From: Guy Steele (Guy.Steele@sun.com)
Date: Thu Jun 01 2006 - 13:39:23 CDT
On Jun 1, 2006, at 12:16 PM, philip chastney wrote:
> --- "Jukka K. Korpela" <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
>> I have never seen any norm or recommendation
>> on it for any language. Even for _simple_ nesting,
>> i.e. for a quotation inside a quotation, reliable
>> information is hard to find.
> the rules for English are simply a matter of practice,
> following "rules" established by Victorian grammarians
> a friend of mine (a student of the language, as opposed to
> the literature) would occasionally rant about the "damage"
> (her term) done to the language by these narrow-minded,
> misguided rule makers
> in particular, she would cite --
> (i) the use of quotation marks for reported speeach
> (ii) the use of the apostrophe for the genitive (e.g,
> "Jucca's", but "James'" not "James's", and not "hi's" or
> (iii) the suggestion that "it is I" is somehow more correct
> than "it is me"
> there are no absolute rules, only established practice --
> you are free to invent your own rules (as with the Chicago
> Manual of Style, for instance), and the rest of us are free
> to adopt, adapt or ignore them -- these things only become
> important when a sentence is ambiguous, or it conveys an
> unintended meaning (as in "this plane will be airborne
> the rule I was taught at school was something like "it
> helps if you use different quoatation marks when quoting
> within quotes" but no definition of primary or secondary
> marks was mandated
> I was also told that the quotation marks should enclose
> _both_ the initial capital letter and the final full stop,
> or _neither_, which is, I believe, at variance with the
> Chicago Manual of Style
> all in all, I doubt whether the way a writer (of English)
> uses quotation marks is any sort of indicator of anything
> Jane Austen never used a quotation mark in her life, and
> I've never known anyone criticize her for it
> regards . . . /phil
This is all true as far as it goes. Yes, different people can
make different sets of rules, and you can choose to follow
rules or ignore them---but you have not really addressed
the question of weighing the value of the freedom to ignore
rules against the value of the freedom (!) to follow them.
In this the "rules" of punctuation are very much like bidding
conventions in the card game called "contract bridge".
Now bridge does have laws: if you bid out of turn, or bid
"peanut butter" rather than "four spades", you simply are
not playing bridge at all. But it also has conventions:
under the laws of bridge, you are free to open the bidding
with "two notrump" no matter what cards you hold, but if
your hand has no aces or kings, your partner most likely
will be very confused. Different partnerships use different
conventions, but a partnership that agrees on a set of conventions
will be able to communicate with each other much more accurately,
and much more economically, about what cards they hold than
partners who do not.
When writing in English, I freely choose to follow the rules in
Chicago for most purposes because I know it will allow me to
communicate much more accurately to a wide readership about
things I care about. Such readers I regard as my partners.
Chicago is not the only possible set of rules to follow, but it has
the advantage of being comprehensively documented, readily
available, and widely adhered to. One might say exactly the
same of Unicode.
When I write poetry (and, yes, I have been published in poetry
journals), I may well choose NOT to follow Chicago when there is
some overriding purpose.
Jane Austen apparently chose to write in such a way that
distinguishing multiple levels of quotation accurately was not
often crucial to what she was trying to communicate, and
I have no criticism of that choice. However, Lewis Carroll
chose to write quite cleverly about such things, and certain
passages in _Alice in Wonderland_ would have been much harder
to read (or perhaps even to conceive of writing!) without good
conventions for distinguishing levels of quotation.
I might have found your missive somewhat easier to read had you
taken the trouble to delimit the starts and ends of your sentences
in conventional fashion. You did succeed in communicating,
but only because I chose to expend the extra effort required
to compensate for your lack of effort. Next time I may not bother.
You may not care. You have a choice.
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