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Insular Scripts: Transcription

Section 2: Abbreviations


Insular manuscripts use a number of arbitrary signs of abbreviation derived from Tironian notes, the ancient shorthand system traditionally attributed to Cicero's amanuensis Tiro. These are symbols that represent whole words, without bearing any relationship in shape to the letters of the word in question. The most important of these are:

7 for et (looks like the number 7, sitting low on the line so its tail hangs down below the baseline)

÷ for est (looks like a division sign)

When you expand either of these abbreviations, you should give the whole word in parentheses, because you are supplying every letter of the word the symbol represents. For example, if you see 7 you should transcribe it (et).

Note, though, that the other usual medieval representation of et, the ampersand, is not really an abbreviation; it is just an e and a t written in ligature — written so that the two letters share a stroke and their ductus is changed when the two letters combine. So if you see &, you should just transcribe it et with no parentheses.

There are several other distinctively Insular abbreviations that do not appear in the transcription exercises in this lesson. These include an h with a little tag on its shoulder for autem; a backwards c for con; a backwards Uncial e for eius; and a symbol that looks like a small capital H for enim. Later scribes unfamiliar with Insular abbreviations often misinterpreted them. Textual critics have sometimes been able to demonstrate that a later scribe was working from an Insular exemplar because a mistaken transcription of an Insular abbreviation has worked its way into a text.

Ready to try transcribing some Insular script? Click ahead to try transcribing Insular Half-Uncial.