Re: Origin of Ellipsis and double spacing after a sentence.

From: Philippe Verdy <>
Date: Sat, 14 Sep 2013 22:09:27 +0200

But this article is excellent. Even if it also contains opinions of the
author about "aberrant French practices", some of them are still prevalent
such as the persistant use of an "extra" spacing before colon, semi-colon,
exclamation and question marks, and within guillemets:
- the practice is still used by almsot all French publishers and in
newspapers, even if most English publishers ignore it; in modern French
applications for computers or the web
- it is limited by the support of multiple space characters, so that the
oly choice is between breakable an non-breaking space, but the reality is
that French publishers still want to use (non-breaking) "narrow spaces"
("fine" in French, about 1/6 to 1.5 em) with these punctuations.
- the author recognize that these practices were also within
recommandations of English typographs, but English publishers today have
forgotten this rule, as well as users of typewriters, and most modern texts
on computers and on the web ignore (or don't want) these thin spaces (when
there's no support for them), while French users prefer using
(non-breaking) normal en-spaces even if it's too large, to using none.

However modern typesetters using computers are muchless constrained than
publishers that were using metal types : the glyphs of metal types could
not be stretched like what can be done easily today, to adjust lines
forjustification (and limit the formation of infamous vertical "rivers"
across lines of text).

So what can we conclude: all spaces are variable when typesetting, but not
the same way depending on their context. But this is something that belongs
to typesetting, not to the initial "plain text" to render as it needs to be
understood when reading.

These questions are not just about "esthetic", but about preserving the
average blackness of lines to guide the eye for easier and faster reading,
and to make sure that important punctuation will be easily distinguished
(because they guide the "rythm" with which the text should be clearly read
by speech (imagine you're reading the text to a public with clear voice,
for better understanding: this is not an evident practice, good readers are
rare that can translate to their auditory the substance of the text with
emotion and strength as it could have been intended by the author, better
exhibiting his choice of words).

But if we have a plain-text to typeset, an automated typesetting program
that will convert these spaces and balance them to respect these helpful
eye-catching rules need to be hinted. If the plain-text only contains
single spaces, the typesetting program will be fooled. The minimum set of
spaces to insert in text must first distinguish breakabke and non-breaking
spaces. Then it must be able to look at contexts before and after the space
to se ehow to adjust them, **if it is needed** (modern typesetting programs
should probably use moderate glyph stretching as it helps preserving
balanced interworrd spaces, and it is probably better then trying to use
multiple widths between spaces in the same line).

The author of the article suggests that the minimum interword space is 1/3
em. This is probably true for English because its words are relative
shorter than in French or German (larger minium spaces will more easily
create "rivers").

In French the minimum space is preferably 1/2 em and in German (or
languages that use complex compounds or agglutination of morphemes) it may
even be up to 2/3 em. This has a consequence : spaces to separate sentences
will unlikely need to be as large as in English (that's probably why French
does not use wider spaces in those positions between sentences). And
another consideration is also important here, notably the average length of
full sentences (this is basically a property of the language, but also of
author's own style).

English sentences (by classic authors) are generally shorter, as English
authors do not like sentences with multiple verbs or long enumerations and
may adjectives or qualifiers (their style is often more "directive"). But
modern technical or legal texts (includinc contracts, licences) are as
complex and long as in French or many European languages (if not longer,
because "short" English is often more ambiguous and could lead to dangerous
misinterpretations!), so these type of texts tend to have only once (long)
sentence per paragraph. (In that case the size of spaces after period does
not matter because it oocurs before a paragraph break). And long
enumerations within sentences (common in French), are preferably using
bulleted lists (possibly in multiple columns) in English, within their own
block separated from the introduction sentence. Typical English sentences
for example will more rarely contain more than 2 commas, and not more than
2 verbs. If enumerations are used, they are preferably at end of sentences,
in sentences containing no more than 1 verb (in German it would be exactly
the reverse, with a more likely passive form to better place that verb if
needed where English would use the active form).

In summary, the typesetting rules are not as strict as one could think if
you look only at the plain-text alone. It is adapted to the actual content
of text, and to its style and the intrindic nature of the language, its
phonology, and the way it is spoken for better understanding (people tend
to read texts the way they would like to hear them, they mentally
"vocalize" them because it helps understanding, they don't just read
morphemes and so like to see the correct punctuation and typesetting should
also reflect how they think and understand the important and structuring
items in sentences).

2013/9/14 Michael Everson <>

> On 14 Sep 2013, at 19:11, Jim Allan <> wrote:
> > See which claims with numerous
> examples that Michael Everson is totally wrong.
> It's what I was taught.
> Michael Everson *
Received on Sat Sep 14 2013 - 15:11:18 CDT

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