Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Scribal "errors"

A colleague working on Arabic manuscripts made me consider a further issue about Indian manuscripts: their size. We are used to manuscripts with relatively few lines per page (usually 5-12, as far as my experience reaches: I have never seen instances of manuscripts with more than 18 lines per page). This could make "errors" due to going from the same group of syllables to the same one repeated later on (and, hence, skipping whatever is in between), less frequent.
It would be interesting to compare the percentage of such errors in Indian and non Indian manuscripts.


abeppe said...

IMHO, I think one should distinguish between the manuscript formats. But above all, I think that the main point is not how many lines on a page are, but how long the lines are: the more characters per line, the more difficult it is to go back from the end of one line to the beginning of the following right line (remember Bringhurst's ideal average of 66 characters per line). Hence, one would expect Indian scribes to produce more eye-skips in which a whole line is dropped, since palm-leaf and pothi manuscripts have lines much more longer than the ones of codices. Moreover, in a long line it is more difficult to go back to the right place even in the same line.

But on the other hand, Kashmirian manuscripts are very often in the codex format, thus the problem of the long lines should not be there (read: always keep regional differences in mind).

Another point to consider is the unit of ruling (Zeilenabstand): if it is too narrow, the eye tends to be more confused.

elisa freschi said...

Thanks Abeppe, for this insightful comment!
Do you know of any statistics about eye-skips in Kaśmīri and other Indian manuscripts? And do you think Bringhurst'esteem is universally valid? Would you send me further bibliographical details, by the way?

More in general, would not you think that, anyway, it is easier to keep in mind "I am copying the forelast line/the third line/the third line from below/…" than "I have to go backto my line [which might be the 19th out of 33]"?

abeppe said...

Well, of course Bringhurst is not universally valid, his estimate is thought for printed books in the roman alphabet, but it is the principle I am speaking of.

As to estimates, I do not think there are any. As to the lines, I am not sure if scribes keep in mind which line they are copying, I think they rather keep in mind the word string they memorized for copying. Sure, you're right saying that it is less difficult to skip one line if there are only five on the page. But still, it happens more often than one would suppose, or what do you think?

elisa freschi said...

Well, I have not read anything about it (but would be interested in, if you have any suggestion), nonetheless if I can judge out of my experience as a 'typist', I would say that I do not remember the line number, but that I tend to visually identify how far is the bottom or the top of the folio. Don't you?
And eye-skips are surely very frequent…

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