Anything worth talking about, is worth blogging about

I just found this ridiculous rant concerning punctuation. The guts of that post is that English punctuation is illogical because we don’t use Spanish–style inverted question marks to begin questions (and, mutatis mutandis, inverted exclamation points). By reading his rant you’ll notice that the writer seems not to know the difference between a tag question and a tag itself. The reason for his belief is that it is confusing to rely on context to determine when a question begins. The fact that he makes such a claim shows why he has no clue what he’s talking about.

Heres why.

What happens when you ask a question in the English language? In almost all cases, either you invert the subject and an auxiliary verb (if there’s no auxiliary, add one), or you do the preceding and also begin with one of the wh–words. The main difference between the two question forms is that the former is a yes–no (or polar) question, while the latter is a wh (or non–polar) question. The other form is a tag question. Tag questions are a semantically a subtype of yes–no questions. Let’s look at examples:

  • (Declarative): You went to the store.
  • (Polar) Did you go to the store?
  • (Wh) Where did you go?
  • (Tag) You went to the store, didn’t you?

What do wh– and yes–no questions have in common? The first word(s) (or implicitly, the word order) in either of them indicate that the following sentence is a question. In other words, the beginning of these sentences indicates that what follows is a question. Hence, there is no need for a beginning of sentence question–marking punctuation mark because the words and word order already do that. Tag questions are rare enough that they won’t need special punctuation rules. Indeed, in speech, tag questions have no “marker” at the beginning that tells us a question is coming, but this in no way hinders our ability to make ourselves understood. The same applies to writing.

This post has been edited for clarity.

Advertisements

Comments on: "Worst punctuation complaint ever" (23)

  1. The Ceej said:

    I see what you’re doing here. You don’t really believe anything you’re saying. You’re just trying to draw me back here again.

  2. The Ceej said:

    I see what you’re doing. You don’t have any valid complaints against my claims. You’re just trying to lure me back here again.

  3. I see what this is. You’re not seriously trying to argue against my points. You have no counterpoints. You’re just trying to lure me back here.

  4. I wonder why the bizarre conspiracism gets in your head.

    Providing counterexamples (inversion, wh-movement, and the example of speech) is a really, really weird way of “not seriously trying to argue against my [yours] points” ad “hav[ing] no counterpoints”. It’s so bizarre, in fact, that your terminology is wrong, actually.

    • I wonder why you leave no indication that my messages are saved and then approve ALL my comments.

      Conspiracism? Aside from the fact that’s not a word, I assume you mean conspiracy: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/conspiracy

      Considering I never mentioned anyone acting but you, you’re incriminating yourself. You’re declaring innocence in a conspiracy of which you are not accused and THAT makes me suspicious.

      So, you reject opening question marks but you support opening parentheses and quotes? What inconsistency.

      Hmm… I guess the “what” doesn’t necessarily notate the beginning of a question after all.

    • All you really had to do was say you miss me, and you’re sorry for overreacting before. I like to think I’m a reasonable person.

    • By the way, you aren’t providing examples of why we shouldn’t use the opening question mark. You’re grasping at straws and appealing to tradition. And you’re smart enough to know this. So, why don’t you come clean. Tell me what you lured me here to tell me.

  5. As for conspiracism, I was using it to refer to the fact that you believed that I had ulterior motives “[J]ust trying to draw me back again”, etc. You are still banned from commenting here (outside of this post) until you apologize for saying I’m a bigot because I accepted the existence of musical genres.

    As for providing no examples/reasons why we shouldn’t use opening question marks, consider this from my post: “The first word(s) (or implicitly, the word order) in either of them indicate that the following sentence is a question. In other words, the beginning of these sentences indicates that what follows is a question. Hence, there is no need for a beginning of sentence question–marking punctuation mark because the words and word order already do that.”

    • She said, since the words indicate that I’m saying this, there is no need to notate it with an opening quote.”

      A conspiracy requires a person to not be acting alone, thus making your use of the term irrelevant (though, converting conspiracy to conspiracism does follow the rules of changing the tense of words, so I’ll give you that much).

      In the end, if people like me always conceded to people like you, the English language wouldn’t have the contributions of people like Shakespeare and Orwell. It’s my job as a writer to improve the language. It’s my job as a comedian to do it in a funny way. But, there will always be those resistant to change.

      Forgive me if I find it hard to believe you had no ulterior motives. What are the odds you’d just stumble across my article and feel the need to write about it? You clearly read it because it was my article. But, why you’d read and write about my article, I can only speculate, and that’s what I did.

  6. Conspiracism is a worldview that places conspiracy theories in a crucial role in history. Considering only this thread, you meet the criteria.

    And use are changing the subject. First we are talking about opening question marks, and then you bring up opening quotation marks. In my post, I never mentioned anything about quotation marks.

    By the way, tense involves verbs, not one noun to another.

    • “Conspiracism is a worldview that places conspiracy theories in a crucial role in history.”

      As opposed to YOUR worldview that rejects conspiracy theories simply because they’re conspiracy theories?

      “Considering only this thread, you meet the criteria.”

      I have never made any claims of conspiracy. Your credibility is dead.

      “And (sic) use are changing the subject. First we are talking about opening question marks, and then you bring up opening quotation marks. In my post, I never mentioned anything about quotation marks.”

      You didn’t even READ the original post, then. You argued from ignorance from the beginning.

      “By the way, tense involves verbs, not one noun to another.”

      I was referring to different forms of the same word. Tense is not entirely accurate, but it was a good enough word for you to get my point.

      If you don’t give me one good reason for your doing this, I’m going to mark your trackback as spam.

      • You accused me (three times) of trying to lure you back here.

        I did read the post. And if you read my response you’ll see that I was only ever discussing opening question marks.

        And here’s why opening quotes are necessary. You provided this example:
        ‘She said, since the words indicate that I’m saying this, there is no need to notate it with an opening quote.”’

        Your lack of opening quotes makes it ambiguous (even when disregarding your non use of capitals). It could mean ‘She said, since the words indicate that I’m saying this, “there is no need to notate it with an opening quote.” In other words, the phrase “since the words indicate that I’m saying this” is a explanation for why she said, “[T]here is no need to notate it with an opening quote.” Or, your example could mean ‘She said, “since the words indicate that I’m saying this, there is no need to notate it with an opening quote.”’ In other words, she said the entire sentence of “[S]ince the words indicate that I’m saying this, there is no need to notate it with an opening quote.” Quotation marks, both opening and closed, resolve ambiguity. If you want to complain about this, worry about French, where they don’t always begin their quotations with dashes/angle brackets. In French class in high school I found this confusing.

        • All of the problems you mentioned apply to opening question marks as well. You just don’t notice it because you’re used to it.

          My very special friend, to whom this article was dedicated, is Mexican, and we speak to each other in Spanish a lot. When he was learning English, HE ran into the same problems with the lack of opening question mark that you’re expressing with the lack of the opening quotation mark.

          From a standpoint of someone learning punctuation for the first time, there’s no reason why you would drop it off on one but not the other.

  7. What you don’t understand is that sentences can begin with wh- words without being questions. Why, I bet you’ve never even conceived of such a thing.

    • When wh-words begin a sentence that is not a question, that wh-word is (usually) acting as a relative pronoun. If that is the case then the next word(s) tell you whether it is a question or not. Consider:

      * “What I like is a warm cup of coffee” – No auxiliary verb (“is” is a marker of identity, not an auxiliary), therefore not a question.
      * “What goes up, must come down.” – No auxiliary subject inversion, therefore not a question.
      * (Your sentence) “Why, I bet you’ve never even conceived of such a thing.” – Why is an interjection, therefore not a question.

      • Yeah. You’re not interested in learning. You’re interested in arguing. I’m marking your trackback as spam. That will make sure you’ll never be able to trackback me again.

      • There is no comma in “What goes up must come down.” But anyway…

        “What is good for the goose is good for the gander.” How about that one?

        • “What is good for the goose is good for the gander.” can be changed into the following sentence which has the same meaning:

          “That which is good for the goose is good for the gander.” Phrased this way, your sentence is clearly not a question, just shorter and less verbose.

          Indeed, your sentence has the structure [relative.pronoun predicate] predicate. This is the same structure as “What goes up must come down”, and is therefore not a question for the same reasons.

  8. AFAICT, the reason your Spanish-speaking friend screwed up with there being no inverted question mark to begin English questions is because he failed to realize that word order serves that function. AFAIK, in Spanish, polar questions differ from declarative sentences only in intonation. This means that the same word order is used for both. Since there are no syntactic or lexical cues that a question is coming, the opening inverted question mark serves that purpose in written Spanish. In the words of Wikibooks, “Whereas the English word order alerts you since the beginning that what you are going to read is a question, Spanish offers no such initial warning. To compensate for this, Spanish adds the initial question mark, so that you’ll always be able to tell a declarative statement from a question from the moment you begin reading it.”

    Hence, your friend would have avoided this problem had you or someone else informed him that inverted word order/wh indicated that a question was coming.

  9. Nice post. Did you find it kind of nerve wracking posting a take-down of someone else’s work? I had a similar post go down with some crazy christian(for fun look up UsneakydevilU via google and let the hilarity begin, I earned a link from his blog in the ‘kindergarten logic category’)kook who was peddling the crazy by the bushel. It was a bad case of SIWOTI, but the mix of stupidity and insane was too much NOT to post on.

    • I just looked for UsneakydevilU and saw a lot of posts. Wow. The batshit runs strong over there.

      As for taking down someone else’s work, I’d like to think that something as trivial as punctuation would not provoke much of a discussion or dissent. But I was obviously wrong.

  10. Jeez, who are those two idiots? Is basic English not offered as an option at the schools they attended?

    And banning your trackbacks … why, golly, he sho’ showed you, didn’t he! Maybe he should team up with John “I’ll unfriend you on Facebook!” Kwok of Pharyngula fame. Not because they’d do anything productive, mind you – it would just be totally funny.

    As for your post, good points all, naturally. Too bad the critique you got wasn’t worth paying any attention to (other than for mockery).

    (Sidenote: I seriously wish Disqus allowed for trackbacks on my blog. I see you’ve linked to me a few times; wish I could see when you (and others) do.)

    • I would think that if someone speaks/understands English they’d figure out how questions are made with just a little care and observation.

      People who ban trackbacks obviously don’t want exposure as being wrong or something. But doing such a thing is really merely a token gesture. Banning a trackback just prevents you from going from the trackbackee to the trackbacker. It doesn’t really prevent someone from reading the trackbacker.

Feel free to leave a reply.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: