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Cursive vs Italic: a brief history of handwriting in Sweden


battra

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For your enjoyment, I would like to share what I learnt about two styles of handwriting in my native Sweden, from a few articles and blog posts. I'm also curious  as to what your thoughts are regarding the two scripts.

This is the old style of cursive - my parents and grandparents learned to write like this, and I finally learned this script a few years ago from a copybook for kids. (The image is taken from that book, written by Britta Redin.

20240212_195437.jpg.257571b01466336781fb78a6cb1ee760.jpg

I guess it is similar to other scripts derived from Copperplate, with the most unusual feature probably being the single stroke lowercase t.

 

In 1975 however, a completely new script was introduced: "SÖ-stilen":

20240212_195349.jpg.95b4d78ce18b2d247913334a8b53afc6.jpg

 

It is a Swedish adaptation of an English script derived from Italic. The responsible for adjusting the script for Sweden was the calligrapher Kerstin Anckers, who was famous for hand lettering all Nobel laureate duplomas between 1960 and 1990, and the image above is from her book on calligraphy.

There had been people lobbying for switching to italic derived scripts in Swedish schools since the 1940s - some of their arguments were that the old cursive was old fashioned with manneristic frills and loops, and hard to read. So in 1975 it became mandatory for all schools. 

The teachers weren't exactly pleased to suddenly have to teach a completely new script, and they also had some arguments against it -

* Kids wouldn't be able to read letters from their grandparents written in old cursive.

* The new script wasn't adapted to the kids motoric development.

* It was not possible to connect all letters in every word.

In one article I read, the SÖ script was called "the script that ruined the handwriting of a generation of children".

 

After a lot of fighting, the SÖ script was scrapped from the curriculum in 1985, but not replaced with anything else. It is not forbidden to teach neither cursive nor "SÖ" , but as far as i know very few kids have been taught either of the scripts since the 1980s. It is however possible to buy copybooks to learn cursive - Swedish online bookstores have 8 different copybooks in print for learning the old cursive, and one for learning SÖ script.

 

I had to learn the SÖ script during my first 3 or 4 years in school, and I thought those letters were terribly ugly and boring - I wanted to write fancy letters. And I finally was free to write however I wanted from about 1987! 

Though I didn't learn cursive writing until I was 40 years old. I did actually try to learn some italic as well, but my antipathies against SÖ-script were too strong to allow me to pursue with italic.

 

 

Edited by battra
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Hello, and welcome to FPN!
What a great topic! :thumbup:
 

I find the SÖ-stilen easier to read than the cursive style that was developed by Britta Redin.

This is only because I am an English man who does not speak/read/understand Svensk, so I cannot use a knowledge of the language to instantly identify the glyphs that are unfamiliar to me. But I can identify them clearly.
If I were to read text written in English using this handwriting, I am sure that I would find it to be instantly clear, as well as pleasing to the eye.

 

I find its single-stroke ‘t’ to be very interesting - I have noticed that I now draw a very similar glyph for ‘t’ when I am trying to write cursive rapidly. I was not taught to draw ‘t’ like that, it is just something that has developed in my handwriting over the years. I am highly pleased to know that a professional designer of handwriting created it deliberately 🙂

 

My schoolmates and I were only taught ‘handwriting’/‘cursive’ very briefly, in the first terms of my first year at ‘Middle School’ (ages 9/10 to 12/13).
The government then ordered schools to change their practices, and we were told to return our school-issued (cheap) Platignum cartridge pens, and allowed to write with whatever we liked.

I chose Berol ‘Notewriter’ rigid-fibre-tipped pens.

 

I think that the handwriting model that I was taught (in 1980) was the one that was created by Marion Richardson in her Writing and Writing Patterns books. Her model is similar to the Vere Foster ‘Civil Service’ script that had been taught here earlier.

 

A sample of Marion Richardson’s letter glyphs is here:


large.IMG_3439.png.98ed4240a6c754f7d72fe51fd98f5c74.png

 

I have copied it from the Wikipedia (EN) article about her.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marion_Richardson

 

Foul in clear conditions, but handsome in the fog.

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I think both scripts can be quite elegant. One advantage that I have found with the Italic scripts is their high space efficiency, including counter-spacing. Because of the freer counter-spacing and general internal spacing, I've found that Italic scripts are able to permit heavier, bolder lines int he same space with more grace and elegance than the roundhand derived scripts, which tend to greatly encourage finer nibs. That makes Italic scripts excellent for both rapid and wet, broad handwriting, which is great for showing off ink. Something like a Carolingian script or the like is even better for this, but maybe not as practical for every day use. 

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12 minutes ago, Mercian said:

I find its single-stroke ‘t’ to be very interesting - I have noticed that I now draw a very similar glyph for ‘t’ when I am trying to write cursive rapidly. I was not taught to draw ‘t’ like that, it is just something that has developed in my handwriting over the years. I am highly pleased to know that a professional designer of handwriting created it deliberately 🙂

 

That lowercase 't' is one of the hallmarks---at least, I think of it so---of certain types of roundhand scripts, and is quite a popular variation in some books. I think it tended to fall out of favor in newer roundhand/Palmer style books after the early 1900's, but I'm not sure about the exact timeline. 

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If anyone one would like to see some other handwriting models - some of which are ‘looped cursive’, and some of which are italic versions of the same scripts - in 2013 the French Ministry of Education published several versions of two basic models.

 

A PDF that explains the two basic models (en français, naturellement), and then contains several different versions of each of the two basic models as appendices at its end, can be found here:

 

https://eduscol.education.fr/document/15805/download

Foul in clear conditions, but handsome in the fog.

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As someone who writes in the old italic style (I was taught to write by my Swedish mother), I intensely disliked the SÖ-stilen.

 

My own daughter has chosen to write in the same style - her classmates (and some teachers) found her italic r's and single-stroke t's curious, but she undoubtedly wrote faster than they did. I'm pleased to say she's also a fountain pen user - though it would probably be hard not to be so in this house.

 

(ps. I vividly remember hearing 'Bliv en liten stråle' from my mormor almost before the dawn of time)

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47 minutes ago, mizgeorge said:

As someone who writes in the old italic style (I was taught to write by my Swedish mother), I intensely disliked the SÖ-stilen.


The older cursive style certainly looks more ‘human’ and more aesthetically-pleasing than the SÖ-stilen does.

 

The great consistency and simplified-glyphs that make the SÖ-stilen italic script more-instantly readable to foreigners like me also make it seem slightly mechanical and ‘soulless’ in comparison to its cursive predecessor.

Foul in clear conditions, but handsome in the fog.

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6 hours ago, Mercian said:

The great consistency and simplified-glyphs that make the SÖ-stilen italic script more-instantly readable to foreigners like me also make it seem slightly mechanical and ‘soulless’ in comparison to its cursive predecessor.

 

One reason for this, of course, is that the modern Italic scripts all bear much more resemblence to the Italic fonts that are used, which both derive from the more traditional handwriting style that became popular after the Textualis scripts began to fall out of favor. I think handwriting and handwritten scripts tend to go in this cycle. Handwriting eventually becomes too idiosyncratic and specialized, or difficult to read, for one reason or another, especially for book hands, and then there is a "revolution" to create something more legible. Italic is, arguably, the latest and "greatest" in terms of that revival. Interestingly, both the modern and the less modern (1500's?) Italic revivals both had their motivations in making something that was more legible and readable than the currently favored scripts, and the scripts that they derived their own design from (I believe in the family of the Carolingian scripts) were *also* meant to increase readability, though largely in the form of ensuring a standard hand for an empire. 

 

All of this is interesting with regards to the "mechanical" observation, because, at least historically, all of these hands *were* at least in part a little mechanically inclined, because they were all used for copying and producing books, and our modern fonts are derived from this same tradition, so they all have that more precise feel to them. 

 

Of course, I do think that you lose a little something when you go to the monoline scripts for each of these varieties as you see above. Both roundhand and Italic, I think, benefit greatly from allowing for a shaded script, with thick and thins throughout. In such cases, there can be much more warmth to both, whereas both of the above feel somewhat skeletal by comparison. 

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Thanks for the welcome to the forum! I'm delighted with all discussion in this topic!

 

Perhaps the SÖ script has been unfairly treated. When I googled it now, everything I read on blogs, in articles and in forum discussions was written by people who detested it, describing it as "repulsive", "soulless", etc. But apparently similar scripts have been introduced in other countries with more success, for example in Iceland. 

The American Getty-Dubay script also looks similar to SÖ script.

 

I read an excerpt from an interview with the responsible calligrapher, where she said she had to carry all blame for the failed reform, while it actually were the school politicians who botched everyting up.

 

I looked through the French document (linked by Mercian above). Of the 16 scripts presented there,  "model b, slanted, unornamented" (p. 47) is almost the same as SÖ. But I suppose the upright ornamented cursive (p. 42) is still the French standard.

 

Of course the writing tools affects the writing too. My mum and dad used dip pens and blotting paper in primary school when they learned cursive (late 1950s and early 1960s), while we used pencils when we struggled with the SÖ script. The calligrapher wrote most of her SÖ samples in her book using a broad nib - that looks a bit better.

 

By the way, there never was an official cursive alphabet in Sweden, and while I think the one in the first image above is the most common, there are lots of small variations. For example the cursive in the childrens book "Who will comfort Toffle" from 1960, with different lowercase r and t.

spacer.png

 

Edited by battra
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Hej @battra!

 

If I understand it correctly, the below is what is taught nowadays,

i.e. tryckbokstäver (block letters) 🙂

 

Have fun!
Claes in Lund, Sweden

 

Valskrivning-1.png

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2 hours ago, battra said:

By the way, there never was an official cursive alphabet in Sweden, and while I think the one in the first image above is the most common, there are lots of small variations. For example the cursive in the childrens book "Who will comfort Toffle" from 1960, with different lowercase r and t.


I know that Tove Jansson was a Finn, so might that cursive style be a Finnish one, rather than Swedish?

Whatever the style’s ‘nationality’, I find it very attractive 🙂
(Perhaps because I read - & loved - the Moomin books when I was a child?)

Foul in clear conditions, but handsome in the fog.

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2 hours ago, Claes said:

Hej @battra!

 

If I understand it correctly, the below is what is taught nowadays,

i.e. tryckbokstäver (block letters) 🙂

 

Have fun!
Claes in Lund, Sweden

 

Valskrivning-1.png

Hideous. 

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56 minutes ago, mizgeorge said:

Hideous. 


With the added ‘bonus’ that it makes kids spend their formative years learning that set of ‘ball-&-stick’ letter glyphs, and then requires them to learn/switch to a new, different, set of glyphs for ‘grown-up writing’ when they change school years.
Why would you choose to confuse your nation’s kids AND waste classroom teaching time by doing that?

It’s a mistake that Sweden’s school board seems to have copied from Britain.

 

This is one reason why I like Getty & Dubay’s ‘system’ - they teach a set of glyphs to young kids, and when the kids get older and have better-developed fine-motor-skills, their system teaches the kids how to join those same glyphs to create cursive writing.
Much more sensible!

 

It would be possible to adopt this approach with other sets of letter glyphs, e.g. the set shown by battra in that extract from ‘Who will comfort Toffle?’

 

Foul in clear conditions, but handsome in the fog.

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Italic handwriting can be done with a monoline instrument, but it is more attractive (and authentic) with a broad/chisel-tipped nib.

 

The workbook models of any script tend to be soulless, IMO. The accomplished writer of any script will have individualized their handwriting, and it will have a lot more character than the formal models. The advantage of italic is that, in general (meaning a lot of the time but not always), it remains quite legible even when written at speed by a practiced hand with lots of letter joins. Most of the loopy scripts tend to become less legible.

 

On the other hand, if you want to see an instructional workbook with writing that is anything but soulless, look at any of the old italic writing masters - Arrighi, Cataneo,  Mercator, etc.

 

Happy writing.

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22 minutes ago, dms525 said:

On the other hand, if you want to see an instructional workbook with writing that is anything but soulless, look at any of the old italic writing masters - Arrighi, Cataneo,  Mercator, etc.


Interesting.

 

According to the Wikipedia (the unimpeachable, ever-constant, Source of All Truth) page about ‘Teaching Script’:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teaching_script
 

“…Skolöverstyrelsestilen (SÖ-stilen)…  ….was designed by calligrapher Kerstin Anckers and based on Ludovico Vicentino degli Arrighi's chancery cursive.”

 

This backs-up what @battra said about Getty-Dubay Italic & SÖ-stilen resembling each other, because the Wikipedia article about Arrighi says that their system is also based on his hand - which was of course devised in order to make official records quick to write, easy to read, and pleasing to the eye.

Foul in clear conditions, but handsome in the fog.

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1 hour ago, Mercian said:


Interesting.

 

According to the Wikipedia (the unimpeachable, ever-constant, Source of All Truth) page about ‘Teaching Script’:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teaching_script
 

“…Skolöverstyrelsestilen (SÖ-stilen)…  ….was designed by calligrapher Kerstin Anckers and based on Ludovico Vicentino degli Arrighi's chancery cursive.”

 

This backs-up what @battra said about Getty-Dubay Italic & SÖ-stilen resembling each other, because the Wikipedia article about Arrighi says that their system is also based on his hand - which was of course devised in order to make official records quick to write, easy to read, and pleasing to the eye.

 

Barbara Getty and Inga Dubay were students of Lloyd Reynolds. Reynolds was a serious student of the origins of italic handwriting, but the style he taught was probably most influenced by the contemporaneous UK teachings of Alfred Fairbank.  

 

David

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56 minutes ago, Mercian said:


Interesting.

 

According to the Wikipedia (the unimpeachable, ever-constant, Source of All Truth) page about ‘Teaching Script’:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teaching_script
 

“…Skolöverstyrelsestilen (SÖ-stilen)…  ….was designed by calligrapher Kerstin Anckers and based on Ludovico Vicentino degli Arrighi's chancery cursive.”

 

This backs-up what @battra said about Getty-Dubay Italic & SÖ-stilen resembling each other, because the Wikipedia article about Arrighi says that their system is also based on his hand - which was of course devised in order to make official records quick to write, easy to read, and pleasing to the eye.

 

Arrighi was one of if not the first formal writing manuals that we still have around and easily accessible that i am aware of. Moreover, it taught the slightly more refined chancery hand (I think that is what it is called), from which is derived pretty much all modern Italic scripts. 

 

In the early 20th century, there was a revival or counter-movement against the monoline "business scripts" of the day. At that time, the traditional black letter cursive, roundhand, and Palmer-esque scripts were the dominant methods across Europe and the Americas, with Germany being among the most distinct. In practice, many of these hands started to suffer the same issues that textualis suffered towards the end of its mainstream usage, in that it tended to be difficult to learn and teach, excessively rigorous, and overly ornamental or stylized in such a way that made legibility more difficult in practice. As such, a counter-cultural revolution was put forth by a number of teachers and this spread, especially in Northern Europe and North America (Pacific Northwest being a major haven of this movement). 

 

Debates were published (and you can still find) espousing the benefits and virtues of a new style of penmanship that was derived from the tradition of Arrighi and other Chancery hands, which came to be called Italic scripts. All of these scripts share a common inheritance as "new" scripts designed for modern writing implements based on the writing movements and proportions of the classical chancery hands. There was a strong calligraphy revival around this time, with many students learning formal Italic scripts as a business hand using broad edged pens. Over time, the success of such things depended largely on the quality of the teacher and the students, and so the evolution continued with a stronger emphasis on monoline Italic. The Italic teaching of Getty-Dubay, Briem (Icelandic method), So-stilen, and the British Italic methods all directly inherit from the tradition of the early Italic calligraphy and penmanship revival of the early 20th century (c.f. Lloyd Reynolds, et al.), which all inherit from Arrighi's work. 

 

At the same time, companies were competing in the traditional business roundhand scripts as well, trying to innovate on each other throughout the middle of the 20th century and onwards. Zaner-Bloser ultimately dominated the US, and this had a major influence on the rest of the world with their innovation of teaching "print" first. Traditionally, children were expected to enter school much later, and learned writing much later. They learned the business hand of the day and the school in question, and spent significant time drilling and practicing that hand until they were able to do well with it. However, there came a stronger demand and desire to teach more subjects and to get children into school earlier, and to try to increase literacy in younger children. Of course, younger children, and especially boys, are developmentally unsuited, as a whole, to such fine motor skills. Companies like Zaner-bloser created the innovation of teaching print first, using a bastardization of a script that was meant as an incremental progression to a broad edged script for their print, which we now know as ball and stick. This was simple to read and teach, and was close enough to the printed letters that they could improve literacy in early children with this, or at least that was the selling point. At the least, it allowed them to introduce writing very early (what Americans now call Kindergarten and Preschool) as a way to improve reading (and writing). This method had mixed uptake with the rest of the world. 

 

Around the world, the "war" between Italic and Roundhand derived scripts raged on until most countries eventually gave up one way or another. In the U.S., there is still a "thriving" competition of different writing curricula for the wide variety of schools that we have here, and you can find multiple versions of all the various scripts, which each differentiate themselves in teaching methods, script design, and philosophy. 

 

Thus, Sweden's own battle mimics or mirrors the battle that was happening in a variety of different countries throughout the world. Britain had no less than 3 competing schools of thought, including the traditional roundhand (arguably the strongest heritage with Roundhand of any country), upright scripts (such as the civil service script), and Italic. Iceland eventually had Gunnlaugur (sp?) Briem (a calligrapher) to develop the script and teaching methods for their school system, which has arguably had good success. The US generally went with Zaner-Bloser, though many other competing methods emerged to try to "fix" the method, including D'Nealian and the Italic hands. France doubled down on their own roundhand script, and Germany went through a wide range of scripts due to the political uncertainty and the association of political parties with certain scripts. 

 

In modern times, there has been a revival of the "classical" methods, which includes Italics, but also things like Spencerian and Palmer, as well as new takes on old philosophies, such as New American Cursive's "Cursive First" approach (popular in some classical schools). 

 

 

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Thank you @dms525 and @arcfide:thumbup:

 

Fascinating stuff, and it points me towards new avenues to explore/rabbit-holes to fall down 😉

Foul in clear conditions, but handsome in the fog.

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@Mercian wrote

>it makes kids spend their formative years learning that set of ‘ball-&-stick’ letter glyphs, and then requires them to learn/switch to a new, different, set of glyphs for ‘grown-up writing’

 

What makes you believe that they have to change when growing up?

Kids rarely have to use longhand at all. They text on their mobiles.

They type at a keyboard. Listen to books. Have to "write a memo"?

Just tell your mobile "Memo to self".

 

Why change just because you grow up?

 

Have fun!
Claes in Lund, Sweden

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@Mercian :

You're right that Tove Jansson was from Finland, so she must have learnt her cursive there, and probably developed her personal style a bit too. Yes, it's a beautiful script. I came to think about it since the text in the encircled SÖ sample in my first post  is from her "Toffle" book. 

The wiki article on teaching script was very informative! I read quite a few texts about it the last days - my interest was prompted when I found the calligraphy book of Anckers in the library, with a few pages on her script for schools.

 

@Claes

I'm not surprised to see that. Apparently the current eduction goal for handwriting has been reached when the pupils can produce simple  readable text in block letters.

 

@arcfide

It was really interesting to read your historical exposition, and learn that the Roundhand-Italic battle was international!

I'm inclined to believe that the calligrapher Anckers was right, and the Swedish reform could have succeeded if they had not simply dumped the new script on the teachers, but had instead arranged italic courses for the teachers, and introduced a dedicated handwriting subject in the schools.

 

I might even have another go at a classical italic hand, if I can get over my mental block against it from primary school.

Edited by battra
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