The picture above must have been just one of many other pictures you have come across where the failure to use punctuation correctly led to a sentence conveying a wholly different message.
Yet, have you ever wondered about the history of punctuation in the English language? Was punctuation there since the birth of the English language?
The oldest known document using punctuation is the Mesha Stele of the 9th Century BC. The text written was in the Moabite language using the old Phoenician alphabet. So what about the English language?
Interestingly, there are 2 major events that led to the extensive use of punctuation in the English language. Prior to these events, the punctuation used in the English language was not standardized or widely used.
The first event is the production of mass copies of the Christian bible around 400 AD. These copies were designed to be read aloud and the copyists began to introduce a range of marks to aid the reader, including indentation, various punctuation marks, and an early version of initial capitals.
The second event in the 14th and 15th century is the invention of the moveable type in Europe that led to an increase of printed material. This meant that a standard system of punctuation was urgently required. The introduction of a standard system of punctuation has also been attributed to Aldus Manutius and his grandson. They have been credited with popularizing the practice of ending sentences with the colon or full stop, inventing the semicolon, making occasional use of parentheses and creating the modern comma by lowering the virgule. By 1566, Aldus Manutius the Younger was able to state that the main object of punctuation was the clarification of syntax.
So there you go – a short history of punctuation in the English language. The main purpose of punctuation is to clarify syntax, or in simpler words, to make the meaning of a sentence clearer.
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The Ginger Team