Abbreviationes, the first electronic dictionary of medieval Latin abbreviations

by Olaf Pluta (University of Bochum, Germany)

Take a foreign language, write it in an unfamiliar script, abbreviating every third word, and you have the compound puzzle that is the medieval Latin manuscript. For over two generations, paleographers have taken as their vade-mecum in the decipherment of this abbreviated Latin the "Lexicon abbreviaturarum" compiled by Adriano Cappelli in 1899. Abbreviationes, the first electronic dictionary of medieval Latin abbreviations, challenges Cappelli's dictionary which has not been updated since 1929.

Abbreviationes ensures rapid access to the abbreviation you are looking for, is easy to maintain and enhance, and provides sophisticated search capabilities which a printed dictionary cannot offer. Abbreviationes is also the first collection of medieval Latin abbreviations of reasonably comprehensive scope: In its current release the database contains more than 35,000 entries, which is more than twice as many as you will find in all the printed dictionaries currently available by Chassant, Cappelli, and Pelzer.

image 1

Abbreviationes is a powerful program designed for use in both learning and teaching medieval Latin paleography; it can also be used as a reference tool and as a reasearch tool.

Abbreviationes consists of a database (Main Dictionary) and a database application (Abbreviationes) which provides the facilities for creating and accessing disk-based databases.

Main Dictionary

The Main Dictionary is based on a large number of manuscripts of all faculties (philosophy, theology, law, medicine). The material is displayed in four fields: the first presents a visualization of the abbreviated word as it may be found in a medieval manuscript, the second field gives the transcription of the letters contained in the abbreviated word, the third contains the complete word, while the fourth field gives the manuscript date or provenance, especially in cases of rare or unique abbreviations.

image 2

With updates and enhancements released twice a year the Main Dictionary will continue to grow steadily. As many scholars are already adding to this corpus of abbreviations Abbreviationes will become an easily accessible standard reference work which also reflects the state of current scholarship.

Application Features

Abbreviationes offers two keys (Abbreviation, Word) to search for a word to match a given abbreviation and to search for an abbreviation to match a given word. There also is a Fuzzy Match option if no exact match can be found in the Main Dictionary. Abbreviationes uses fuzzy logic for finding the closest match -- that is, the logic that underlies inexact or approximate reasoning. The fuzzy logic controller effectively manipulates imprecise information and will find a matching entry in most cases even if the input is incomplete or partly wrong.

image 3

Abbreviationes uses a balanced binary search tree for each of the two keys to perform an index search. In addition, Abbreviationes allows you to search in all the four fields of the dictionary by performing a sequential search. Though a sequential search is very slow compared with an index search it has the great advantage that it can also look to see if the text might appear inside a word or inside an abbreviation. You can refine your search in numerous ways by using sophisticated search criteria and save your findings in a report.

In addition to the use of the Main Dictionary, Abbreviationes allows you to create multiple User Dictionaries. You can, for instance, create dictionaries for a special author or for a special manuscript which you are currently transcribing. Afterwards you can easily merge these dictionaries with the Main Dictionary.

Abbreviationes uses its own keyboard layout which makes the input of new abbreviations very easy. It provides powerful facilities which allow you to write even the most complicated abbreviations. It can even deal with extremely large dictionaries with tens of thousands of entries. It works together with your favourite word-processing program. And it can be customized in many ways to meet your particular needs.

User Interface

A primary goal was to keep the user interface simple and intuitive. Features that are difficult for the average user to understand and use effectively have been omitted. Several advanced features have been made available at Expert level only and have been hidden from the user at Novice level.

Another essential goal was to make Abbreviationes appealing to the user. By providing a visualization of all the medieval abbreviations in the Main Dictionary the program aims to demonstrate the beauty of medieval handwriting and to attract the user to work with medieval manuscripts.

Acknowledgements

Abbreviationes won the 1993 German-Austrian Academic Software Award (Deutsch-Österreichischer Hochschul-Software-Preis) as outstanding software for the humanities.

Abbreviationes is currently being used worldwide by leading research institutes like CETEDOC (Louvain-la-Neuve), C.N.R.S. (Paris), École Nationale des Chartes (Paris), The Warburg Institute (London), Oxford University Centre for Humanities Computing (Oxford), Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies (Toronto), and by the manuscript departments of major research libraries and national archives like The Royal University Library (Oslo), Instituto da Biblioteca Nacional e do Livro (Lisbon), Riksarkivet (Stockholm), The Central European University Library (Budapest), Hesburgh Library (Notre Dame, Indiana), Alderman Library (Charlottesville, Virginia), Stanford University Library (Stanford, California).

Background and Goals

Abbreviationes is a powerful database designed for use in both learning and teaching medieval Latin paleography. Abbreviationes can also be used as a reference tool and as a research tool.

The motivation for Abbreviationes is that existing printed dictionaries such as Adriano Cappelli's Lexicon abbreviaturarum. Dizionario di abbreviature latine ed italiane, Louis-Alphonse Chassant's Dictionnaire des abréviations latines et françaises, and Auguste Pelzer's Abréviations latines médiévales, lack many abbreviations and do not offer the sophisticated search capabilities of an electronic dictionary.

Adriano Capelli's Lexicon first appeared in 1899 as part of the series "Manuali Hoepli" and has since been revised four times, twice in Italian for the same series (1912, 1929) and twice in German for "J. J. Webers illustrierte Handbücher" (Leipzig, 1901, 1928). A longer version of the Latin title was used in 1899--Lexicon abbreviaturarum quae in lapidibus, codicibus et chartis praesertim medii-aevi occurrunt--but all subsequent editions have reduced it to two words following the example of the German translator: Lexicon abbreviaturarum: Wörterbuch lateinischer und italienischer Abkürzungen. The first Italian edition contained 10,000 entries, and although 3000 more were added in the German translation of 1901, the next Italian edition was enlarged by only a thousand in 1912 to its present size of approximately 14,000 entries. Since 1929 no changes have been introduced into the Italian text which continues to be reprinted under the title Lexicon abbreviaturarum: Dizionario di abbreviature latine ed italiane usate nelle carte e codici specialmente del medio-evo riprodotte con oltre 14000 segni incisi con l'aggiunta di uno studio sulla brachigrafia medioevale, un prontuario di Sigle Epigrafiche, l'antica numerazione romana ed arabica ed i segni indicanti monete, pesi, misure, etc. (3rd ed., Milano, 1929, lxxiii+531 pp.) by the Casa Editrice Libraria Ulrico Hoepli, Milano.

The Lexicon was never available in an English edition, as once it was in German, but Cappelli's prefatory treatise on the elements of Latin abbreviation has been published in an English translation under the title The elements of abbreviation in medieval Latin paleography by Adriano Cappelli. Translated by David Heimann and Richard Kay, Lawrence: University of Kansas Libraries, 1982.

August Pelzer's Abréviations latines médiévales: Supplément au Dizionario di abbreviature latine ed italiane de Adriano Cappelli (Louvain-Paris, 1966; vii+86 pp.) is a valuable supplement based on Vatican manuscripts. It contains approximately 1500 entries which cannot be found in Capelli.

Louis-Alphonse Chassant's Dictionnaire des abréviations latines et françaises usitées dans les inscriptions lapidaires et metalliques, les manuscrits et les chartes du Moyen Âge, 5th ed., Paris, 1884, has also reappeared in facsimile. It was reprinted by Georg Olms Verlagsbuchhandlung (Hildesheim, 1965; lii+172 pp.). This dictionary contains approximately 5000 Latin abbreviations most of which can also be found in Capelli.

There are several older dictionaries which are even less complete--most notably Johann Ludolf Walther's Lexicon Diplomaticum, abbreviationes syllabarum et vocum in diplomatibus et codicibus a saeculo viii. ad xvi. usque occurentes exponens, iunctis alphabetis et scripturae speciminibus integris, Göttingen, 1747, which has been reprinted several times--but these dictionaries are not in use nowadays as they have not been reprinted for a long time.

Abbreviationes provides a Main Dictionary which currently contains more than 35,000 entries-- more than twice as many as you will find in all the printed dictionaries together. With updates and enhancements released twice a year the Main Dictionary will continue to grow steadily. As many scholars are already adding to this corpus of abbreviations Abbreviationes will become an easily accessible standard reference work which also reflects the state of current scholarship.

Abbreviationes also surpasses all printed dictionaries in offering two keys to search for a word to match a given abbreviation and to search for an abbreviation to match a given word. There is also a Fuzzy Match option if no exact match can be found in the Main Dictionary. Abbreviationes uses fuzzy logic for finding the closest match--that is, the logic that underlies inexact or approximate reasoning. The fuzzy logic controller effectively manipulates imprecise information and will find a matching entry in most cases even if the input is incomplete or partly wrong. In addition to this, there are even more advanced search capabilities which allow you to refine your search in numerous ways.

A primary goal was to make Abbreviationes as simple as possible, but no simpler. We have tried to omit features that are difficult for the average user to understand and use effectively. Several advanced features have been made available at Expert level only and have been hidden from the user at Novice level.

The primary intent of the User's Guide is not to teach medieval Latin paleography. We do not, however, assume that a student will have had prior experience with medieval Latin manuscripts before embarking upon the material presented there. At Bochum University, where Abbreviationes was developed, students will have started to learn medieval Latin paleography, but will not have first-hand knowledge of medieval Latin manuscripts when they start using Abbreviationes.

Having said we do not assume the reader of the User's Guide to be an expert in medieval Latin paleography prior to using Abbreviationes, it is also important to note that it is our sincere hope that after having studied the material in the User's Guide and having used Abbreviationes for some time the student will, by the end, be reasonably proficient in reading medieval Latin manuscripts. So somewhere along the line we assume the student will be learning about medieval Latin paleography.

According to Adriano Capelli's Lexicon abbreviaturarum all medieval abbreviations can be divided into six categories. Abbreviation can be indicated by:

1. Truncation,

2. Contraction,

3. Abbreviation marks significant in themselves,

4. Abbreviation marks significant in context,

5. Superscript letters,

6. Conventional signs.

1. A word is abbreviated by truncation when only the first part of the word is actually written out, while an abbreviation mark replaces the missing final letters.

2. A word is abbreviated by contraction when one or more of the middle letters are missing. Such an omission is indicated by one of the general signs of abbreviation.

3. Abbreviation marks significant in themselves are signs that indicate which elements of the abbreviated word are missing, no matter what letter the symbol is placed above or joined with as a ligature.

4. Abbreviation marks significant in context are the signs that indicate which elements are missing in the abbreviated word whose meaning is not set and constant but varies relative to the letter for which the sign stands.

5. With a few exceptions a word is abbreviated with superscript letters at the end of a word where a superscript letter, whether a vowel or a consonant, simply indicates the ending of the word.

6. Conventional signs are all those signs, for the most part not recognizable as letters and almost always isolated, that stand for a frequently used word or phrase.

Abbreviationes allows you to quickly and easily store and retrieve all these kinds of abbreviations and to display them on screen.

Here are some examples for every category of abbreviations:

1. Abbreviation by truncation

image 4 image 6

image 5 image 7

2. Abbreviation by contraction

image8 image10

image9 image 11

3. Abbreviation by abbreviation marks significant in themselves

image 12 image14

image 13 image 15

4. Abbreviation by abbreviation marks significant in context

image 16 image 19

image 17 image 19

5. Abbreviation by superscript letters

image 20 image 22

image 21 image 23

6. Abbreviation by conventional signs

image 42 image 26

image 25 image 27

It should be noted that not all medieval abbreviations start with the initial letters of the words they represent. We find, for example:

image 28 image 30

image 29 image 31

It should likewise be noted that the six categories are not mutually exclusive as can easily be recognized by looking at the examples.

Abbreviationes as a learning tool

Students of medieval Latin paleography may want to use Abbreviationes as a learning tool.

With Abbreviationes it is very easy to look up the many different abbreviations for a given word thereby learning the different techniques which were used for abbreviation.

In connection with the short overview on the different categories of medieval Latin abbreviations which has been provided above Abbreviationes has proved to be an excellent learning tool.

For instance, when a student looks up all the different abbreviations for igitur--something which is not easily possible with any of the printed dictionaries currently available--he or she will find several samples for abbreviation by contraction, and abbreviation by superscript letters.

image 32 width= image34

image 33 image 35

To give another example, when a student looks up all the different abbreviations for consequentia--something which is likewise not easily possible with any of the printed dictionaries currently available--he or she will again find samples for several of the six categories.

image 36 image 38

image 37 image 39

image 4 image 41

Abbreviationes as a teaching tool

Scholars may want to use Abbreviationes as a teaching tool in their lectures on medieval Latin paleography.

When reading medieval Latin texts together with their students scholars can use Abbreviationes to quickly and easily display other abbreviations of a given word thereby broadening their students' sense for the different techniques used for abbreviation purposes.

If all the students have access to Abbreviationes during a reading exercise the program supports active learning and helps students build on their previous knowledge. As a single dictionary file can be shared by multiple users over a network this can easily be accomplished.

When preparing lectures on medieval Latin paleography Abbreviationes can be used to quickly find specimens for a given kind of abbreviation mark. For instance, the abbreviation mark like an Arabic 3, which is significant in context, is used almost always at the end of a word and is written on rather than above the line. It can stand for -et, -us, or -m at the end of words. It can, however, also be used for the enclitic -que. Sometimes, the 3-mark stands for -est at the end of a word. On rare occasions it is even used within words.

Here are some examples taken from one and the same manuscript:

image 42 width= image 45

image43 image 45

image 46 image 47

image 48 image 50

image 4 image 51

Abbreviationes as a reference tool

Experienced scholars and beginners alike may want to use Abbreviationes as a reference tool.

If you are an expert in medieval Latin paleography you will probably have a very good idea of what a given abbreviation stands for in the first place. This intuitive knowledge can, however, sometimes be terribly misleading. You may want to use Abbreviationes to reinforce your knowledge and for making quick checks for alternative readings.

If you are a novice you will often even have problems in recognizing the letters of a given abbreviation. As Abbreviationes is very fast it can be used for a trial-and-error approach when trying to decipher a given abbreviation. As Abbreviationes provides a fuzzy-controller it will help you to find the right entry even if your input is partly wrong.

For instance, if you have by mistake read ostusu instead of ostnsu you will find no matching entry in the Main Dictionary.

image 52

If you doubt whether the fourth character is an u or an n you can quickly change your input and Abbreviationes will show you the right entry.

image 53

But even if you are not aware of the fact that you have made a reading mistake you can still find the right entry by using the Fuzzy Match search option.

image 54

As it is more probable that you have misread u than e, Abbreviationes displays the abbreviation ostnsu rather than ostesu.

Abbreviationes as a research tool

Scholars may want to use Abbreviationes as a research tool as well.

With Abbreviationes you can find out how a specific abbreviation mark was used within a given time frame or by a single writer.

You may, for instance, want to know if the two abbreviation marks could be used interchangeably in the fourteenth century.

Or you may, for instance, want to know when Albert the Great uses the "round" r (r rotunda). You will find that Albert the Great uses the "round" r in connection with the letters b, d, o, p and with the abbreviation mark 9 which are round on the right in his own hand, and that the "round" r is found most often in combination with the letter o.

About the author

At present, Dr. Olaf Pluta works for the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft). He has been a lecturer on medieval philosophy and medieval Latin paleography with the Institute of Philosophy at the University of Bochum, Germany, for more than ten years. He enjoys spending his evenings developing academic software. Abbreviationes is the product of these recreational hours. Pluta writes in C++ and Prograph CPX on a Macintosh PowerBook Duo that he carries around in his rucksack.

Dr. Pluta welcomes your comments, suggestions, or questions. You can reach him at pluta@scriptorium.ping.de.