General Question

AstroChuck's avatar

What is the purpose of lower-case letters?

Asked by AstroChuck (37301points) April 22nd, 2009 from iPhone

The Latin, Greek, and Cyrillic alphabets all have a lower-case form. Are these the only ones? Why do we need lower-case letters in the first place? It wasn’t always the case. What is the history behind this?

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10 Answers

eponymoushipster's avatar

I’m not sure of the “actual” answer, but my guess is that they, in part, help us to break up words and phrases, making them easier to read. Think about Latin during the Roman Empire: no spaces between words and little to no punctuation.

ifyoureadlatinyoumightbeexpectedtoascertainthemeaningofwholesentenceslikethis.

It’s very difficult to read, our eyes just gum it all together. So spacing and size changes allow our eyes to more easily identify words.

that and it helps us know who’s an a-hole on the internet.

cookieman's avatar

I found this at allexperts.com. It, mostly, corresponds with what I was taught in art school:

Lowercase letters, also called ‘small’, ‘minuscule letters’ in contrast to the majuscule, or uppercase, capital letters, which were the earliest form of writing in ancient alphabets, date back to the 3rd. century BC in Greece where in fact the lowercase letters were used to write faster on papyrus and parchment.
The different shapes of the lowercase letters developed gradually through transformations of the capital letters by the elimination of a part of the letter (see ‘b’-beta in Greek- from B) or by lengthening a part of it
( see ‘d’ –delta in Greek- from D).

As for Latin alphabet which derives just from Greek alphabet which in turn derived from the Phoenician one dating back to ca. 1200 BC, it is still today the standard script of the languages of most of Europe and those areas settled by Europeans, with a few exceptions like the Greek alphabet used in Greece and the Cyrillic alphabet (Russia, e.g.).
In ancient Roman times too there were only capital letters, while it seems that lowercase letters have been introduced in the 1st.century AD.
This change from capital letters to small letters which was influenced by the nature of the material of writing (papyrus, parchment and later paper) continued in the Middle Ages, of course.

To conclude, the origin of lower case letters does not pertain to Latin and the Middle Ages, but dates back to the ancient Greek in the 3rd. century BC, though the use of lower case letters was implemented in the Middle Ages.

morphail's avatar

The Armenian alphabet has upper and lower case letters as well.

Jayne's avatar

@epony; Actually, I don’t find that difficult to read at all. A whole block of text might suck, though.

eponymoushipster's avatar

@Jayne yeah, well, i wasn’t about to do that. heh.

fireside's avatar

@epony – WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY A-HOLE?

eponymoushipster's avatar

heh. all caps is the hair gel of the internet.

aprilsimnel's avatar

You ever try to read classical Latin? All caps and only a dot to separate words, and the dots were considered the “crazy and out there” form of writing in those times. It’s easier to think more discretely when what you’re reading can be sorted out, IMO, and having punctuation and large and small letters makes this easier with our form of writing.

Harp's avatar

Lower-case letters were introduced as a way of making writing by hand faster. They economize pen strokes, and their forms are better suited to cursive writing. When print came along, the convention of using lower-case was already well established.

wundayatta's avatar

Lower case letters serve as a scintillant. This is particularly important inside the Arctic Circle (although, not the antarctic, so go figure), during the time of darkness. Scintillating books opened during this time actually put out a glow by which one can see (although, so can the polar bears, who tend to come sniffing around at inopportune times).

The upper case letters are purely dark in books, at this time, above the arctic circle. Although, occasionally you see a kind of golden glow (different from the cold flashing light of lower case letters) coming from the upper case letters. Kind of Harry Potteresque. At such times, it is wise to dig a deep hole in the snow, and dive in, pulling the snow in after you. It means that a Poddilunk is about to pass on through, leaving the land fractured and rearranged.

Sigh. Oh for the good old days. The things I could tell you about Poddilunks!

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