Friday, 24 April 2015

Reading silently as a mark of cultural refinement

From The Economist:

"Nicolas Mariot’s “Tous Unis dans la Tranchée?” analyses accounts by 42 “intellectuals”—writers, lawyers, teachers, even a violinist—who went to the front. Just 2% of French people passed the baccalauréat, the school-leaving exam, at that time; many of the poilus, literally the hairy or unshaven ones, spoke only rudimentary French.

Shared experience softened the horror. Guillaume Apollinaire writes warmly from the trenches of the “courageous workers”, and his “great joy” at sharing their pinard (red wine) and wit. Yet there was contempt for those who arrived in the trenches from the fields. One reports scornfully of “these mediocre people who surround us”; another of their irritating inability to read letters silently."

H.C. Youtie wrote (my re-paragraphing):
There are other perplexities equally frustrating. The scribes do not divide their texts into words and sentences, | nor do they generally make any attempt to conform to the orthodox spellings of the schools.

For the ancients, the continuous text and phonetic spellings were justified by their habit of reading aloud. When this was done by a skilled reader, the eye followed the ink marks, the voice converted them into sounds, and the mind interpreted the sounds as readily as it would ordinary speech.

The problems raised for a modern editor by customs so different from our own were thus much mitigated for an ancient reader, if not altogether eliminated.

For us the problems remain urgent because our habit is to read silently, and when we do read aloud, we use a pronunciation suitable to classical Attic and Ionic but quite divorced from the evolving itacistic emphasis of their post-classical offshot, the vulgar koine of Hellenistic and later times."
The Textual Criticism of Documentary Papyri (BICS Supplement No. 6). 1958: 4-5.

Silent reading in antiquity is a matter of extensive debate, of course.

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