Archiver > TRANSITIONAL-GENEALOGISTS-FORUM > 2012-04 > 1335485801

From: Caroline Gurney <>
Subject: Re: [TGF] Transcribing "&"
Date: Fri, 27 Apr 2012 01:16:41 +0100
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My apologies if some of the characters in this message do not render
correctly in your email program. For best results, try reading it
using "rich formatting".

In the discipline of history, there are two types of transcription -
diplomatic and semi-diplomatic.

Diplomatic transcription attempts to reproduce all the features of the
original text exactly as they appear. These features can include
superscript characters, contractions (omission of letters in the
middle of a word), suspensions (omission of letters at the end of a
word) brevigraphs (symbols representing one or more individual
letters) and obsolete letters. In diplomatic transcription, the
ampersand symbol, which is a brevigraph, should be transcribed as "&".

The problem with diplomatic transcription is that modern English does
not have direct equivalents for some of the symbols encountered,
whilst others, such as tildes over letters or full size superscript
text, are difficult to reproduce accurately in typescript. For
example, the Old English letter called "thorn" - þ - often looks like
a modern "y" in manuscripts but was pronounced "th". Transcribing the
contraction "þt" (thorn followed by t) as "yt" suggests "it" when in
fact it is a contraction of "that". Transcribing the various different
ornamented forms of the letter "p" as just "p" loses the sense of the
original where the different forms of the letter represented "per",
"par", "pro" or "pre".

For this reason, semi-diplomatic transcription allows changes, using
recognised conventions, in the interest of clarity, readability and
accuracy. So "þe" (thorn followed by e) is transcribed as "the" not
"ye" and "þt" (thorn followed by t) is transcribed as "th[a]t" not
"yt". The contraction "pson" is transcribed "p[er]son" or "p[ar]son",
"pvide" as "p[ro]vide" and "psent" as "p[re]sent" (the "p" I have
typed actually being a different ornamented form of the letter in each
of these cases). In contractions where a tilde over a letter
represents the omission of a letter such as "i", "m", "n", "demād" is
transcribed "dema[n]d" and "commissōn" as "commiss[i]on". The
manuscript word "wch", with the "ch" in superscript, is transcribed

In semi-diplomatic transcription, brevigraphs are replaced by the
modern equivalent. The most commonly encountered brevigraph is the
single character which was used to represent a plural ending. This is
transcribed as "es", "ys" or "s", depending on the plural form of the
word, not as "e" which is the modern letter it most closely resembles.
The second most frequent brevigraph is the ampersand, which is
transcribed as "et" in a Latin document and as "and" in an English

Strictly speaking, therefore, the answer to the original poster's
question depends on whether she is using diplomatic or semi-diplomatic
transcription. In the former she should use "&" and in the latter

I do not know what the practice is in the USA but here in the UK
historians and genealogists were traditionally taught to use
semi-diplomatic transcription. There are some excellent online guides
to palaeography and transcription produced by the University of
Cambridge:, the
University of Dundee: and the UK National
Archives: and

Caroline Gurney

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