paleography

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

paleography

paleography (pālēŏg´rəfē) [Gr.,=early writing], term generally meaning all study and interpretation of old ways of recording language. In a narrower sense, it excludes epigraphy (the study of inscriptions) and includes only the writing that is done on such materials as wax, papyrus, parchment, and paper. In Western Europe and in regions that have adopted Western European ways of writing, letters of all kinds—capital and lower case, roman, italic, black letter, and script—are derived from the capital letters of Roman inscriptions. From these "square" capitals developed less severe capitals called "rustic" and also letters called "uncial," with more curves than capitals have. The uncial M, for example, substitutes curves for the two angles at the top, as the lower-case letter does. Capitals and uncials are called majuscules and are distinguished from minuscules, the lower-case letters. The lower-case letters established themselves definitely in Alcuin's school at Tours in the time of Charlemagne. Letters of the kind preferred in that school are known as Carolingian, or Caroline, minuscules. Efforts to make letters ornate led to the development of black letter, no longer in use except in relatively few German printed books. Letters of this ornate kind, with many angles and with heavy shading, are sometimes called gothic—a term that is ambiguous, since it is used by printers for very simple letters without serifs. In type, italic letters were introduced by Aldus Manutius; they are said to have been suggested by the handwriting of Petrarch. As the Spencerian script of the 19th cent. enables us to give an approximate date for a document written in it, so one skilled in the history of handwriting can often assign a place and a date to a document of earlier times. It is sometimes possible to identify the writer of a document and to distinguish forgeries from authentic documents. Specialists devote themselves also to the many forms of writing not derived from Roman capitals, such as Greek, Arabic, and Chinese. See also alphabet; calligraphy; cuneiform; writing; inscription; hieroglyphic.

See S. Morison, Politics and Script (1972).

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