's slower to read all caps, or the "caps and small caps" you described, once you get over the "reading one letter at a time" stage of reading and get into whole words as the unit of recognition.

    With ascenders and descenders, common words can be distinguished by their outlines which makes them much faster to recognize than if you have to separate them by the fiddly patterns of lines within them.

    With caps words are all rectangular blobs until you focus on the lines within them which force you to go back to second grade and read the words a letter at a time.

    Please don't take this the wrong way, but have you been tested for dyslexia?
    That is the one situation I can think of where allcaps might be easier to read than mixed case, exactly because it promotes reading individual letters.
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    Quote Originally Posted by HenrikOlsen View Post
    This is exactly the reason why it's slower to read all caps, or the "caps and small caps" you described, once you get over the "reading one letter at a time" stage of reading and get into whole words as the unit of recognition.

    With ascenders and descenders, common words can be distinguished by their outlines which makes them much faster to recognize than if you have to separate them by the fiddly patterns of lines within them.

    With caps words are all rectangular blobs until you focus on the lines within them which force you to go back to second grade and read the words a letter at a time.

    Please don't take this the wrong way, but have you been tested for dyslexia?
    That is the one situation I can think of where allcaps might be easier to read than mixed case, exactly because it promotes reading individual letters.
    No offense taken. Maybe I find reading the block letters easier since I'm use to reading my own handwriting. I can read lowercase letters just fine. I guess I should have pointed out that I was talking about handwriting. When it comes to typed and printed stuff, I think lowercase is easier to read, but when it comes to reading hand written things, I prefer my small caps (I like that way of describing it ).

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    Quote Originally Posted by lpgeorge123 View Post
    I write in all uppercase letters. The capital letters are just larger than the rest of the letters. I can take my time and make sure every letter is perfectly formed and defined, and there are still people who find it hard to read. I always figured that was because they weren't use to seeing things written that way. To my eyes, this is easier to read. All the letters are the same size and I don't use and ascenders or descenders. The letters end up being more square-like (as long as I don't write too quickly, in which case everything becomes a scribble).

    It reminds me of cursive writing. I don't write that way very often, so when I do see something written in cursive I have to look at it carefully. I can read it, just not as quickly.

    On a side note, if there is one thing I despise about the internet, it's mispelling words on purpose. Seeing someone write "ur" instead of "your" makes me cringe, and people who write "teh" on purpose all the time make me never want to talk to them again. I've seen things written this way on paper, and those are the moments where I want to cry.
    I write that way as well, although I sometimes tend to mix that with upper/lower case in the same sentence! I've gotten to the point where I'm almost entirely unable to write cursive. Even signing my name legibly is very difficult.

    I think the bad spelling thing is more the fault of text messaging on cell phones than of the internet, although it has certainly spread there among the young. I tend to typo "teh" pretty often, unfortunately.
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    Quote Originally Posted by lpgeorge123 View Post
    No offense taken. Maybe I find reading the block letters easier since I'm use to reading my own handwriting. I can read lowercase letters just fine. I guess I should have pointed out that I was talking about handwriting. When it comes to typed and printed stuff, I think lowercase is easier to read, but when it comes to reading hand written things, I prefer my small caps (I like that way of describing it ).
    I have the same thing going on. With handwritten text, lowercase letters are often very non-uniform or poorly differentiated from each other. In my own handwriting, it can often be hard to tell whether a particular glyph is meant to be a 'g', a 'q', or a 'y'.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mike alexander View Post
    I never thought about it until right now, but could 'uppercase' and 'lowercase' be printer's terms? As in keeping the capital letters in the upper case of type sitting by the printing press?
    Bingo.

    Wikipedia: Capital letters

    Capital letters (also simply called capitals or caps) are also known as upper case; manual typesetters kept them in the upper drawers of a desk, keeping the more frequently used minuscule letters on the lower shelf. This practice may date back to Johann Gutenberg.
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