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.Punctuation before sentences ?Thoughts

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  • When reading people take in several things at once: the syllable being pronounced, the word, and the overall sentance. So that means we "skip ahead" to catch the punctuation. Of course in English it isn't that hard as questions always lead off with the same few words, etc.
  • After learning Spanish, it's one thing and works out pretty well if the sentence needs the extra intonation. It's completely unnecessary though. I'm learning Japanese right now, which really doesn't have punctuation although it is creeping into the language more and more. It has equivalent periods, and quote marks. If it's a question, you add 'ka' to the end of the sentence. 'okane wo moteimasenka' is the same as, "You don't have any money, do you?"

    It works out really easy because the word order is different so it doesn't matter if it's a question or statement, because you know all the objects and you can add the ka or remove it and the meaning remains roughly the same.

    "How are you?" vs. "How are you." are completely different in a very-wrong sense, but (again, Japanese example) "Genki desu" and "Genki desuka" have two different meanings. One is "I'm good" the other is "How are you?" (It's slightly different, but I'm simplifying for the example)

    I would much prefer to see the language have an internal constructor for interrogative statements, than fucking with the punctuation.
    • The punctuation is; however, very important if you intend to read aloud. English and Japanese have the advantage of having question constructors at the beginning of the sentence (and in japanese, as you mentioned, the end as well) while Spanish, by contrast, doesn't. In Spanish, often a word changes meaning if used in a question versus a declaration. Intonation is very important in Spanish when asking a question much more so than in English or Japanese.

      Informal spoken Japanese, though, often drops a WHOLE lot of particles and those kinds of word cues (-ka for instance) from the sentence and relies on intonation to produce a question versus a statement. In order to write such dialogue you need to have punctuation such as question marks and exclimation marks (in cases where -yo or -zo are omitted). A lot of japanese humor is based on changing the meaning of the whole sentence at the bitter end with such tactics.

      Anyway, I think that keeping the use of punctuation very formal is good for a written language as it brings a lot of meaning to the words that would be lost otherwise. The Spanish style of punctuation is probably my favorite with exclimation and question marks preceding and following the sentence and periods at the end of the sentence.

      Another idea, though, would be to forego the punctuation and use another indicator instead. What if you instead wrote interrogative sentences in italics and exclamitory sentences in bold? An interesting outcome of doing that would be that you could have an exclamitory question without having to resort to the confusing "?!" or "!?" marks or simply a "!" as is the norm. With written communication being increasingly typewritten, it'd be a nice standard to adopt.

      ~GoRK
      • English and Japanese have the advantage of having question constructors at the beginning of the sentence (and in japanese, as you mentioned, the end as well) while Spanish, by contrast, doesn't. In Spanish, often a word changes meaning if used in a question versus a declaration. Intonation is very important in Spanish when asking a question much more so than in English or Japanese.


        Uhm, Japanese doesn't have any constructors in the beginning to denote it is a question being asked. Japanese word order is SOV (The boy ball hits); where as English, Spanish, German, etc. is SVO (The boy hits the ball) -- I'm not sure what you mean with this, I may just be misunderstanding.

        Intonation is very important in Spanish when asking a question much more so than in English or Japanese.

        I wouldn't say it is more important than in English. You don't really need it in Japanese, other than to sound "native". In Spanish, the questions are asked largely in the same manner than English questions are asked. You keep picking the 3 languages that I know ^_^

        Informal spoken Japanese, though, often drops a WHOLE lot of particles and those kinds of word cues (-ka for instance) from the sentence and relies on intonation to produce a question versus a statement. In order to write such dialogue you need to have punctuation such as question marks and exclimation marks (in cases where -yo or -zo are omitted). A lot of japanese humor is based on changing the meaning of the whole sentence at the bitter end with such tactics.

        Informal Japanese often drops more than just the particles out of it. When you see a friend, you will often times just hear, "Genki? Genki, Genki? Genki!" that can often times confuse people. The difference is familiarity in the expression, and understanding that the person couldn't possibly know something they are stating. Like, if you called me up and I said "You are at home" both of us would know I was probably asking a question because I had no direct knowledge of your origin, unless I have caller ID, in which case this example doesn't work so lets pretend I don't.

        Anyway, I think that keeping the use of punctuation very formal is good for a written language as it brings a lot of meaning to the words that would be lost otherwise. The Spanish style of punctuation is probably my favorite with exclimation and question marks preceding and following the sentence and periods at the end of the sentence.


        When you write in Japanese, even often times when writing to friends, you will write in a more formal style. This negates any need for extra punctuation, except for the habit for Japanese people to over-use the ! and ? keys for whatever reason, but that seems isolated to younger Japanese girls, ne? (Apologies to those who get that joke, ne!)

        Another idea, though, would be to forego the punctuation and use another indicator instead. What if you instead wrote interrogative sentences in italics and exclamitory sentences in bold? An interesting outcome of doing that would be that you could have an exclamitory question without having to resort to the confusing "?!" or "!?" marks or simply a "!" as is the norm. With written communication being increasingly typewritten, it'd be a nice standard to adopt.

        I still think it is easier and less hastle to have it built in to the language itself, rather than meta data built on top of it (Which, arguably, punctuation falls into that category). I think that meta-data layered onto of written language detracts from the meaning of the written language, instead of parsing just the meaning you must also parse the meta data. Where as often times, the classification of the statement is held in the meaning. If I say "How are you", no meta-data is needed because it's a common-knowledge type thing, the meta-data just helps people who are not used to the language in question.

        • Uhm, Japanese doesn't have any constructors in the beginning to denote it is a question being asked. Japanese word order is SOV (The boy ball hits); where as English, Spanish, German, etc. is SVO (The boy hits the ball) -- I'm not sure what you mean with this, I may just be misunderstanding.

          Think "What, When, Where, Why, How" ... In Japanese, like in English they often come at the beginning of questions, so you can tell it's a question without having to resort to intonation or interrogative verb forms or particles at the end.

          I wouldn't say it is more important than in English. You don't really need it in Japanese, other than to sound "native". In Spanish, the questions are asked largely in the same manner than English questions are asked. You keep picking the 3 languages that I know ^_^

          Yeah, I re-thought this and I suppose it's probably equally important in all languages - but it is very imporant in all langauges too, so don't go discounting it in Japanese and then use it to make your next point about informal speech :)

          However you want to look at it, punctuation rules in any language will probably remain intact longer than most of the words and word forms they contain. I mean, keep in mind that no matter how you want to argue it, Japanese uses punctuation primarily because it generally does not contain spaces between words or sentences. It would be very difficult to read anything where sentences and quotations were not divided by something!
          • Think "What, When, Where, Why, How" ... In Japanese, like in English they often come at the beginning of questions, so you can tell it's a question without having to resort to intonation or interrogative verb forms or particles at the end.


            True, but intonation is much more important in Japanese when you are speaking like that. Also, nani (What) is always used as a question, so that's an easy one. When is weird, because it translates pretty much as "What time" (I know it's slightly different, but.. bear with me, its easier to explain it as "What time...") It is a valid point though, the 5 Ws in any language generally need no further info to get the point across

            However you want to look at it, punctuation rules in any language will probably remain intact longer than most of the words and word forms they contain. I mean, keep in mind that no matter how you want to argue it, Japanese uses punctuation primarily because it generally does not contain spaces between words or sentences. It would be very difficult to read anything where sentences and quotations were not divided by something!

            Japanese doesn't use punctuation though. Traditional Japanese only has quote and period. When you read hiragana, you must be able to basically read it out loud as if someone is speaking to be able to understand what it is, because if you try to really just read it, you can lose your tracking pretty easy. That's why kanji is helpful, not only does one set of kanjis have a specific meaning (The japanese word for butterfly sounds the same as the word for lower intenstines) differentiating words that sound the same, but it also helps break out the text.

            I definitely agree that the punctuation rules will remain, because the meta data typically lasts longer than the data... :)
  • Xerithane and I seem to have taken similar routes in language learning...

    My first language is Spanish, then English, then Tagalog (lived in the philippines for 10 years) and now I'm learning Japanese in college.

    The only real need for punctuation is to help us in speaking it, or for very few cases actually knowing the meaning -- most times context suffices. For example: How do you know what I'm trying to say :: this could only be a question, as it is in the syntax of a question. So actually, one could even argue that we could do away with punctuation as a whole, as it doesn't really change our language, but instead organise it. Did you even notice that the last two commas I used were completely unnecessary and illegal?

    As Xerithane mentioned, Japanese has a taken this approach, in which very few punctuation marks are needed, commas (which go the other way) actually change the meaning of what is being said. Here's what my book, Japanese: The Spoken Language has to say about gerunds and commas:

    "When the gerund ends in comma into nation, there is often a notion of increased seperation between the gerund adn what follows, even though the basic notion of actualization is still present. In other words, the following predicate may occur distinct from teh gerund but assuming it's actualization. ex.
    katte kudasai 'please (grant me) buy(ing),' and katte, kudasai 'Having bought it, give it to me' ('Buy it and [then] give it to me')"

    Now spanish goes the complete opposite way, and does what I think is overkill. What is the need for punctuation at the end of a sentence if it's already marked at the beginning? To mark the end of the sentence. Well, did we really need that punctuation at the beginning to convey that a question or an exclamation is about to take place when we're reading? Not really. When one is writing a speech, it makes sense to mark such things so that you know where to start the tone (remember that questions start hi, go lo, then go hi again whereas statements go mostly down, but declarations go up and exclamations start lo, go hi, then go lo again) but in writing, we're usually smart enough to figure it out.

    My thoughts...

    • The only real need for punctuation is to help us in speaking it, or for very few cases actually knowing the meaning

      Yeah, that's true. The Talmud has very little puntuation. Most punctuation is just to end a section, and that isn't always to often. Many Hebrew writing are the same way, though more recent ones have periods.
  • No. Don't like it.

Top Ten Things Overheard At The ANSI C Draft Committee Meetings: (10) Sorry, but that's too useful.

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