Capitalization and switching scripts

elroy

Moderator: EHL, Arabic, Hebrew, German(-Spanish)
US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
Some scripts (such as Latin, Cyrillic, and Greek) have capital letters, while others (such as Arabic, Hebrew, and Hangul) do not. In languages with capital letters, there are rules as to when words must be capitalized. In English, names of months are capitalized, while in French they are not. In German, all nouns are capitalized, while in most languages with capitalization nouns are only capitalized in a limited number of cases. Since many languages of the world have writing systems with no capitalization, it's clear that capitalization is not essential for a functional writing system, and one can easily imagine English, for example, being written with no capital letters, and this already happens in text messaging and other informal means of written communication. My questions are about what happens when a language switches from a script with no capitalization to one with capitalization.
  1. Has there ever been a language that switched scripts in this way but only borrowed the lower-case letters? I don't know of any.
  2. When a language does adopt capitalization in this situation (as most, if not all, seem to), how does it decide what its capitalization rules are? An example would be Turkish, which switched from the Arabic script to the Latin script. Does anyone know how capitalization rules were decided for Turkish when the switch happened? What about other languages that underwent this kind of switch?
 
  • Awwal12

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Does anyone know how capitalization rules were decided for Turkish when the switch happened?
    I'd guess that they based those on the French rules.
    In fact, all scripts that have capitalization now didn't have it at some earlier point of their evolution (consider early Greek, Latin or Church Slavonic texts and inscriptions), and different orthographies often influenced each other in that regard.
    While Russian has been using capitalization for several centuries, its rules of capitalization were first codified only in 1885.
     

    Awwal12

    Senior Member
    Russian
    The names of the months are capitalized in Turkish. :D As are the names of languages, which are also not capitalized in French.
    Curious. That likely leaves us with English as the standard, as German is well known for capitalizing all its nouns (which is not the case in modern Turkish orthography).
     

    elroy

    Moderator: EHL, Arabic, Hebrew, German(-Spanish)
    US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    German is well known for capitalizing all its nouns (which is not the case in modern Turkish orthography).
    I believe Luxembourgish, which used to be considered a German dialect, is the only modern language other than German that capitalizes all nouns.
     

    WadiH

    Senior Member
    Arabic
    For Turkish, probably the committee that developed the writing system modeled the capitalization on English or French and made modifications where it saw fit.
     

    Ben Jamin

    Senior Member
    Polish
    Some scripts (such as Latin, Cyrillic, and Greek) have capital letters, while others (such as Arabic, Hebrew, and Hangul) do not. In languages with capital letters, there are rules as to when words must be capitalized. In English, names of months are capitalized, while in French they are not. In German, all nouns are capitalized, while in most languages with capitalization nouns are only capitalized in a limited number of cases. Since many languages of the world have writing systems with no capitalization, it's clear that capitalization is not essential for a functional writing system, and one can easily imagine English, for example, being written with no capital letters, and this already happens in text messaging and other informal means of written communication. My questions are about what happens when a language switches from a script with no capitalization to one with capitalization.
    1. Has there ever been a language that switched scripts in this way but only borrowed the lower-case letters? I don't know of any.
    2. When a language does adopt capitalization in this situation (as most, if not all, seem to), how does it decide what its capitalization rules are? An example would be Turkish, which switched from the Arabic script to the Latin script. Does anyone know how capitalization rules were decided for Turkish when the switch happened? What about other languages that underwent this kind of switch?
    As far as I know Turkish is one of such languages. Turks switched from Arabic to Latin script about 100 years ago. You may google a question about capitalization of nouns in this language.
     

    Penyafort

    Senior Member
    Catalan (Catalonia), Spanish (Spain)
    Influence of usages between languages in this regard are even obvious now. For instance, capitalization in English titles tend to affect words with 'full meaning', while French only does the first noun but not the following and Spanish only the first word, as in normal sentences:

    The Wind in the Willows
    Le Vent dans les saules
    El viento en los sauces

    However, these days I'm seeing the English way in some French and Spanish titles. I don't know how widespread this is or will be in the future, but I've noticed that people don't realize or pay much attention to these subtleties anyway.
     
    Greek writing started its life in all caps:
    arxaia.jpg


    After the 9th c. CE it entered its adolescent years in all miniscule, with a new system of writing called «μικρογράμματος» /mikro'gramatos/ (fem.) --> micro-lettering (miniscule letters), aka "Studite Byzantine" because it was conceived at the Stoudion Monastery in Constantinople as a faster way to copy ancient manuscripts (Wiki has an interesting entry on the subject):
    image.jpg


    The mixing of capital with lower-case letters appeared when the scribes used an elaborate way to introduce the reader into a new paragraph by making a calligraphic first letter with an artistic style:
    xeirografo.jpg


    Influence of usages between languages in this regard are even obvious now. For instance, capitalization in English titles tend to affect words with 'full meaning', while French only does the first noun but not the following and Spanish only the first word, as in normal sentences:

    The Wind in the Willows
    Le Vent dans les saules
    El viento en los sauces

    However, these days I'm seeing the English way in some French and Spanish titles. I don't know how widespread this is or will be in the future, but I've noticed that people don't realize or pay much attention to these subtleties anyway.
    I've seen all of the above in Greek titles. What I know for sure is that we capitalise people's names, countries, cities, provinces, states (in general, all proper nouns), but we don't capitalise languages.
     
    Last edited:

    Red Arrow

    Senior Member
    Nederlands (België)
    French capitalizes abbreviations, but not the names of languages. (néerlandais, français, TV, ADN, OBNL)
    Dutch capitalizes the names of languages, but not abbreviations. (Nederlands, Frans, tv, dna, vzw)
    Neither capitalize the names of the months or the days of the week. (maandag, januari, lundi, janvier)
     

    Terio

    Senior Member
    Français (Québec)
    French uses far less capital letters than English:

    le Comité interministériel d'étude de l'impact des changements climatiques sur l'agriculture : only one capital letter.

    le lac Ontario, le fleuve Saint-Laurent, le mont Éverest, la mer Méditerranée, le premier-ministre du Canada, la reine d'Angleterre, le pape François, le président des États-Unis : generical terms (lac, fleuve, mont, mer, premier-ministre, reine, pape, président) are not capitalized.
     
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