Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Concerning the Period


There are three punctuation points: full, middle, and comma. And the full point is the sign of the completed thought. And the middle point is the sign used because of a breath. And the comma is a sign of a not as yet completed but still lacking thought.

In what does the period differ from the comma? In time. For, on the one hand, in relation to the period the interval is great, but in relation to the comma the interval is altogether small.

[Greek Text]


  • Grammatically and conceptually, this was a fairly straightforward section. It concerns the punctuation points that you often see in Greek texts (well, at least three of the punctuation points). I don't know what the points looked like at the times (anyone have information on this?), but here is how they correspond to our current usage:
    • The full point is the normal period, and like our period, it shows the end of a completed thought.
    • The middle point is the raised period (a semi-semi-colon?). I have wondered what the purpose of the sign was because at sometimes a period seems the best way to "translate" it and at other times a comma seems best. Apparently, it is a place for the reader to take a breath.
    • The comma is the usual comma, and it represents a partial thought.
  • This next section I am a little unsure about. I believe when Dionysius refers to the period here (στιγμὴ), he means the full point (τελεία). He is making a distinction between the period and the comma, yet above he includes the comma in the list of the three punctuation points (στιγμαί). I also think that the middle point is not included in this discussion because it does not seem as though Dionysius attaches any grammatical significance to it. The full point and the comma both deal with thoughts, but the middle point signifies a breath. Or perhaps I am wrong. As I think about it, Dionysius has already told us what the distinction between the full point and the comma is: completeness of thought. We are left, however, wondering what the difference between the middle point and the comma is. Neither signifies a complete thought, so both in some way show sections of a thought. So how do we tell the difference between the two? Dionysius answers this question with time. The pause is greater with the middle point while the comma's pause is very short. The problem with my first idea is that I had no idea how to explain the time answer.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey came across your blog as I'm working on segmentation in NT manuscripts. To answer some of your questions briefly, I think the different marks may be a high dot for a full stop, two dots for a semi-stop and a low dot for a comma. The reason that Dionysius explanation may seem unclear is that he may not be as concerned with punctuation but with reading aloud. Check out William A. Johnson "The Function of the Paragraphus in Greek Literary Prose" in Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 100 (1994) 65–68.