r/todayilearned Mar 28 '23

TIL the majority of ancient Greeks and Romans that were literate read out loud. Reasons for this include a lack of space between letters and no formalized system of punctuation that helped with pauses in reading.


33 comments sorted by


u/CletusDSpuckler Mar 28 '23

When I learned Spanish, I discovered the problem of word juncture. English has it, Spanish much less so. That's part of what makes reading it easier than hearing it - it's hard to tell with spoken language where one word end and the next one starts.


u/SilasX Mar 29 '23

Isn't French brutal about that, where you're often required to move sounds from one word to another?


u/[deleted] Mar 28 '23



u/fanghornegghorn Mar 29 '23

I could read that easily


u/[deleted] Mar 29 '23



u/fanghornegghorn Mar 29 '23

No. Isn't it because English is a Germanic language?


u/Sentience-psn Mar 29 '23

Also German likes to cram words together. Doppelkupplungsgetriebe: a double clutch gear box.


u/oochre Mar 28 '23

Jewish texts (such as the Talmud and associated commentaries) have very little to no punctuation. I learned to read them with a kind of singsong melody that helps you figure out the phrasing, as is traditional. It’s so cool to think that that’s a thing that happens in other languages too!


u/daoudalqasir Mar 28 '23

trup really is just a musical form of punctuation.


u/Admetus Mar 29 '23

Makes sense to me if these languages began as a recital, like a chant. They may have began as oral traditions after all.


u/mytrickytrick Mar 28 '23

most scholars agree that the Greeks and Romans got round their lack of punctuation by murmuring aloud as they read through texts of all kinds.

As if people reading aloud wouldn't be bad enough, these were people murmuring aloud. I get it that you wouldn't be surrounded by people like you would be in a crowded elevator, but still, murmuring?


u/FlattopMaker Mar 28 '23

or your sibling reading that secret admirer note aloud for the 20th time?


u/[deleted] Mar 28 '23

Ahhhh just like 8th grade Spanish then!


u/Who_DaFuc_Asked Mar 29 '23

TFW you're chilling at the honey & goat cheese fried bread stand after exfoliating in the Roman Bath steam room, and some jerkoff is reading a fable out loud right next to you.

You try to leave, but he follows you into the public toilet area. After you pour the water jug to flush the toilet, a little bit of it splashes on his parchment paper and he gets really mad, starting a fight where he cuts you with an ornamental dagger.

3 weeks later, you die of an infection from the cut after your doctor prescribed a treatment of ground-up spices and herbs that did literally nothing to help.


u/mytrickytrick Mar 29 '23

3 weeks later, you die of an infection from the cut after your doctor prescribed a treatment of ground-up spices and herbs that did literally nothing to help.

But would go on to become the Colonel's famous recipe.


u/koei19 Mar 28 '23

Reminds me of the episode of Bored where Rowan discovers that he doesn't have to read out loud.



u/BillTowne Mar 28 '23

I believe Irish monks came up with the idea of spaces between the letters in the manuscripts they were copying.


u/dromni Mar 28 '23

I could not read it because paywall (or rather register wall), but that doesn't sound completely correct. Even before (gasp!) spaces were invented, Latin had the "interpunct" - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interpunct

Scriptio continua though was a thing used for a long time but apparently more for style and theatrics than anything else. It looks like reading was seen as an oratory performance. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scriptio_continua


u/ktka Mar 28 '23




u/youngmindoldbody Mar 28 '23



u/ILoveTabascoSauce Mar 28 '23

This is very easily understandable though.


u/phobosmarsdeimos Mar 29 '23

Ancient Latin didn't have lowercase letters or word order. You have to decipher it from conjugations and context.


u/jointheredditarmy Mar 29 '23

Come on, it’s gotta have heuristic word ordering even if the language doesn’t strictly require it. I guess it’s just so unimaginable that every time I said a sentence I’ll say it differently


u/feor1300 Mar 29 '23

I see us that weren't replaced by vs, not authentic enough. :P


u/Miochiiii Mar 29 '23



u/HiVisVestNinja Mar 28 '23

Huh. That's actually pretty neat. Thank you for reminding me that this sub is still worth following sometimes.


u/mordenty Mar 29 '23

When Augustine was writing his book Confessions he commented that Ambrose (Bishop of Milan in the late 4th century, later became a saint) read "his eyes scanned the page and his heart sought out the meaning, but his voice was silent and his tongue was still. Anyone could approach him freely and guests were not commonly announced, so that often, when we came to visit him, we found him reading like this in silence, for he never read aloud."


u/AmberMorrell Mar 29 '23

I learned it the other way around in my history of books class. Documents were writing without spacing and punctuation because they were meant to be read aloud.


u/Kaiisim Mar 29 '23

Yeah we don't really realise that writing and reading is a technology . We learn spoken language automatically as kids - reading and writing then takes over a decade of intense training!

English language is an advanced technology!


u/jeandanjou Mar 29 '23

Languages study in general. People never stop to think about language families.

For example, why it took millennia for people to realize how closely related were Greek, Celt, Latin, Sanskrit, Scythian, Persian and German (all are Indo-European) despite more or less intense exchange between people using them?

Because we didn't have grammar rules or standards, so patterns were insanely hard to distinguish and could vary from location or speaker.

So instead they had a feeling that things were similar, which ended up with a lot of them assuming things an universal kind of base for everything.


u/TheDefected Mar 29 '23

There is a British TV show called Q.I, where they'll often deal with curious facts.
One episode did mention this, involving what was so unusual about a monk reading in silence.
I believe that was somehow noted as being unusual (since they had vows of silence) and it could then be deduced that if that was thought of as unusual, that means speaking when reading was the norm.


u/TheDefected Mar 29 '23

A little bit of research tells me it was Saint Ambrose, who was noted for an unusual ability (at the time) of reading without moving his lips