The symbol, a double dot resembling the modern colon, is known as the "zagwa elaya," or "upper pair." Its function as a question mark was pinned down by Chip Coakley, a manuscript specialist at Cambridge University.
By studying the biblical manuscripts at the British Museum in London, Coakley was able to solve the mystery of the two dots, which has puzzled grammarians for decades, and described his finding as a "significant footnote in the history of writing."
The zagwa elaya is written at the start of declarative sentences to indicate their function as questions, something which would otherwise be ambiguous.
It is not used in questions with interrogative words, the equivalents of "wh-words" in English.
"Reading aloud, the same function is served by a rising tone of voice -- or at least it is in English -- and it is interesting to ponder whether zawga elaya really marks the grammar of the question, or whether it is a direction to someone reading the Bible aloud to modulate their voice," Coakley said.
Labels: Language update
Polistra was named after the original townsite of Manhattan (the one in Kansas). When I was growing up in Manhattan, I spent a lot of time exploring by foot, bike, and car. I discovered the ruins of an old mill along Wildcat Creek, and decided (inaccurately) that it was the remains of the original site of Polistra. Accurate or not, I've always liked the name, with its echoes of Poland (an under-appreciated friend of freedom) and stars. ==== The title icon is explained here. ==== Switchover: This 2007 entry marks a sharp change in worldview from neocon to pure populist. ===== The long illustrated story of Polistra's Dream is a time-travel fable, attempting to answer the dangerous revision of New Deal history propagated by Amity Shlaes. The Dream has 8 episodes, linked in a chain from the first. This entry explains the Shlaes connection.