Word of the day – tittle

tittle, noun = a small mark in printing or writing, especially a diacritic

Origin: from Latin titulus – label

I came across this word while researching the origin of the dot on the letters i and j, which is known as a tittle. This diacritic was apparently first used to distinguish the letter i from other letters in Latin manuscripts during the 11th century. Originally the tittle was bigger, but was reduced in size gradually until it reached its current dimensions.

Source: Wikipedia

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This entry was posted in English, Language, Words and phrases.

3 Responses to Word of the day – tittle

  1. Adam says:

    In 1927 The Turkish language switched from an Arabic alphabet to a latin alphabet. The designer(s) of this alphabet chose to have two versions of the letter i, one with the tittle and one without. They chose to do this instead of incorporating an addtional grapheme for the different sound. (Since then, a few other alphabets have been designed like this.)

    I wonder if this distinction had ever been done before in the history of the latin alphabet, and why it was chosen for Turkish. Does this work well? By using the tittle as a pronunciation diacritic, are there any issues in reading clarity?

  2. TJ says:

    Well, I don’t know much about this tittle but I figured out that now in modern languages that use graves and accents and umlauts, usually replace this tittle of the “I” with the desired symbol.

    In Arabic, the story of the dotted-letters is somehow similar to that of latin. Arabic in old days was written completely with no dots. Then at the time of the Umayyad Empire or the 4th Caliphate (as assigned by Sunni muslims), the caliphate Ali ben Abi-Tálib ordered that dots should be added to letters to distinguish which is which. Others have some other stories to tell but this is our convention here. Nowadays, as an art of calligraphy, some calligraphers write a piece of work with no dots, just as an art and to make it look ancient to the imagination!
    It is good to note out that Arabic letters before the dots were distinguished completely by the shape only, but after adding the dots, the shapes were unified for some letters but only a dot is different, and thus I think the dot-adding made it easier not only to disnguish letters, but also to give standard shape and drawing for the letters.

  3. Concerning the evolution of “i” in the Latin alphabet, there is an excellent visual source of ancient Latin scripts (scans of old parchments, from the 4th to the 18th century) at http://www.unigre.it/pubblicazioni/lasala/index.htm , which also provides a transcription of each sample document and, for some of them, a translation too.

    The comment to one of the samples, namely Gothica libraria (1295), still featuring a tittleless “i”, says: “(…) this script becomes difficult to read: for example, the letters “i”, “n”, “m” and “u” cannot be easily distinguished because it is difficult to separate mentally the various vertical strokes (…)”.

    Among the samples shown in the website, the earliest one in which the tittle appears is the mid 16th century Humanistica cursiva. An earlier Gothica cursiva (14th century) features what might look like large tittles, but really are abbreviations.

    I have no knowledge of paleography, but one thing I often noticed trying to read late medieval (gothic) scripts, commonly used in books, is exactly what the aforesaid comment says: unless one already knows which words to look for, “i”, “n”, “m” and “u” are very easily mistakable.

    So I guess that a tittle may have been introduced for making “i” more easily readable, rather than for phonetic reasons.

    A question for TJ: do you know whether any internet source has samples of documents featuring the original shape of early Arabic letters as mentioned in your post (i.e. without dots, all different)?