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From: Stephen Hayes
To: All
Date: 2005-04-09 20:10:42
Subject: Old handwriting, especially German

* Forwarded (from: ENGLISH-USAGE) by Stephen Hayes using timEd/2 1.10.y2k.
* Originally from Wayne Brown (8:8/2003) to Robert Bannister.
* Original dated: Sat Apr 09, 15:17

From: "Wayne Brown" <Wayne.Brown{at}>

Robert Bannister wrote:

> I'm not at all sure what you are saying here. In older German
> handwriting (I doubt anyone under the age of 60 can even read it now),
> the letter e looked like a small, spiky n, so that when it was written
> over a vowel it became degraded into 2 short, vertical strokes.

I think you'd be surprised how many people can still read the handwriting
quite easily. Roland Hutchinson has already pointed to some of the
categories in his message. Therefore, I'd just like to mention that
Germanists in particular have to learn to be at home with the handwriting
in order to work with the mountains of source material written in it --
letters, diaries, documents, etc, and there's no small number of
Germanists. Moreover, genealogy has become quite a hobby in recent decades,
prompting hobby genealogists to learn it. It's amazing how people come up
with all kinds of material written in the old handwriting, from birth
certificates to family letters, which first have to be transcribed into
legible German.

There's an important cultural aside to this that needs to be mentioned.
There's a concept in German called an 'ausgeschriebene Schrift,' which is
usually translated into English as a 'developed handwriting.'
Unfortunately, the translation doesn't say anything about what Germans mean
by that. It usually takes an explanation for an English speaker to get the
picture. Little children in German schools today learn to write according
to a standard, but as they grow older they develop their own handwriting
style that may differ considerably from the school standard. In US schools,
for example, there used to be strong trend to achieve a clear handwriting,
and adults who retained the style they learned in primary school were said
to write well. In Germany, it's a different ballgame. Handwriting is said
to mirror a person's personality and a primary-school handwriting in an
adult is said not to be a 'ausgeschriebene Schrift.'

One should keep this cultural element in mind because it applies not only
to Germany today but also to Germany yesterday when the old handwriting was
the norm. You can hardly find a specimen that correspondents exactly to the
standard that German schoolchildren started out learning in those days. The
newcomer to the old handwriting today has to start out by learning the
standard and then learn to adopt to each writer's individualism. Great fun!

Regards, ----- WB.

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