What is Cursive Writing? - Definition, History & Types

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  • 0:02 Cursive Writing Defined
  • 0:32 Origins of Cursive Writing
  • 1:57 Cursive in the Colonies
  • 2:57 Cursive in the Classroom
  • 5:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sharon Linde

Sharon has a Masters of Science in Mathematics

Most of us remember the early elementary school days of writing instruction: tracing curves, lines, and circles. Let's take a look at what cursive writing is, how it came to be, and the different types we see around today.

Cursive Writing Defined

Most people assume cursive writing is a form we only use here in the United States, but really, it is used internationally as well. Handwriting, or penmanship, is a way of writing using the hand and an instrument. Cursive writing is a form of penmanship that uses a flowing style to make writing faster. Cursive writing is always looped and connected.

Much like our own handwriting history, we didn't start off writing in cursive. So how did we get here? Evolution!

Origins of Cursive Writing

While the history of recorded writing goes back thousands of years, we'll focus solely on how cursive writing came about. Historians believe the Romans were one of the first to use written forms for corresponding and recording transactions., such as sales or stock. In the 600s, writing consisted mostly of upper case letters with some lower case letters mixed in, and it showed the telltale flow and curve of cursive.

Following the fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of monasteries, where monks dedicated their lives to transcribing Christian texts, we see a rise in the use of cursive writing, though styles varied depending on geographical region. In the late 8th century, an English monk standardized cursive using script from classic Roman characters. This style of writing was named Carolingian Miniscule and was meant to be functional: legible, lower case letters, words separated, and punctuation. Grammar was born!

Later in the Middle Ages, the price of paper rose, which resulted in folks trying to get more words on a page. This denser style of writing had a more Gothic look, which was not popular. As a result, a more elegant type of cursive called italic evolved. At that time, beautiful handwriting was equated with wealth and status so that by the 1700s, penmanship was being taught formally as a craft by master scribes.

Cursive in the Colonies

In the early days of the United States, scribing continued to be a profession. The colonials transcribed official documents such as the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and other lesser known legal documents and books. Lay people learned a style of cursive equal to their stature; handwriting became a way to mark one's profession or social status. A bookkeeper named Platt Rogers Spencer created a more uniform system, known as the Spencerian Method. This method was taught using a textbook and used predominately by schools and businesses. The original Coca-Cola logo is written in this style!

In the late 1800s, a new style, the Zaner-Bloser method, was developed by Charles Zaner and Elmer Bloser. It dominated the classroom for decades. In the 1970s, the D'Nealian method emerged. designed to make the transition from printing to cursive more smooth, this style is a popular choice in many of today's schools.

Cursive in the Classroom

Chances are, if you attended school in America you learned either the Zaner-Bloser or D'Nealian method of cursive. Both use a printing and cursive style, but there are two main differences: slant and shape. D'Nealian printing is written at a slant. Zaner-Bloser printing is written straight up and down.

The Zaner-Bloser style is straight up-and-down in printing but uses a slant in cursive. The D'Nealian style is written at a slight slant in both printing and cursive to make the transition from printing to cursive easier for young students. When teaching printing using D'Nealian, the focus is on writing letters with tails. To transition to cursive, instruction focuses on connecting the tails. In contrast, the Zaner-Bloser method teaches letter writing as two completely different styles in printing and cursive.

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