Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Scriptio Continua

     Copywork is a corner stone of our curriculum here.  It’s nothing fancy.  I don’t buy copywork books.  Copywork, at our house, strictly involves a pencil  and lined paper.  My kids have tried pen.  I’ve found an easy way to discourage that is to make a pact.  We agree ahead of time that if there is even one mistake they will recopy the entire selection.  There’s always a mistake.  They quickly realize the wisdom of the common pencil.   Then we select something to copy.  They copy Bible verses, usually the passage our family is memorizing at the time.  They copy their own narrations.  A little one will tell me all about what they have just read.  I write it down in proper English, they copy it.  Often my kids choose to copy poetry.  Sam is working his way through Hiawatha’s Childhood by Longfellow.  In the past they’ve copied selections from Plimouth Plantation or George Washington’s Rules for Civility.  I hunt these up on the internet, print them out in a readable font and it’s free school work.  Often, when I’ve read advice on copy work, the experts advise short selections from a book the child is reading to teach grammar, or the punctuation lesson of the week.  I think that’s too much work.  Who has time to read through a book, pick an especially fine section, make sure the reading and copying and teaching all fall in line in the same week?  I don’t have that kind of time.  We fit in a bit of grammar, usually in conjunction with spelling, thereby grouping two random approaches to language together.  We hit punctuation as we correct their copy work. 
     For some reason, though I give clear instructions, “Copy this exactly,” punctuation marks are often left out.  Before 1000 AD, in Latin transcriptions of classical and Biblical texts, a system called scriptio continua was used.  The letters all ran together without spaces at the ends of words or punctuation marks to aid the reader. 
     Wikipedia tells me that often the readers, and there were fewer, mind you, had the text memorized and already knew where all the stops were (in Britain the period, as we know it, is called the full stop).  These readers, though it’s not reading like I think of it, read the text aloud to an audience and the text was a sort of “cue” sheet. 
     I have one child who would like to resurrect the idea of scriptio continua and regularly employs it in her copy work.  While I despair over the difficulty of a classical education, and think I might just settle for an education, she’s embracing even the most ancient forms.  Once, when I mentioned how very much it does matter to transcribe the letters just as they are on the typed page, capitals and spaces included, I was regarded with a look of shocked incredulity.  Sam, coming quickly to his sister’s defense, points out that she can fit more letters on the page.  We’re nothing if not thrifty here!  Although I struggle to make sense of these pages of scriptio continua (and this child does love to write) she can read it just fine.  I suppose she has it all memorized in readiness for an appreciative audience. 
     Be advised:  I didn’t know what scriptio continua was until I read Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.  My knowledge base is rather limited, but I read and do so regularly.  Also, my very clever brother is a grad student, studying these sorts of texts.  In Latin, presumably.  I’m waiting for him to offer some sort of correction.

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