Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Fred R. Eckman

Committee Members

Fred R. Eckman, Garry Davis, Patricia Mayes, Edith Moravcsik, Anne Pycha




This is a comprehensive study of punctuation, particularly the uses to which it has been put as writing developed over the centuries and as it gradually evolved from an aid to oral delivery to its use in texts that were read silently. The sudden need for standardization of punctuation which occurred with the start of printing spawned some small amount of interest in determining its purpose, but most works after printing began were devoted mainly to helping people use punctuation rather than try to discover why it was being used. Gradually, two main views on its purpose developed: it was being used for rhetorical purposes or it was needed to reveal the grammar in writing. These views are still somewhat in place.

The community of linguists took little notice of writing until the last few centuries and even less notice of punctuation. The result was that few studies were done on the underlying purpose for punctuation until the twentieth century, and even those were few and far between, most of them occurring only in the last thirty years.

This study argues that neither rhetoric nor grammar is directly the basis for punctuation. Rather, it responds to a schema that determines the order of the words in spoken and written English, and it is a linguistic concept without question. The special uses of the features of punctuation are discussed, as well as some anomalies in its use, some ideas for more studies, and some ideas for improving the teaching of punctuation.