This week, our third in the exploration of the history of the book, typefaces and punctuation are most intriguing. You’ve grappled with ideas of how letter shapes change over time. The evolution of the letter form continues from those shaped and rounded with a stylus or pen to those seen on the computer screen. Here’s something to consider. How does the font the book designer selected change your experience with the book or the text itself?
For those of you with e-readers, take some time to change the typeface. Switch back and forth between letters with serifs and to those without. If you read about the psychology of letter shapes, those with serifs are more formal. The serif connects the letters together so you read in a swath.
Text composed with san serif fonts are read a letter at a time. The reading goes more slowly and is choppier. San serif is great for advertisements, not philosophical disputations.
Punctuation has also evolved and is varied depending upon time period, language, and culture. Greek used a dot or period for a pause in text, the colon : as a full stop. Latin does the same. Modern Hebrew really only uses periods. Biblical Hebrew uses a colon, sometimes. Some European language, French I believe uses double angle brackets (diple) instead of quotation marks, at least in older type set books.
I’ve introduced the blog I love Typography http://ilovetypography.com/ to you. Here’s a nice article on their site called “The Origins of ABC” http://ilovetypography.com/2010/08/07/where-does-the-alphabet-come-from/
I find fonts and punctuation fascinating to ponder. The literature is endless and the study is similar to the etymology and linguistics. There’s a wonderful scholarly book by M.B. Parkes called “Pause and Effect: An Introduction to the History of Punctuation in the West” (University of California Press, 1993). While the book is out of my price range, you might look at a copy in the library.
If you are interested in letter shapes, you could read Simon Loxley’s Type: The Secret History of Letters(NY: I. B. Tauris, 2006).
My favorite book about letters when I was growing up was by Oscar Ogg “The 26 Letters”. Now out of print, the text describes how letters evolved, how the shapes are formed in different languages, and how they change over time.