Proper placement of exclamdown and questiondown

speter's picture

A question to our Spanish language typographers: where vertically should exclamdown and questiondown (i.e., ¡¿) be positioned? I've seen examples with the characters essentially on the baseline, and I've seen examples with the characters shifted down, though never as far as the level of decenders.

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

Generally in English you invert the order of the statement and that signals a question. Spanish, not as much.

Absolutely:

Maria started to write. = María empezó a escribir.

Did Maria start to write? = ¿María empezó a escribir?

hrant's picture

Spanglish: Maria started to write? ¡¿Why she do that?!

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture

You think that's funny?

**

Perhaps it's sort of an institutionalized elision.
I don't know Spanish, but in French many questions begin with "Est-ce que..." --Is it (true) that...
And in English: (Do) you think that's funny?

paul d hunt's picture

it's interesting that

1) Do you think that's funny?
and
2) You think that's funny?

have different implications. the first asking WHETHER you think it is funny, and the second asking whether YOU think that is funny.

ebensorkin's picture

I expect someone with a more profound education may be able to tie this up in knots but I'll put it out there just the same - I might learn something.

I was thinking about what Hrant said about putting the ? mark at the beginning of a sentence in English. I think that while it's obvious it isn't likely to happen any time soon - it's an interesting question anyway. But I don't agree with his idea that it would be a good plan. Discovering that a sentence is a question, or guessing based on the structure is a deep part of English. It seems like an essential aspect of the language to me.

English is really flexible, and keeps changing so 'why object?' you might ask. But the flexibility is mostly in vocabulary I think. Which is why English has an unusual number of words. The grammar sticks around. No? And Unlike using <<>> (or >><<) vs "" ; the use of ¿ at the beginning of a sentence changes the 'way' it means what it means by changing the process you use to get there.

I would be interested what readers of Spanish think of this idea. Does it feel different to find a question in English Vs. Spanish?

hrant's picture

> it isn’t likely to happen any time soon

I just did it yesterday.
Personally I'm not interested in "official standards"*, I'm interested in
instances. You think it's a good idea, you do it. The rest is history, or not.

* Because since we're not living under a monarchy I don't expect
quick, effective improvements to something as common as language.

> It seems like an essential aspect of the language to me.

Nah, it's just a limitation of the writing system, and one of the easiest to fix.

hhp

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

I would be interested what readers of Spanish think of this idea. Does it feel different to find a question in English Vs. Spanish?

¿Would it feel weird to me to see an opening question mark in an English sentence? ¡Yep, it sure would! ;-)

Just as weird as coming upon written Spanish questions or exclamations that are missing these opening characters... (Full disclosure: I grew up bilingual.) But I see this a lot in e-mails and on websites -- not every Spanish-speaking person bothers to place all of the accents on the vowels that need them, for that matter, or to even draw the tilde on top of the ñ, even when they know that año does not mean the same as ano... ;-) I've seen examples of people deliberately spelling año as anio, because they don't know the keyboard shortcut for the ñ (whether on Mac or on Windows).

hrant's picture

> I’ve seen examples of people deliberately spelling año as anio

Well, it does save the city money. :-/

hhp

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

Anyways, I still think Mr. Crossgrove has said it best so far: Spanish structure is less explicit and benefits from leading punctuation. English tends to put big honking clues at the beginning of sentences that are questions. Generally in English you invert the order of the statement and that signals a question.

So for English, it doesn't really seem like a limitation of the writing system if said writing system doesn't need it. If English sentence structure needed something like opening question marks and exclamation points in writing, then they would have been invented at some point, ¿no? :-)

hrant's picture

> if said writing system doesn’t need it.

It needs it less. But it still needs it.

> If English sentence structure needed something like opening
> question marks and exclamation points in writing, then they
> would have been invented at some point, ¿no?

No.
The establishment, in any given field, is always fighting change,
even if the benefit to most people is clear. Because people tend to
care about themselves, about their own comfort, more than the
development/integrity of what are essentially abstractions.

hhp

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

Similar online discussion... ¡aquí! Also, a Wikipedia article on the inverted question mark. Plus... an article at The Straight Dope talks about the origins of the question mark.

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

LOL! Hrant, that picture of the Alta Canyada sign is great!

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

...but that y looks thicker than the rest of the letters. :-D

crossgrove's picture

I'd rather see Canyada than simply Canada, with the accent missing.

And then there’s bad English, which we still have to read and absorb!
“I asked Maria you wanted tuna or turkey sandwich?”

That sounds like speech to me, not writing; I'd expect the writing of the same speaker to be atrocious in a different way, or possibly better than his/her speech, but not the same. I've seen a lot of examples of this. Some very eloquent people write like children and vice versa.

Do I care
I do care

Adding punctuation before English sentences doesn't read as improvement to me. If illiteracy has penetrated to that level, then we don't need "improvement" so much as remediation.

hrant's picture

What about with a macron? :-/

> That sounds like speech to me, not writing

Yes, books are expressly forbidden from including dialog.
Ever heard of "The Color Purple"? Improper English can be quite effective.

> If illiteracy has penetrated to that level, then we
> don’t need “improvement” so much as remediation.

But that's a different sphere of action.
And think for example of a book that tries to
remediate poor English through examples.

hhp

crossgrove's picture

Good writers construct their dialog to be understood well as vernacular speech. Typically, written expressions of this kind are not made to be confusing in the way you are talking about. The example you gave is confusing out of context, but in the body of a story (like the Color Purple) it wouldn't be. So what's your point? Non-snotty replies please. Don't forget the kind of vernacular remarks I've posted in the past.

hrant's picture

I don't understand your resistance here. English sentences can sometimes not be discernible as questions until you get to the end. And this is not confined to mangled English (as if most English is squeaky clean). In these cases an opening question mark helps. Finis.

hhp

crossgrove's picture

Is the need so great that the language suffers, given the conventions of reading and writing that English speakers maintain? Is this a major flaw in English that requires repair, or is it just something you'd enjoy seeing? Remember, your POV is not average. I'm still not seeing English as so broken that this would magically help a lot. I think basic illiteracy is much larger than this.

Did you have trouble understanding those last sentences? This one?

You tend to be on the constant lookout for ways to reform language and writing, and you must realize it's not my opinion or conservatism that's in your way, it's the collective momentum/weight of some long-evolved systems that have been adapted by millions of people to be very, very flexible and expressive. If something needs to be added to English, it probably will catch fire. Have a ball, use punctuation at the beginning of sentences. But it's not 'finis' until the language reform has been adopted; I'm not holding my breath.

ebensorkin's picture

So Hrant, your argument to us is that it is a purely functional benefit.

Maaaaybe. But consider this counter argument: Culture.

Before you convict me of being a poet or something; [ heaven forfend! ;-) ] consider Japanese. In Japanese they have a less precise way of describing most things. A lot of context is needed to successfully 'get' what going on both in written form & speech. It's not a language in which it's easy to say for instance precisely where something is located like it is in German or English. But they like it that way. It's a positive cultural value from their point of view and I have heard many quite convincing arguments about what the benefits are mostly having to do with the richness and subtlety of expression that possible and engagement that the language requires - an Engagement that English doesn't require or cultivate to nearly the same degree.

Why all the Japanese stuff? Because I think that a valid counter argument might well be that English is already so over-specific that it needs all the room for swoooshy vagueness it can get. The inherently structurally repressed subtlety might be cultivating an unconscious wish for a more vagueness & poetry. That wish might account for the habit of English to acquire endless new words ( Oooh! What could that mean? ); and a significant tolerance and even love of dialects. Both things provide perhaps a kind of needed 'terra incognito' ready to be explored.

The additional immediacy and clarity that an added ¿ to the front of an English sentence/question makes it clamp down harder. Or put another way - it stamps out a minor sense of suspense.

You might like that a lot given your predilection for spiky fonts and short brusque replys. And that's fine. I even like it about you.

But what's good for you may not be what the Culture of English wants - quite apart from what cultural gatekeepers, establishment types, the conservative by virtue of being frail and scared, and assorted stand-ins for 'the man' and Cruft might say. Sure they may be a pain in the ass. May be? ARE. But I think that's not all that's going on.

Nick Shinn's picture

It's the job of vernacular speech to push the limits of "correct" grammar and to defy transliteration. Know I'm sayin?

ebensorkin's picture

Nick I know what that means; but how does that impact either Hrant's idea or my rebuttal of it? You may be going somewhere with that but I can't seem to follow where that might be.

I thought of another way of framing my argument: Explicitness does always equal greater or better meaning.

hrant's picture

> Is the need so great that the language suffers

Well, need is relative. Is the need for Beorcana so great? Both opening question marks (in English) and Beorcana are improvements, and that's all the reason crazy people like us need! And when you say "your POV is not average", I would counter that our POV is not average!

> You tend to be on the constant lookout
> for ways to reform language and writing

Well, I tend to be on the constant lookout for improvements anywhere. It's just that I don't share most people's inhibition against reforming the most basic things we take for granted. The fact that I'm a writing-system mongrel is probably the reason.

> Did you have trouble understanding those last sentences?

Well, to clarify, it's not about understanding, it's about readability (specifically, reducing regressions). You can understand text set in NotCaslon, but that doesn't make it a text face.

> the collective momentum/weight of some long-evolved systems that have
> been adapted by millions of people to be very, very flexible and expressive.

I think a lot of it is dumb luck, and a lot of it is just dumb. Some things make sense, some don't. I believe neither in perfection, nor in improvement through oblivion; the users of something (in this case written language) aren't necessarily experts in understanding and leveraging it. And they don't even want to be. That's our job/problem.

> English is already so over-specific that it needs
> all the room for swoooshy vagueness it can get.

I actually don't think this is far-fetched. A good example is the power of ambiguity in the English "you", which is not explicitly singular or plural. It's really quite powerful in that way.

But this is not what's driving the resistance we're seeing here.

hhp

guifa's picture

Okay a few quick notes here.

If you take a look at the publisher Cátedra (one of the most common I see in literature courses because they always do very good critical editions), the font they used to use was always the lowered version. However, in recent editions, they have changed fonts and now use one that has the ¡ and ¿ at the same positioning as an l, rather than a j. I've always considered the l-positioned version to be more "modern", with the j-positioned being the more traditional.

hrant: Just like in German you might see a double-acute instead of an umlaut, in Spanish I know many people who write both ´ and ~ as a macron over their letters, myself included (mine is a very low-slanted acute over both). This isn't a modern convention, at least not in anything handwritten as you'll see handwritten documents dating back hundreds of years doing this, although in the typographical world it's a little bit more contemporary. A lot of road/metro signs in Spain will use it. I don't know about Latin America though. Incidentally, as you can see from most of the examples already posted, it is far more common and traditional in Spanish texts for the tilde to appear slanted upwards, that looks more like the flames coming out of lamps in a lot of university logos than what most consider a tilde. Also, at least in the Golden Age books I've worked with, a smaller italic tilde would actually look more like an inverted breve, though a lot more crescent-like. I can't get the insert-image thing to work but I'll try posting for work tomorrow when I'm on a PC.

«El futuro es una línea tan fina que apenas nos damos cuenta de pintarla nosotros mismos». (La Luz Oscura, por Javier Guerrero)

guifa's picture

Hrm, the edit button seems to be missing. I also wanted to point out that the street sign "Alta Canyada" might not be resultant of the signshop lacking an Ñ so much as it possibly being a street in Cataluña, which, in Català, most words that are cognate to Spanish that would have an Ñ in the latter will have an NY in the former.

Hence Cataluña / Catalunya, año / any, cañón / canyó.

«El futuro es una línea tan fina que apenas nos damos cuenta de pintarla nosotros mismos». (La Luz Oscura, por Javier Guerrero)

hrant's picture

Dude, that sign is in Glendale, CA. If they don't know
how to make a ñ, you can be sure they think Cataluña
is some Mexican alcoholic drink.

hhp

guifa's picture

Oh, well in that case never mind :) . In New Mexico the signs do have acute accents and tildes as appropriate, although one sign in Alburquerque the tilde was on backwards.

«El futuro es una línea tan fina que apenas nos damos cuenta de pintarla nosotros mismos». (La Luz Oscura, por Javier Guerrero)

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

Dude, that sign is in Glendale, CA.

I forgot to mention earlier that this happens a lot to Spanish names and last names in the U.S., too.

Every time I see the name of film director Victor Nunez, for example, my reaction is always to think, "Well, it's really written Núñez"... Or even my own last name... in print (on my letterhead, say) I still place an accent on it: Córdoba. But with my username here on Typophile, or for e-mail and other online stuff, technological limitations force me to use Cordoba.

hrant's picture

BTW, I live on Cañada boulevard. When we moved to this house we didn't have phone service for three days, because I tried to spell it out correctly. Since then I just say "Canada, like the country." But of course that can fail too - I remember once overhearing the manager of a large grocery store trying to help a customer use a calling card she had purchased from there, but ending up saying: "I'm sorry, but I'm not seeing a country code for Berlin." Then they ask these people to elect a president.

hhp

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

Since then I just say "Canada, like the country." But of course that can fail too

Well, wait a minute... "Canyada" (or "Cañada", or "Caniada") does not sound like "Canada"... In the case of a place name that's been "localized", isn't it better to just go with the flow?

In the suburbs of Buenos Aires there is a borough called Hurlingham, because it was settled by Britons, but in Spanish the "H" is silent, and the "u" sounds like "ooh" does in English. So you always get people discussing what the correct pronunciation is... But most people in Argentina pronounce it "in Spanish" and silence the H, even the ones who know English. It's not "correct", but it makes life easier, y'know? :-)

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

If you take a look at the publisher Cátedra (one of the most common I see in literature courses because they always do very good critical editions), the font they used to use was always the lowered version. However, in recent editions, they have changed fonts and now use one that has the ¡ and ¿ at the same positioning as an l, rather than a j. I've always considered the l-positioned version to be more "modern", with the j-positioned being the more traditional.

It's a shame you can't upload any images right now, guifa, because as Kent said earlier, it would be good to see the fonts they were using before and after. And of course there is no way of knowing if anyone at Cátedra took note of this difference, or if they just didn't have time to change that...

I was looking at some books from a Buenos Aires schoolbook publisher I used to work for, and I found one where depending on the font, the placement of the exclamdown and questiondown varies... I don't remember anyone ever saying anything about that while I was there... And I don't think we would have had time to fix something like that -- we were too busy creating the layouts of all the books they were doing that year!

hrant's picture

Yes, I pronounce it "ka-na-da" (and usually spell it
without the tilde on forms) just to avoid trouble.

But I wouldn't say it's been "localized", for the
simple fact that, officially, the tilde is in there.
When it's missing, or it's replaced with a macron
or a "y", that's just an aberration - although an
aberration that's telling of the sometimes dege-
nerative role of technology on culture; the older
hand-made signs all have the tilde. I gave a talk
about this topic in Yerevan last October, and I
think people liked it, even though it was actually
a technology conference! :-) I think I tapped into
an unspoken unease on the part of the delegates,
most of whom were from non-Western cultures.

hhp

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

When it's missing, or it's replaced with a macron or a "y", that's just an aberration - although an aberration that's telling of the sometimes degenerative role of technology on culture; the older hand-made signs all have the tilde.

This is just blind speculation on my part, but it could also be that the makers of the older, handmade signs were more aware of the Spanish origins of the name, or even that they came from Spanish-speaking families. Anyway, it wouldn't be the first time a word that comes from another culture gradually morphs into something slightly different -- just look at the origins of the word moccasin, or the name Manhattan.

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