Ductus

I came across the word ductus today in an interesting article about the origins of the writing. The articles focuses particularly on the development of the Latin/Roman alphabet and traces it’s origins back to ancient Egypt.

Ductus /ˈdʌktəs/ means:

1. the number of strokes that make up a written letter, and the direction, sequence and speed in which they are written
2. a subtle reduction of weight towards the middle of the stroke of the letter
3. (medicine) a duct, tube or canal in the body

Etymology: from Latin, perfect passive participle of dūcō (to lead), from the Proto-Indo-European root *deuk- (to lead), which is also the root of duct, and duke, via the Old French duc and the Latin dux

[Sources: wiktionary and myEtymology.com]

The article uses it in the second sense when talking about how letters shapes have changed and been simplified over time.

The first sense could be used when talking about Chinese Hanzi / Japanese Kanji / Korean Hanja, as the direction and sequence of strokes used to write such characters is fixed and has to be memorised when learning them, and the number of strokes is used to order them in dictionaries and indices.

Incidentally, I’ve just added a page about the Proto-Sinaitic / Proto-Canaanite script , one of the earliest alphabetic scripts, and one of the scripts mentioned in the article.

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This entry was posted in English, Etymology, Language, Latin, Writing.

4 Responses to Ductus

  1. Yenlit says:

    I only came across this word myself fairly recently when I was watching a show which featured graphology or handwriting analysis and they mentioned ‘ductus’ examining the way somebody had crossed their letter Ts.
    Also, to do with the study of manuscripts is the term ‘ductus litterarum’.

  2. I think the first definition of ductus can be equally applied to English and other Latinate languages as well. I know that when I was learning to write our kindergarten teacher was very adamant about the order, direction, and number of our strokes.

    About the article… I’m not entirely convinced that the origins of the letter A are connected to those of the Cuneiform character for ox. Even if they represent similar sounds (that is, after Cuneiform began to be used as a phonetic alphabet), just because they look somewhat similar, it doesn’t mean that they’re related.

    The example that the author gave of the letter E was especially unconvincing to me. I can understand why certain letters or scripts are simplified and abstracted — that makes sense. But flipping around their directions doesn’t, regardless of what you’re writing with or on.

    When you look at the evolution from Chinese Oracle Bone script to modern Regular script, for example, the changes in shape, form and composition of the characters all make sense because they went from carving on bones and shells to paper. But what would justify a pictograph of a dude throwing his arms up in the air to first be cut in half, then flipped on its side? It doesn’t make sense to me (although, admittedly, I’m not an expert in stuff like this).

    Don’t get me wrong: really good article. I just think the ties the author draws are, in some cases, tenuous at best. I’d appreciate any additional insight from someone out there who knows more about this stuff :)

  3. I only came across this word myself fairly recently when I was watching a show which featured graphology or handwriting analysis and they mentioned ‘ductus’ examining the way somebody had crossed their letter Ts.
    Also, to do with the study of manuscripts is the term ‘ductus litterarum’.

  4. Christopher Miller says:

    I have always been mystified by exactly what ‘ductus’ is supposed to mean. It seems to a be a very general, hazy term. I prefer to talk about ‘chirographic structure’ and, when more precision is needed, stroke order, directionality, rectilinearity, curvilinearity, the writing medium, and specific features of character structure. The more precise the terminology used, the easier it is to distinguish different phenomena in script structure and change.

    Zachary-

    Which article are you referring to? I see no reference to Cuneiform in the Simon’s new page. About directionality, there are many cases across scripts of letters’ directions being flipped vertically or horizontally, or rotated in part or whole one way or another, all due to various factors such as the overall direction of writing, the writing medium, physiological pressures interacting with both, and even perceptually-based reanalysis.