The use of abbreviations is a characteristic feature of medieval Latin manuscripts and those of most vernacular traditions.

The practice derives from Roman times, when there were three systems of abbreviation in use: the notæ juris, which were used extensively in legal documents, the Tironian notæ, a system of shorthand signs developed by Cicero's secretary Tiro, and the nomina sacra, contracted forms of the words for ‘God’ and the name ‘Jesus Christ’, a practice borrowed by the early Christians from Hebrew. The use of abbreviations in Latin manuscripts increased until the 12th century, after which it began to fall off. The Latin system was taken over more or less wholesale in manuscripts written in the vernacular languages, but in general the use of abbreviations was never as great in the vernacular languages as it had been in Latin. An exception to this are Old Norse, and especially Icelandic, manuscripts, which both in terms of frequency and variety of abbreviations exceed even Latin practice. There were also a number of Icelandic innovations, such as the use of small capitals and dotted letters to indicate geminate consonants. Following L. A. Chassant, Dictionnaire des abréviations latines et françaises (1846), it is customary to divide abbreviations into four types, seen from the point of view of the means through which the abbreviation is achieved: 1) Suspension, also known as truncation or curtailment, where only the first letter or letters of a word are written, generally followed (and frequently also preceded) by a point or with a superscript stroke. 2) Contraction, where the first and last letters are written, normally also with a superscript stroke, or, less commonly, a point or points. 3) Special signs or brevigraphs, such as the Tironian nota resembling a 7 used for et, found in Old Norse in the same sense (ok). 4) Superscript letters; a superscript vowel normally represents that vowel preceded by r or v, a superscript consonant that consonant preceded by a. The most common sign of abbreviation is the superscript stroke or bar, which can indicate the suppression of one or more nasal consonants (m or n), and is also used, as was mentioned, as a more general mark of abbreviation in suspensions and contractions. Although in appearance there is no discernible difference between the two signs, in terms of their use they are quite distinct. The letter h with a stroke, for example, represents the word hann (‘he’), but here the stroke cannot be said to ‘stand for’ the characters ann in the same way as it stands for n when the same word is abbreviated han, with a stroke over the n. The combination of characters ann is not otherwise normally abbreviated in this same way (see 4.2.8 below), and the bar represents other letters in other inflectional forms of the same word, for example onu in the dative singular honum (‘him’), abbreviated hm, with a superscript stroke. From the point of view of their function, therefore, abbreviation signs may be said to fall into two categories, those which indicate that something has been omitted, without suggesting what that something may be, and those which always refer to a particular combination of graphemes, regardless of the lexical item in which they occur. There is obviously a correlation between the two systems: suspensions and contractions by

In fact. have a specific graphemic reference. but in more diplomatic editions the supplied letters are generally printed in italics.1 The first letter or letters of a word are written out and the remainder omitted. This is no different from the barred-h. this omission being indicated by means of a point (or colon) set after. which appear repeatedly in a text. and also for words.ku. for example. the barred-h and similar characters could be said to function as brevigraphs. could also be represented by the first letters of each word.. although why this should apply only to those suspensions which make use of a point. for example the nomina sacra.necessity make use of a general mark of abbreviation. the nomina sacra are contractions: in Ihc for Jesus. while superscript letters and tittles (some of which actually derive from letters) have a specific graphemic reference. since some. and which are thus only understandable in context. is unclear. It should perhaps be mentioned that as with most typological systems. which. for henni (dat.staff. The reasoning behind this is that there is greater degree of uncertainty as to the precise form intended with suspensions than with other types of abbreviation. but honum if followed by an m. Other inflectional forms are also found: Ihm for Jesum. if frequently repeated. for konungr (‘king’). and hans if followed by an s. the barred-h can also represent forms of the feminine pronoun hón (‘she’). sing. A. for example. sing. Looking at it from the other side.1. the letter or letters. have more in common with suspensions and contractions such as the barred-h. such as bb for bræðr (‘brothers’). s. This method was used both for a number of generally common words. Single letters used to represent whole words in this way were known in Latin as sigla.hum. especially proper names. expansions of which are given in round brackets — this is also common practice in editions where the expansion of abbreviations is otherwise not indicated. ss for synir (‘sons’) etc. or both before and after. Whole phrases. even as ordinary speakers of a language are generally unaware that they use nouns. 2 http://www. for sonr (‘son’). as was said. the categories given here are unlikely to correspond to anything of which medieval scribes were consciously aware. in Old Norse manuscripts this was especially common with kinship terms. k. Given below is a list of abbreviations organised according to type. segir/sagði (‘says/said’) etc. such as the inverted c representing con. for example legal formulas. but not the phonological value. The brevigraphs are of both types.). dd for dætr (‘daughters’).html . the Latin letters reflect the form. for drottinn (‘lord’) or dóttir (‘daughter’).) or har for hennar (gen. hi. Ihu for Jesu etc. It is customary in traditional scholarly editions to expand abbreviations. verbs etc. of the original Greek uncials IHC (=IES). since they can represent various inflectional forms of the same or related words. An exception to this are suspensions using a point. Plurals could be indicated by doubling the sigla. if used on its own represents hann. while others. In some cases this is done silently (for example in most of the editions from the Arnamagnæan Institutes in Copenhagen and Reykjavík). rather than a superscript stroke.

Superscript letters used in this way should be distinguished from those which refer to a specific combination of letters.html . fara and eigi. In some cases. section A.A.2 The first letter or letters are written on the line and the remainder omitted.hum.1. such as voro.1. chiefly those shown here.3 Only the initial letter is written on the line.staff. This form of abbreviation is largely restricted to certain common words. a superscript stroke. it can be difficult or impossible to determine whether it is in fact the letter immediately following. Particularly in younger manuscripts.2. This form of suspension is essentially also restricted to certain common words. e. which is intended.g.1. þessa) is frequently abbreviated using a double stroke through the ascender. and the letter immediately following it is written superscript. rather than the final letter (see below. A.ku.2). the word þess (and related forms. indicating the omission. discussed below in section sometimes with a curl. 3 http://www.

3. preceding and. which is set over short letters and generally passes through the ascenders of any tall letters. hans and þess. As was mentioned above in section A. but some or all of the intervening letters are omitted. some words abbreviated in this way could also be interpreted as suspensions. Certain genitive forms.staff. 2nd on so on). This type is especially common with forms of the word maðr (‘man‘).). between the letters — but are less common. Points are also possible — following. These are essentially of the same type as those just discussed.1. in particular konungs.2 The initial letter is written on the line and the final letter is written superscript (a practice still common with ordinal either straight or with a curl.html . very rarely.A.ku. but need to be treated in a slightly different way: A. 1st.hum. with a bar to indicate that they are contractions. the omission being indicated by means of a superscript stroke or bar.1 The initial and final letters of a word are written on the line. are sometimes abbreviated in such a way that the first and last letters are combined as ligatures (k plus tall s etc.2.2. 4 http://www.

pl.A. Ihc for Jesus and Xpc for Christus.) etc. this corresponds entirely to contractions mentioned in section A.3. They cannot occur word-initially or.1. in pairs. or sometimes.1 The nomina sacra.3. probably the most common of all abbreviations (although entirely absent from some early manuscripts). The f. it had various A. as was mentioned above. B.staff. it can occur both medially and finally. but with Roman minuscules used instead of the Greek uncials. A. for the most part. These are normally written over another character. i for manni (dat.1. indicating the suppression of one or more nasal consonants.and m-runes are occasionally used to represent the words fé and maðr (their names in the runic alphabet).. the earliest resembling a 7. The latter is frequently found with a superscript (Latin) letter indicating an inflectional ending.1 Supralinear signs (tittles). are originally Greek contractions. These.2.e. A. 5 http://www.1 The nasal stroke.).4 The †-sign is used for the word kross. a for manna (gen. slightly to the right.2 The Tironian nota for et.html .ku. sing.2. B. i.1.3. depending on their shape.3 Runic letters.3.hum.

form of the verb ‘to be’). B.1.hum. with p). B. it is sometimes also used as general mark of abbreviation in suspensions. with e to represent the 3rd person sing.1.2 The pi.1. it is principally used finally.3 The 2-like sign.1. used to indicate us (or its mutated form ys).or omega-like sign (originally a superscript a). representing ra or.1. or simply r (esp. representing er or ir. representing ur (or its mutated form yr).B. ja or less frequently.4 A sign resembling the numeral 9.1. eir (esp. particularly where one of the suppressed letters is an r.html .ku.1. but can also be used medially. in which case it can appear on the line. B. va.1.5 The zigzag-shaped sign. it sometimes resembles the infinity symbol. in the word þeir). 6 http://www. occasionally also re (esp.

7 http://www.hum. representing re or ve. ir or vi (esp. representing va.1.1 Superscript representing ik(k) or ek(k).2.5 Superscript c. representing ri.2 Superscript e.1. T B.B. B.3 Superscript i. representing or or ro. B.2.ku.2.html .4 Superscript o.1. B. in the word því).

It survives in the English viz.7 Superscript m.2.1. In Latin writing it could also stand. representing at or it. Its use in Old Norse manuscripts is for the most part restricted to the word með.hum. representing in(n) or an (particularly in forms of the enclitic definite article). B. with b.2. for the ending -bus and with q for the enclitic -que.staff. In Old 8 http://www. representing eð or uð (especially in the word guð).1. the later cursive form can resemble the numeral 3 or the letter z.10 Superscript t.2. representing um.2 A sign resembling an inverted c or sometimes the numeral 9 (in which case it is identical to the superscript sign for us) which stands for con and (in Latin) com. in a text otherwise in the vernacular this is normally expanded heldr.9 Superscript r. although the sign is sometimes also used with the letter s.1.6 Superscript d or ð. B.8 Superscript n. B.2. .2.ku.1. or later að or ið. representing the Latin word sed. for videlicet. B.2.B. B.1.1 A semicolon-like sign used to represent ed or eð.2. representing ar.

119-125. and p with a superscript bar pre. 1943). It is most commonly used in Latin loan words. In Latin this mark could also function as a general mark of abbreviation (the origin of the R-sign. Brøndum-Nielsen: ‘Indledning’. pp. Nordisk kultur XXVIII:A (Stockholm. pp.hum. as in Latin. Driscoll 3/X/2007 Björn K. M. pp. B. which stands for recipe).2. 9 http://www. but such use is rare in Old Norse it is found only in initial position. Oslo & København.4 The letter p with a straight stroke through the descender indicates per. pp. these are most commonly used in Latin loan words such as prófeti. It is not standard practice to expand small capitals (although some editors have done so).staff. while a curved stroke or flourish extending through the descender represents pro. but can also be found in native words as well. B. in particular kona (‘woman’) and konungr (‘king’). esp.html .ku. it is especially common after the letters ð and o. esp.3 A sign resembling the numeral 4 (in fact a round r with a oblique curve through the leg) used to represent the termination -rum. Þórólfsson: ‘Nokkur orð um íslenzkt skrifletur’. now commonly misinterpreted as Rx.2. 117-152. although occasionally found in native words.Norse. while dotted letters normally are treated like other abbreviations. used in medical prescriptions. Johs. Palæografi A: Danmark og Sverige. B. Landsbókasafn Íslands: Árbók 1948-9 (1950).3 Small capitals and dotted letters were used in Icelandic manuscripts to indicate geminate consonants. 30-32. 1-35. J.

Chassant: Dictionnaire des abréviations latines et françaises usitées dans les inscriptions lapidaires et métalliques. 491-496. Oskar Bandle et al. Kålund: Palæografisk atlas: Oldnorsk-islandsk afdeling (København & Kristiania. 1965). 832-840.staff. KLNM. Nordisk kultur XXVIII:B (Stockholm. (Berlin/New York. Adriano Cappelli: Lexicon abbreviaturarum: Dizionario di abbreviature latine ed italiane (Milano. pp. 2002). 1846). The Nordic languages: An international handbook of the history of the North Germanic languages. esp. Medieval Scandinavia: An encyclopedia. 38-39. ——: ‘Palaeography’. Stefán Karlsson: ‘The development of Latin script II: in Iceland’. Oslo & København. (Berlin/New York.hum. ed. ——: ‘Paleografi’. pp. 61961). 42-45. 22-25. pp. 1905). Andrea de Leeuw van Weenen: The Icelandic Homily book: Perg. Kr. Börje Westlund: ‘The development of Latin script III: in Sweden’. 2002). Lars Svensson: Nordisk paleografi: Handbok med transkriberade och kommenterade skriftprov. Lundastudier i nordisk språkvetenskap A 28 (Lund. Ludwig Traube: Nomina sacra: Versuch einer Geschichte der christlichen Kürzung (München. 82-134. pp. 1974). Andrea de Leeuw van Weenen: A Grammar of Möðruvallabók (Leiden. Odd Einar Haugen (Bergen. pp. Palæografi A: Danmark og Sverige. 15 4o in the Royal Library. A. 85-94. Íslensk handrit III (Reykjavík. The Nordic languages: An international handbook of the history of the North Germanic languages. 202-223. Series in Folio. pp. Petti: English literary hands from Chaucer to Dryden (London. 700-850) (Cambridge. 1993). (New York. cols. Erik Kroman: ‘Abbreviaturer’.dk/mjd/abbreviations. 2000). 1907). Lindsay: Notae Latinae: An account of abbreviations in Latin MSS. pp. I.ku. ed. Bernhard Bischoff: Paläographie des römischen Altertums und des abendländischen Mittelalters (Berlin 1979). 1993). pp. The Nordic languages: An international handbook of the history of the North Germanic languages. 175-214. les manuscrits et les chartes du moyen âge (Paris. Phillip Pulsiano et al. G. Erik Kroman: ‘Dansk palæografi’.Odd Einar Haugen: ‘The development of Latin script I: in Norway’. 1915). pp. 1965). 1954). Oskar Bandle et al. 5-7. pp. ed. 46-47 and 110-126 Konráð Gíslason: Um frum-parta íslenzkrar túngu í fornöld (København. ed. 2002). pp. II (Reykjavík. vii-xi Didrik Arup Seip: Palæografi B: Norge og Island. Oskar Bandle et al. repr.html . Hreinn Benediktsson: Early Icelandic script as illustrated in vernacular texts from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. 1929). Harald Spehr: Der ursprung der isländischen schrift und ihre weiterbildung bis zur mitte des 13. Handbok i norrøn filologi. jahrhunderts (Halle/Saale. pp. Palæografi A: Danmark og Sverige. 2004). esp. Stockholm. 10 http://www. of the early minuscule period (c. M. Íslenzk handrit: Icelandic Manuscripts. 36-81. W. pp. (Berlin/New York. A. 1977). 841-849. ed. Sam Jansson: ‘Svensk paleografi’. 105-120. 1846. 1-4. pp. 824-832.

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