LINGUIST List 3.713

Mon 21 Sep 1992

Disc: Last Posting on Punctuation

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. , Punctuation reform summary
  2. Anthony C. Woodbury, 3.698 Punctuation
  3. This space for rent, Re: 3.698 Punctuation
  4. co15, Re: 3.698 Punctuation
  5. , anachronistic spelling rules
  6. Ivan A Derzhanski, 3.698 Punctuation
  7. Michael Kac, Re: 3.690 Queries: Unknown language; Punctuation Reform
  8. Michael Everson, Reanalyses and Punctuation

Message 1: Punctuation reform summary

Date: 16 September 1992, 19:12:5Punctuation reform summary
From: <>
Subject: Punctuation reform summary

 I thank everyone who responded about punctuation reform.

 I thank Dave Eddington, George Fowler, Andy Kehler, Michael Niv,
Peter Svenonius, Larry Trask, Bob Yates, and Arnold Zwicky
for pointing me toward the essay that I had asked about:

Pullum, Geoffrey K. 1984. "Punctuation and Human Freedom". NLLT,
 4:419-425. Rpt. in G. K. Pullum, _The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax
 and Other Irreverent Essays on the Study of Language_ (University of
 Chicago Press, 1991), pp. 67-75.

 Also I thank Arnold Zwicky and Gregor Erbach for referring me to the

Nunberg, Geoffrey. 1990. _The Linguistics of Punctuation_. "A CSLI volume,
 distributed by the University of Chicago Press".

 However, I have as yet received no practical suggestions for instigating
the reform, other than to "get William Safire on our side". And he may already
be there:
I thank "Massimo" for referring to a column on the subject by Safire in the
_New York Times Magazine_, "this year, or at most last year".

 By the way, the LSA Style Sheet seems to endorse "logical" punctuation,
at least for the single quotes of glosses, as in the following:
 The word means 'cart', not 'horse'.
I thank Ellen Prince for pointing this out.

 Larry Gorbet tells me that _Webster's Standard American Style Manual_
(Merriam-Webster, 1985), p. 42, first endorses the placement of all commas
and periods inside quotes, then notes that "some writers" draw a
distinction and punctuate according to sense. He quotes: "This
distinction was previously observed in a wide range of publications,
including U.S. Congressional publications and Merriam-Webster dictionaries."
[Yes, period inside this time, since it's part of the quote -- LH]

 My 1984 MW dictionary's style sheet (pp. 1543-1544) does not mention
the "logical" option. Likewise my 1977 MLA Handbook. In the following
quotation from it, pardon my not adding a third set of quotation marks:
"Read 'Kubla Khan,'" he told me. This illogical example appears on p. 28.

 Many people sympathized with my viewpoint, but -- I repeat -- hardly any
practical suggestions were given. A few pointed out the probable futility
of promoting reform. Thanks to all.

Lee Hartman ga5123siucvmb.bitnet
Department of Foreign Languages
Southern Illinois University
Carbondale, IL 62901 U.S.A.
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Message 2: 3.698 Punctuation

Date: Wed, 16 Sep 92 13:20:51 -03.698 Punctuation
From: Anthony C. Woodbury <>
Subject: 3.698 Punctuation

While standard editorial prescriptions for period-quotation mark ordering
are annoying from the point of view of artificial language construction,
they are familiar friends from natural language. If you assume that
periods are more tightly "bound" than quotation marks (perhaps for aesthetic
reasons?), then they show classic clitic behavior when logic dictates
the opposite order.

Tony Woodbury
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Message 3: Re: 3.698 Punctuation

Date: 16 Sep 1992 15:47:01 -0400Re: 3.698 Punctuation
From: This space for rent <>
Subject: Re: 3.698 Punctuation

Mark Aronoff's example: "How goes the
battle"? he inquired.

would be unacceptable in the punctuation I learned in jr. high school. I
learned that periods and commas go inside the quotes no matter what, but that
other punctuation like question marks and exclamation marks are placed
logically. So Aronoff's example would be "How goes the battle?" he enquired.

And why is it we can't say '"How goes the battle?" enquired he' when we can say
"how goes the battle?" enquired the soldier'
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Message 4: Re: 3.698 Punctuation

Date: Wed, 16 Sep 92 22:53 EDT
From: co15 <>
Subject: Re: 3.698 Punctuation

Placing commas and periods inside quotation marks goes back to the invention
of moveable type. Period and comma type blocks are small. If set to the
right of the "close quote" they were likely to move during inking or
pressing. There may be a more complete (and authoratative) treatment in
Michael Olmert's The Book of the Book (Smithsonian Press).
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Message 5: anachronistic spelling rules

Date: Thu, 17 Sep 1992 13:27:25 anachronistic spelling rules
From: <>
Subject: anachronistic spelling rules

If the strange "period inside quotation marks" rule has to do with the history
of printing, this would not be the only case of a spelling rule that once
had a function but is now completely useless and only harmful because of
totally new typographical technology.
 Other examples are:
 --The spelling of "give", "have", "love" with a final "e"; this goes back
 to the time when there was no u/v distinction, so a word-final "v" could
 not be recognized as such.
 --The spelling of "monk", "come", "love", etc. with "o" rather than "u"
 because "m", "n" and "v" looked so similar to "u" in late medieval
 writing that it was safer to replace "u" in the vicinity of such letters
 by its closest neighbor, "o".
 --In German, the special letter "B" (I don't mean capital b, but the letter
 ess-zett, usually replaced by "ss" if the character is lacking) MUST be
 used at the end of the word, even where purely orthographic alternations
 arise, as in "lassen" ('let') vs. "laB" (imperative). This is due to
 the ban on final "ss" in the older German script that was in wide use
 until the 1930s.

My conclusion is that unless we try to adapt our rules to changing
environments (including techological changes, which occur at an ever faster
pace), we may end up with a totally dysfunctional writing system.
Rather than giving in to editors' demands, I would propose to found an
editors' association for reasonable spelling. Aren't many of us editors

Martin Haspelmath, Free University of Berlin
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Message 6: 3.698 Punctuation

Date: Wed, 16 Sep 92 20:00:32 BS3.698 Punctuation
From: Ivan A Derzhanski <>
Subject: 3.698 Punctuation

> Date: 14 Sep 1992 10:21:59 -0400 (EDT)
> From: Mark H Aronoff <>
> I have discussed this very
> question many times with my editor wife. She has two reasonable points.
> First, it looks better to have the punctuation mark inside the
> quotation marks.

(1) Better by whose standard? It definitely looks much worse to me.
(2) I would think that the primary purpose of punctuation is to
 emphasise the logical structure of the text, not just to look pretty.
(3) Irrespective of the subject area, an argument from aesthetics
 can't be called a reasonable point.

> Second, other punctuation marks seem odd outside the quotation marks,
> especially in direct discourse in a narrative. For example: "How
> goes the battle"? he inquired.

Right. The reason is that here it is a question that is being
quoted, which is why the question mark belongs inside. Compare:

 How do you spell the word "dog"?

See the difference?

It is obvious to me that the rule was introduced by people who had not
the slightest idea of the purpose of quotation marks, and I would
suggest that at present it does the mischievous job of making people
less aware of the purpose of quotation marks and punctuation in
general. I think the fight deserves the time and effort.

 `If ye hiv ears oan yer heid - then use them tae lissen.' (The Glasgow Gospel)
Ivan A Derzhanski (;
* Centre for Cognitive Science, 2 Buccleuch Place, Edinburgh EH8 9LW, UK
* Cowan House, Pollock Halls, 18 Holyrood Park Road, Edinburgh EH16 5BD, UK
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Message 7: Re: 3.690 Queries: Unknown language; Punctuation Reform

Date: Fri, 18 Sep 92 09:07:13 CDRe: 3.690 Queries: Unknown language; Punctuation Reform
From: Michael Kac <>
Subject: Re: 3.690 Queries: Unknown language; Punctuation Reform

Re Lee Hartman's comment on stupid punctuation conventions, yes, yes and
again yes! But it goes farther -- it should work the same way with, e.g.
parentheses. So if you parenthesize someting within a sentence, the period
should go outside (like this). But if a whole sentence is parenthesized, the
period should go inside. (Like this.) Experience suggests, however, that we
won't get very far with this. Editors presume themselves to be the sole ex-
perts in matters of this kind -- what does a bunch of mere linguists know
about such things?

Michael Kac
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Message 8: Reanalyses and Punctuation

Date: Fri, 18 Sep 92 20:50:31 GMReanalyses and Punctuation
From: Michael Everson <EVERSONIRLEARN.UCD.IE>
Subject: Reanalyses and Punctuation

Mark Aronoff states, on shifting the quotation mark and punctuation:

>If you value your time and energy, give up! I have discussed this very
>question many times with my editor wife. She has two reasonable points.
>First, it looks better to have the punctuation mark inside the quotation
>marks. Second, other punctuation marks seem odd outside the quotation marks,
>especially in direct discourse in a narrative. For example: "How goes the
>battle"? he inquired.

First, no it doesn't look better to have the punctuation mark inside
the quotation. Taste is a matter of exposure. :-) Second, the example
you cite is not, I think, typical in any orthography I know of, English
or not. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English (OUP 1990)
gives the following:
10.1 The main use is to indicate indirect speech and quotations. A
single turned comma (') is normally used at the beginning, and a single
apostrophe (') at the end of the quoted matter:
 She said, 'I have something to ask you.'
[Note that American use (and some British use) used double quotation marks
instead, cf. 10.5 below. ME]

10.2 The closing quotation mark should come after any punctuation mark
which is a part of the quoted matter, but before any mark which is not:
 They shouted, 'Watch out!".
 They were described as 'an unruly bunch'.
 Did I hear you say 'go away!'?

10.3 Punctuation marks dividing a sentence of reported speech is put
inside the quotation marks:
 'Go away,' he said, 'and don't ever come back.'

10.4 Quotation marks are also used of cited words or phrases:
 What does 'integrated circuit' mean?

10.5 A quotation within a quotation is put in double quotation marks:
 'Have you any idea,' he said, 'what "integrated circuit" means?'

Keeping only the punctuation which _belongs_ to the quoted material
within the quotation marks is sensible, logical, and non-arbitrary. It
reminds me of the battle of whether a comma should be used before "and"
in a list. The Concise Oxford treats this as well:

5.6.1 Commas are used to separate items in a list or sequence. Usage
varies as to the inclusion of a comma before "and" in the last item;
the practice fo this dictionary is to include it:
 The following will report at 9.30 sharp: Jones, Smith, Thompson, and

5.6.2 A final comma before "and", when used regularly and consistently,
has the advantage of clarifying the grouping of a composite name occurring
at the end of a list:
 We shall go to Smiths, Boots, Woolworths, and Marks and Spencer.

It's always seemed to me that the American custom (and I was born and bred
there) was too authoritarian. "You don't/can't/shouldn't put a comma
before 'and'." "Why not?" "Because." In my typesetting and design courses
at the School of Architecture, I teach my students to _think_ about
content, not blindly follow form. The habit of including the comma
with the quoted material ('dogs,') is widespread in Britain and Ireland
as well. I say we expunge it in favo[u]r of the non-arbitrary

Interestingly, as we in English have no Acade/mie Anglaise, the suggestions
or standards of the Oxford dictionaries are rarely taken on board either
here or in North America. Take the suffix -ise/-ize, for instance, widely
considered an Americanism by many English. The most eloquent treatment of
the suffix is found in the Oxford Dictionary itself; that isn't to hand
at the moment, but the Concise treats it as well:

"The form '-ize' has been in use in English since the 16th c.; it is
widely used in American English, but it is not an Americanism. The
spelling '-ise' (reflecting French influence) is in common use, esp.
in British English, and is obligatory in certain cases: (a) where it
forms part of a larger word-element, such as '-mise' (= sending) in
'compromise', and '-prise' (= taking) in 'surprise'; and (b) in verbs
corresponding to a noun with -s- in the stem, such as 'advertise' and
'televise'.... [from or after French -iser f. Late Latin -izare f.
Greek -izo]

On a reanalysis of ASL BE-CAREFUL:
>and saw her father sign in ASL BE-CAREFUL in translation. She expressed
>surprise that the ASL BE-CAREFUL was "be careful" in English. She said she
>always thought it meant something like "keep your eyes/gaze on it" (that
>is, she reanalyzed BE-CAREFUL to KEEP-EYES). Not a bad reanalysis since for
>a deaf person, to be careful often *is* to be on the (visual) alert.

Cf. German "Vorsicht!" 'Careful!' = Eng. foresight

Alan Harris cited the word "posslq". "Posslq"? He also cited the American
pronunciation of "sheik":

>Lastly, English pron. of 'sheik' is [shi:k] (rhymes with "sleek"); the Arabic
>is [sheyx].

Once again, from the Concise Oxford:
 Sheikh (also shaikh, sheik) /sheik/.... [ult. f. Arab. 'shayk_'
old man, sheikh, f. 'shak_a' be or grow old.]
Do American dictionaries give both variants /shi:k/ and /sheik/?

Michael Everson
School of Architecture, UCD, Richview, Clonskeagh, Dublin 14, E/ire
Phone: +353-1-706-2745 Fax: +353-1-283-7778
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