Monthly Archives: January 2019

Different language often means different punctuation rules

Punctuation is the use of spacing, conventional signs, and certain typographical devices as aids to the understanding and correct reading of handwritten and printed text.

The rules of punctuation vary greatly between languages, as shown in the following examples in comparison to the English language.

The Greek language uses the English semicolon (;) as a question mark (?), while the functions of the colon (:) and semicolon (;) are performed by a raised point (·). Therefore, the English Where are you? will change into the Greek Πού είσαι;

In Japanese, a full stop is an open circle () rather than a solid dot, commas are slanted the opposite way to English commas (), and quotations are enclosed in corner-brackets (「」). In addition, there are no spaces in written Japanese. In formal Japanese, no particular symbol is used to mark interrogative sentences, which end with the normal Japanese full stop ().  Various types of question marks are only used in informal text messages, the internet, or letter writing between friends and resemble words in their form rather than symbols.

As for Korean, different symbols are used for quotes depending in which country the text in question has been written. In the North, guillemets (<>) are the symbols associated with quotes, whereas the quotation marks used in the South are the same as the ones most commonly used in English.

In English, finishing punctuation is only placed at the end of the sentence, whereas in Spanish, when asking a question or expressing excitement, punctuation is placed at both the beginning and the end of the sentence. There is an inverted question mark (¿) at the beginning of a question and a normal question mark at the end, as well as an inverted exclamation mark (¡) at the beginning of an exclamation and a normal exclamation mark at the end. This happens because in Spanish, there is no difference between the word order of a question and that of a statement; for example, the two English sentences Do you like summer? and You like summer. are translated respectively as ¿Te gusta el verano? and Te gusta el verano.

In most European languages, the way numbers are separated also differs from English;  a full stop (.) is used as a thousand separator (the English 1,000 turns into 1.000) and a comma (,) is used to mark a decimal point.

While an English price tag would state that something costs £1.99, in Germany and France, you would find a price label with 1,99 € written on it. As shown, the currency sign is placed after the numbers, whereas in England it appears before the figures.

Furthermore, in French, a space is required both before and after all punctuation marks and symbols, including (.), (:), (;), (!), (?), (%) and ($).

In German, Polish, Hungarian and a few other European languages, quotation marks are in a different position to English at the beginning of a quotation: „Jak się masz?”, zapytała. (“How are you?”, she asked.).

When working with different languages, it is essential for a linguist to bear in mind the punctuation varieties between those languages, as failing to do so can sometimes change the meaning of a sentence and, in the case of numbers, can result in serious errors.