After Caxton

Any serious attempts at standardized punctuation in printed texts gained very little theoretical interest during the late 15th century and much of the early 16th century (Lass). However, English was increasingly becoming a viable language for learning, redefining the balance between English, Latin, and French, which “meant that punctuation was subject to particular scrutiny” (Baron). During this period, books about writing in the English language were being published for the first time (Lass). Of particular note are John Hart's An Orthographie, published in 1569, and Francis Clement's The Petie Schole, published in 1587. During this period, the rhetorical use of punctuation is prevalent, although the idea of private reading is also considered. Clement's definition of “pointing of sentences” are similar to Aristophane's system, but silent reading is also a part, albeit very minor, of Clement's system. He wrote, “Here would I write some thing of the diffinition and point of sentences, by the observation whereof the breath is relieved, the meaning conceiued, the eye directed, the ear delited, and all the senses satisfied” (Clement). Six points are defined by Clement: the underpause, the middle pause, the full, or perfect pause, interclusion, interrogation and admiration. His definitions of the first three points are strongly influenced by Aristophane.

As print technology grew, new punctuation marks were developed, such as the semi-colon introduced from Europe, or old ones were used more frequently. According to Lass, Ben Jonson called the semi-colon a sub-distinction, “apparently meaning a pause shorter than that of a comma” (1999).  Apostrophes, hyphens and exclamation marks gained more use  after Hart's publication, An Orthographie (Lass).

It took over a century, but by the late 1600s, a standardization of punctuation was coming to form. More books, such as M. Lewis' Plain, and Short Rules for Pointing Periods (1678), and the school book by an anonymous author, A Treatise of Stops, Points, or Pauses, And of Notes Which Are Use in Writing and in Print (1680), began to appear. And the shift from a rhetorical to a grammatical pointing system grew. For example, Lewis argued that a period “eminates sense that is absolute, full and perfect”. Baron states that "a fundamental shift in the nature of reading took place in England, beginning in the sixteenth century but maturing in the seventeenth, when changing models of religion (Protestantism) and science (as laid  out, for example, in the work of Francis Bacon) demanded “transparent” readings of texts, whereby any reader necessarily discerned the same meaning for a given passage” (2000).

By the end of the 1600s, punctuation in printed text began to look closer to the modern usage of today. “Much of as systematization of punctuation in the Latin liturgy spread to vernacular texts, Latin grammars written for English schoolboys became models for subsequent handbooks on English syntax. The continuing growth of silent reading tempered the need – at least in these texts – for punctuation to mark places for oral readers to pause for breath” (Baron, 2001).

Contents Page
Antiquity and Beyond: Punctuation
Caxton and the Printing Press
Caxton's Punctuation
After Caxton