Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Minuscule, or lower case, is the smaller form (case) of letters (in the Roman alphabet: a, b, c, ...). Originally alphabets were written entirely in majuscule (capital) letters which were spaced between well-defined upper and lower bounds. When written quickly with a pen, these tended to rounder and simpler forms, like uncials. It is from these that the first minuscule hands developed, the half-uncials and cursive minuscule, which no longer stay bound between a pair of lines.
These in turn formed the foundations for carolingian minuscule, developed by Alcuin for use in the court of Charlemagne, which quickly spread across Europe. Here for the first time it became common to mix both majuscule and minuscule letters in a single text.
Traditionally, more important letters - those beginning sentences or nouns - were made larger; now they were written in a different script, although there was no fixed capitalization system until the early 18th century (and even then all nouns were capitalized, a system still followed in German but not in English).
Similar developments have taken place in other alphabets. The minuscule script for the Greek alphabet has its origins in the seventh century and acquired its quadrilinear form in the eighth century. Over time, uncial letter forms were increasingly mixed into the script. The earliest dated Greek minuscule text is the Uspenski Gospels (MS 461) in the year 835. The modern practice of capitalizing every sentence seems to be imported (and is commonly not used when printing Ancient Greek materials even today).
In languages with a case distinction, minuscules are generally used in most texts, and for most of any given text, with majuscules reserved for emphasis and special contexts.
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