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Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Reading Out Loud

Here's an interesting bit of trivia. As I was sitting in church this past Sunday the passage the pastor was preaching about was Acts 8, particularly the account of Philip and the Ethiopian. What caught my eye was verse 30.

"Philip ran up [to his chariot] and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, 'Do you understand what you are reading?'" (NIV)

My first thought was, why was the Ethiopian reading out loud? Since he was apparently alone he likely would have been reading silently. Then I remembered a comment Stephen Jay Gould made in passing in one of his books (I'm not sure where) about the development of silent reading. I recall that he was puzzled that it developed so late. In fact, I had always assumed that reading silently was practiced from the beginning of the written word some 6,000 years ago. Seems logical. Not so. It seems the development of spaces between words circa 900 AD allowed most people to read silently. Before that I assume most people found it easier to talk through the text while those who read silently such as Julius Caesar and St. Ambrose were considered atypical. I also noticed there have been several books published on this topic including A History of Reading that I might check out. Of course, the account of Philip and the Ethiopian dates from the first century AD.

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