Yesterday Mark Liberman over at the Language Log posted a short comparison of abbreviations in ancient Latin inscriptions, and the shorthand comminly used (and much reviled) in text-messaging and instant-messaging today (article titled “pont max tr pot lol“).
While this article is light-hearted and only skims the surface of issues such as space saving, the ability of a fluent community to understand abbreviated jargon, and the potential ambiguity of messages sent in this way, there may be a serious point in all this. Is there value in the comparison with other cultures of condensed writing (including but not restricted to text messaging and 1337-speak) as a tool in the teaching and the study of epigraphic and palaeographic abbreviation?
Why do ancient scribes abbreviate? Is there any evidence that abbreviation ever led to ambiguity and misunderstanding of important documents? Is epigraphic abbreviation a completely different phenomenon from digital shorthand, or is there something to be learned from comparisons of this kind–or contrasts?
(Thanks to JLavagnino for pointing out this web log.)