i'm not a fan of capital letters

iOS settings: auto-capitalisation disabled

quite some time ago i wrote a post in which i ranted about how i got disppointed by esperanto being advertised to me as “very simple”, yet i was able to find so many ways to make it simpler still.

so… i'm creating a language (as a passion project, not really expecting it to be actually used) in which i'm focusing on simplicity – and one of those simplifications is… completely dropping capital letters. why?

they're complicated

capital letters might seem pretty straighforward to us – you just put them at the beginning of sentences and for proper names, et voilà, right? well, not really… head to wikipedia and just scroll through that list. all of that are differences between languages in the ways their rules require capitalisation of words.

as many of you probably know, in german you're supposed to capitalise every noun – not just the proper nouns. seems strange to non-german speakers, and natural to native speakers. but the the complications go so much further than that.

“The Evening and the Morning” is a book title, so we have to capitalise every word… except for “and” and “the”, of course! unless we translate it into polish, in which case it will be “Wieczór i pornek” with only one capital letter.

“Alexander von Humboldt” is a name, so it's capitalised, except for “von”, because you need to know german and be aware that it's a preposition.

and let's not forget that the pronoun “i” (and only this one) is spelled with a capital letter. so simple!

and those examples are just the beginning of the list of caveats.

they're not that useful

do english speakers suffer from horrible misunderstanding just because they don't have their nouns marked with capital letters, like german does? i don't think so. we don't even think about that. we don't miss the lack of this amazing feature, do we?

i've been writing this post without really using capital letters – it might be a bit shocking at first, sure, but did it really make the text incomprehensible? or even a bit hard to understand? (setting aside a little time to get used to it, of course)

and if only we actually had to get used to that. just look around, on social media, in your DMs, especially when chatting with younger generations – no-caps is already pretty common and intentional. check out tom scott's video on the subject: why typing like this is sometimes okay.

they're very eurocentric

depending on the languages you speak, the duplication of the alphabet into two redundant sets might seem obvious and common to you.

but alphabets aren't the only writings systems out there, and not all writing systems or alphabets have a concept of letter case. go on, try to find capital letters in arabic, nepali, chinese or korean. many of the world's languages are doing just fine without doubling every letter and using them to comply with arbitrary rules.

many people, most notably native americans, are intentionally writing their names in small letters, to mark their opposition to the language brought by the colonists and to its ortography rules.

there's a professor in calgary, canada who isn't using almost any capital letters, believing that would show “complicity with systems of oppression”.

and i keep seeing more and more examples of people intentionally skipping capitalisation not just in tweets or private messages, but also blog posts or books. there's a gender non-conforming artist alok v menon, there's the author of the anti-license manifesto boringcactus, and probably many many more.

they can be a tool of indoctrination

“other gods are just ‘gods’, our God is the ‘God’!”

as a person who doesn't believe in your god, why are you trying to make me show respect for your imaginary friend or make my aknowledge that he's different in any substantial way from thousands of other deities the humanity has made up over the millenia?

if “breaking the rules of orthography” is what it takes now to stop legitimising your claims that your religion is somehow special (and implicitly: true), then i'll gladly break them.


once, when i refused to capitalise the “g” in “god”, a pious christian asked me a gotcha question: “what if i refused to capitalise your name, huh?!”. well, they conviniently forgot that “god” is not the name of that literary character, he introduces himself as “yahwe”. and apparently they didn't notice that my twitter display name is… “andrea”. small “a”. i don't care. prefer it, actually.

there's different registers to language. we don't speak the same way to every person in our lives. and we don't have to write the same way either.

when tweeting and messaging i'm mostly using small letters. mostly. but when writing more official emails, i stick to the “proper” grammar. when i write the blog – well, i used to follow the rules, but i think i'll stop that. it's all flexible.

really? no capital letters?

nah. some, i guess. like in acronyms: there's a huge differnce between “US” vs. “us”; but even for the ones that aren't so ambigous, i like kinda like them as they are. capitalisation also plays a huge role in naming conventions in programming. capital letters are crucial in the SI system of units. things like that.

so i kinda see a place for capital letters in the future of languages that's similar to how we use greek letters in non-greek langages. there's plenty of “α”, “β” or “π” in english – but they're symbols, not integral parts of the alphabet.

A photo of me

About the author

Hi! I'm Andrea (they/them). I tell computers what to do, both for a living and for fun, I'm also into blogging, writing and photography. I'm trying to make the world just a little bit better: more inclusive, more rational and more just.

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