I had a thought a few days ago while I was thinking about conlangs. If a language had a strict verb-final order, it could easily get away without using punctuation to show the end of a sentence.

German somewhat does this. Its sub-clauses are always SOV (simple sentences are normally V2 order). This means that the end of a sub-clause is marked by the verb, which makes center embedding rather easy.

Of course, there are languages that really were written without punctuation in the past. East Asia didn't have punctuation until recently. And Latin, at least early on, didn't even put spaces between words. Of course, the far east has an advantage in that they use logographs heavily (though Korean has largely abandoned their use). Thus they don't need to use spaces to show word boundaries (and yes, I know Japanese has a syllabrary, but word boundaries are still pretty obvious most of the time since logographs have to always appear at the beginning of a word, thus a syllable followed by a logograph always indicates a word boundary). Also, both Japanese and Korean are SOV. Chinese, however, is SVO and configurational. I don't get how they could get away without marking sentence boundaries.

And note, this was all in the ancient past. There's probably a good reason why languages today all have punctuation. They at the very least will indicate the boundary between sentences, if nothing else.

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    Actually a large and growing subset of the total human writings has limited sentence punctuation: SMS / messenger. May 26, 2018 at 5:11
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    That format is also reviving the writing of some other ancient features - aorist past in Serbo-Croatian, pro-drop in English and German, languages like Levantine Arabic and Swiss German. May 26, 2018 at 5:14
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    Writing is underdetermined: it doesn't represent every single feature of language, but just enough that a speaker can recover the meaning. Punctuation isn't necessary for that; it just makes the recovery more convenient, so that reading goes down more smoothly. May 26, 2018 at 14:14
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    That said, writing systems appear to eventually develop their own structures, independent from the source language; and punctuation can then be used to convey nuances that wouldn't be apparent from choice of words or intonation. So punctuation is optional for comprehension; but once you have it, you can do some cool stuff. See Nunberg, The Linguistics of Punctuation, for examples. May 26, 2018 at 14:16
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    Possible duplicate of Is punctuation necessary in written language? Nov 29, 2018 at 17:54


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