Scriptio continua

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Vergilius Augusteus, Georgica 141ff, written in capitalis quadrata and in scriptio continua.

Scriptio continua (Latin for "continuous script"), also known as scriptura continua or scripta continua, is a style of writing without spaces or other marks between the words or sentences.

In the West, the oldest Greek and Latin inscriptions use word dividers;[clarification needed] however, Classical Greek and late Classical Latin both employed scriptio continua as the norm.[1][2] Before the advent of the codex (book), Latin and Greek script was written on scrolls. The reader would typically already have memorized the text through an instructor, had memorized where the breaks were, and the reader often read aloud, usually to an audience in a kind of reading performance, using the text as a cue sheet. Also, the role of a scribe was to simply record everything they heard in order to leave documentation. Because the free form of speech is so continuous, it would not have made sense to add inaudible spaces in manuscripts. Furthermore, it would have been a waste of a writing medium such as papyrus to enter unnecessary spaces. Later on in history, the use of writing changed and it became more beneficial to add the word dividers and punctuation.[3] Organizing the text to make it more rapidly ingested (through punctuation) was not needed and eventually the current system of rapid silent reading for information replaced the older slower performance declaimed aloud for dramatic effect.[4] Increasing numbers of European texts were written with spaces between words from around AD 1000 in northern Europe to the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries when all European texts were written with words separated.[5] Scriptio continua was considered obsolete by the twelfth century.[6]

Scriptio continua is still in use in Thai, other Southeast Asian abugidas (Burmese, Khmer, Javanese, Balinese, Sundanese script), Lao, and in languages that use Chinese characters (Chinese and Japanese). Modern vernacular Chinese differs from ancient scriptio continua in that it does at least use punctuation, although this was borrowed from the West only about a century ago. Before this, the only forms of punctuation found in Chinese writings were punctuations to denote quotes, proper nouns, and emphasis. Modern Tibetic languages also employ a sort of scriptio continua; although they punctuate syllables, they do not use spacing between units of meaning.

While scriptio continua already seems like a primitive invention, texts date back even further to depict different writing styles. In Classical Greece or in Alexandria, texts were formatted in a constant string of capital letters from right to left. Later on, this adapted to “boustrophedon” which included lines written in alternating directions. It was only later on did the Romans adapt the Etruscan alphabet to write Latin and switched from using points to divide the words, to the Greek practice of scriptio continua. The idea of scribes writing in words did not fully develop until later on in history for the Indo-European languages.[7]


Latin text[edit]

Latin text in scriptio continua with typical capital letters, taken from Cicero's De finibus bonorum et malorum:


Which in modern punctuation is:

  • Neque porro quisquam est qui dolorem ipsum quia dolor sit amet, consectetur, adipisci velit…
  • "Nobody likes pain for its own sake, or looks for it and wants to have it, just because it is pain…"

Modern English[edit]

A form of scriptio continua has become common in internet e-mail addresses and domain names where, because the "space" character is invalid, the address for a website for "Example Fake Website" is written as – without spaces between the separate words.

Chinese language[edit]

The Chinese language did not encounter this problem of incorporating spaces into their text because each character already represented its own word as opposed to a series of letters that combine to form a word.[8] Here is an example of a normal Chinese sentence, then what it would look like with spaces between words, then a pinyin transcription (in which words are normally divided), and finally an English translation:

  • 北京在中国北方;广州在中国南方。
  • 北京 在 中国 北方; 广州 在 中国 南方。
  • Běijīng zài Zhōngguó běifāng; Guǎngzhōu zài Zhōngguó nánfāng.
  • Beijing is in Northern China; Guangzhou is in Southern China.

Javanese script[edit]

An example of the first line of the declaration of human right in Javanese script, and when they are divided (in some modern writings) by spaces and dash sign, which looks different: (if you can't see the script, you can see the sample image here)

  • ꧋ꦱꦧꦼꦤ꧀ꦲꦸꦮꦺꦴꦁꦏꦭꦲꦶꦂꦫꦏꦺꦏꦤ꧀ꦛꦶꦩꦂꦢꦶꦏꦭꦤ꧀ꦢꦂꦧꦺꦩꦂꦠꦧꦠ꧀ꦭꦤ꧀ꦲꦏ꧀ꦲꦏ꧀ꦏꦁꦥꦝ꧉saběnuwongkalairrakekanthimardikalandarbemartabatlanakakkangpadha. (transliterated without space, Javanese script doesn't have majuscule/minuscule differentiation).
  • ꧋ꦱꦧꦼꦤ꧀ ꦲꦸꦮꦺꦴꦁ ꦏꦭꦲꦶꦂꦫꦏꦺ ꦏꦤ꧀ꦛꦶ ꦩꦂꦢꦶꦏ ꦭꦤ꧀ ꦢꦂꦧꦺ ꦩꦂꦠꦧꦠ꧀ ꦭꦤ꧀ ꦲꦏ꧀-ꦲꦏ꧀ ꦏꦁ ꦥꦝ꧉saběn uwong kalair(r)ake kanthi mardika lan darbe martabat lan (h)ak(-h)ak kang padha.

Because of the absence of spaces, in modern writing (and on computers), the line-breaks have to be inserted manually, otherwise a long sentence will not break into new lines. Some computer input methods use a zero-width space (ZWS) instead for word breaks, which would then break the long sentences into multiple lines, but the drawback of that method is it will not render the writing "correct".

  • ꧋ꦱꦧꦼꦤ꧀ꦲꦸꦮꦺꦴꦁꦏꦭꦲꦶꦂꦫꦏꦺꦏꦤ꧀ꦛꦶꦩꦂꦢꦶꦏꦭꦤ꧀ꦢꦂꦧꦺꦩꦂꦠꦧꦠ꧀ꦭꦤ꧀ꦲꦏ꧀ꦲꦏ꧀ꦏꦁꦥꦝ꧉ ("incorrect" words include the first two words, which in joined form would look like ꦱꦧꦼꦤ꧀ꦲꦸꦮꦺꦴꦁ)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ E. Otha Wingo. (1972). Latin punctuation in the classical age. The Hague: Mouton.
  2. ^ Brent Harmon Vine (1993). Studies in archaic Latin inscriptions. Innsbruck: Institut für Sprachwissenschaft der Universität Innsbruck.
  3. ^ Burnley, D.. (1995). Scribes and Hypertext. The Yearbook of English Studies, 25, 41–62.
  4. ^ Richard A. Lanham (2006). The Economics of Attention. ISBN 0-226-46882-8. page 113-115
  5. ^ Saenger, Paul (1997) Space between words: the origins of silent reading, Stanford University Press, Stanford, California, pages 120-1.
  6. ^ Burnley, D.. (1995). Scribes and Hypertext. The Yearbook of English Studies, 25, 41–62.
  7. ^ Moore, F. C. T.. (2001). Scribes and Texts: A Test Case for Models of Cultural Transmission. The Monist, 84(3), 417–436. Retrieved from
  8. ^ Moore, F. C. T.. (2001). Scribes and Texts: A Test Case for Models of Cultural Transmission. The Monist, 84(3), 417–436. Retrieved from