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Punctuation is everything in written language other than the actual letters, including punctuation marks (listed at right), inter-word spaces, capitalization, and indentation (Todd, 2000).
Punctuation marks are symbols that correspond to neither phonemes (sounds) of a language nor to lexemes (words and phrases), but which serve to indicate the structure and organization of writing, as well as intonation and pauses to be observed when reading it aloud. See orthography.
In English, punctuation is vital to disambiguate the meaning of sentences. For example, "Woman, without her man, is nothing." and "Woman: without her, man is nothing." have greatly different meanings.
The rules of punctuation vary with language, location, register, and time, and are constantly evolving. Certain aspects of punctuation are stylistic, and thus the author's (or editor's) choice. Tachygraphic language forms, such as those used in online chat and text messages, may have wildly different rules.
 History of English punctuation
The earliest writing had no capitalisation, no spaces, and no punctuation marks. So long as it was restricted to a limited range of topics (initially, recording business transactions), this worked. Expanding the use of writing to more abstract concepts required some way to disambiguate meanings. Until the eighteenth century, punctuation was principally an aid to reading aloud; after that time its development was as a mechanism for ensuring that the text made sense when read silently (Todd, 2000).
The Greeks (circa 5th century BC) were using punctuation marks consisting of vertically arranged dots, usually two (c.f. the modern colon) or three. Greek playwrights (e.g. Euripides and Aristophanes) used symbols to distinguish the ends of phrases in written drama: essentially helping the play's cast to know when to pause. In particular, they used three different symbols to divide speeches into three lengths, known as commas (indicated by a centred dot), colons (indicated by a dot on the base line), and periods (indicated by a raised dot).
The Romans (circa 1st century BC) also adopted symbols to indicate pauses.
Punctuation developed dramatically when large numbers of copies of the Christian Bible started to be produced. These were designed to be read aloud and the copyists began to introduce a range of marks to aid the reader, including indentation, various punctuation marks, and an early version of initial capitals. St Jerome and his colleagues, who produced the Vulgate translation of the Bible into Latin, developed an early system (circa 400 AD); this was considerably improved on by Alcuin. The marks included the virgule (forward slash) and a dots in different locations: centred in the line, raised, or in groups.
The use of punctuation was not standardized until after the invention of printing. Credit for introducing a standard system is generally given to Aldus Manutius and his grandson. They popularized the practice of ending sentences with the colon or full stop, invented the semicolon, made occasional use of parentheses, and created the modern comma by lowering the virgule (Truss, 2003, pp. 77-8).
The modern system of English punctuation was pretty well in place by 1660, with the full stop, comma, semicolon, colon, dash, apostrophe, exclamation mark, quotation marks and parentheses all in use (Todd, 2000).
 Other European languages
Other European languages use much the same punctuation as English. The similarity is so strong that the few variations confuse a naïve English reader. Quotation marks are particularly variable across European languages.
 East Asian languages
- See also: Japanese typographic symbols
Chinese and Japanese use a different set of punctuation marks from European languages. These came into use relatively recently; the ancient forms of these languages had no punctuation at all. Traditional poetry and calligraphy maintains the punctuation-free style.
Nearly all East Asian punctuation marks are larger than their European counterparts and occupy a square area that is the same size as the characters around them. These punctuation marks are called fullwidth to contrast them from halfwidth European punctuation marks.
Japanese and Traditional Chinese can be written horizontally or vertically, while Simplified Chinese is rarely written vertically. Some punctuation marks adapt to this change in direction: the parentheses, curved brackets, square quotation marks (Japanese and Traditional Chinese), book title marks (Chinese), ellipsis mark, dash, and wavy dash (Japanese) all rotate 90° when used in vertical text. The three underline-like punctuation marks in Chinese (proper noun mark, wavy book title mark, and emphasis mark) rotate and shift to the left side of the text in vertical script (shifting to the right side of the text is also possible, but this is outmoded and can clash with the placement of other punctuation marks).
There are major differences between European and Chinese/Japanese punctuation marks.
- Those imported from Europe differ in size: they are fullwidth instead of halfwidth:
- Other punctuation marks are more different, in shape or usage:
- The Chinese and Japanese full stop is a fullwidth small circle (。), called 句号 (jùhào) and 句点 (kuten) respectively. In horizontally-written Japanese, the full stop is placed in the same position as it would be in English; in vertical writing, it is placed below and to the right of the last Character. In Chinese, the full stop is always after the last character.
- In Japanese and Traditional Chinese, the double and single quotation marks are fullwidth 『 』 and 「 」. The double quotation marks are used when embedded within single quotation marks: 「...『...』...」.
- In Traditional Chinese, European-style quotation marks “” and ‘’ can also be used for horizontal text. In Simplified Chinese, only the European-style quotation marks are used. Here, the single quotation marks are used when embedded within double quotation marks: “…‘…’…”. These quotation marks are fullwidth in printed matter but share the same codepoints as the European quotation marks in Unicode, so they require a Chinese-language font to be displayed correctly.
- In Chinese, the fullwidth comma (，), called 逗號/逗号 (dòuhào), has the same shape as the European comma. In Japanese, the fullwidth comma (、), called 読点 (tōten), is shaped like a teardrop with the narrow sharp end pointing top-left and round end pointing bottom-right; it may be depicted on your computer in another font.
- Chinese also has the enumeration comma (Simplified Chinese: 顿号; Traditional Chinese: 頓號; pinyin: dùnhào; literally "pause mark"), which must be used instead of the regular comma when separating words constituting a list. It is identical to the Japanese fullwidth comma (、). In Japanese, either the regular fullwidth comma (、) or a fullwidth middle dot (・) is used for this purpose.
- Both Chinese and Japanese use a middle dot to separate words in a foreign name, since native first and last names in Chinese or Japanese are not separated using any punctuation or spaces. For example, "Leonardo da Vinci" in Simplified Chinese: "列奥纳多·达·芬奇", in Japanese: "レオナルド・ダ・ヴィンチ". Japanese always uses the fullwidth middle dot (・). In Chinese, the middle dot is also fullwidth in printed matter, but the halfwidth middle dot (·) is used in computer input, which is then rendered as fullwidth in Chinese-language fonts.
- For emphasis, Chinese and Japanese use emphasis marks instead of italic type. Each emphasis mark is a single dot (in Chinese) or dash (in Japanese) placed under each character to be emphasized (for vertical text, the dot is placed to the left hand side of each character). Although frequent in printed matter, emphasis marks are rare online, as they cannot be represented as plain text, are not supported by HTML and most word processors, and otherwise inconvenient to input. In Japanese, these emphasis marks are called bōten or wakiten.
- For book titles, Chinese uses fullwidth double book title marks, 《book title》, and fullwidth single book title marks, 〈book title〉. The latter is used when embedded within the former: 《...〈...〉...》; in Traditional Chinese, the latter is also used for articles in or sections of a book. In Japanese, book titles are marked out using double quotation marks 『 』. (Italic type is never used in Chinese or Japanese.)
- A proper noun mark (an underline) is occasionally used in Chinese, such as in teaching materials and some movie subtitles. For consistency in style, a wavy underline (﹏﹏) is used instead of the regular book title marks whenever the proper noun mark is used in the same text. When the text runs vertically, the proper name mark is written as a line to the left of the characters (to the right in some older books).
- In Chinese, the ellipsis is written with six dots (not three) occupying the same space as two characters (……) in the center of the line. Similarly, the dash is written so that it occupies the space of two characters (——) in the center of the line. There should be no breaking in the line. The Japanese ellipsis is also properly written as six dots, not three.
- When connecting two words to signify a range, Chinese generally uses a fullwidth dash occupying the space of one character (—, e.g. 1月—7月 "January to July"), while Japanese generally uses a fullwidth wavy dash occupying the space of one character (～, e.g. 1月～7月 "January to July"). The wavy dash is also sometimes used in Chinese, and often used in Korean.
- While European languages use a narrow space between each letter, and a wider space between words, Chinese and Japanese use a narrow space both between characters and between words. In this way, it somewhat resembles the scriptio continua of ancient Greek and Latin.
- There are a small number of exceptions. In Japanese, a fullwidth space is often used where a colon or comma would be used in English: 大和銀行 大阪支店 (Yamato Bank, Osaka Branch). The fullwidth space is extremely rare in modern-day Chinese, but in archaic usage it may be used as an honorific marker. A modern example, found in Taiwan, is that of referring to Chiang Kai-shek as 先總統 蔣公 (Former President, Lord Chiang), where the space is an honorific marker for 蔣公; this use is also still current in very formal letters or other old-style documents.
- Also, when Chinese is written entirely in Hanyu Pinyin or when Japanese is written entirely in kana, spaces are always introduced to assist in reading.
- Japanese uses iteration marks, the most common of which being 々, to indicate a repeated character. Chinese uses the iteration mark in informal or calligraphic writing, but never in careful writing or printed matter.
- There is no equivalent of the apostrophe in Chinese or Japanese.
For Korean, the third member language of CJK, South Korea currently uses mostly European punctuation, while North Korea uses slightly more East Asian punctuation. Differences from European punctuation include:
- The middle dot (·) is used in short lists of similar items. For example: "사과·배·복숭아·수박은 모두 과일이다." Translation: "Apples, apple pears, peaches, and watermelons are all fruits."
- Although the "correct" way of quoting is to use double quotation marks in South Korea and 〈…〉 in North Korea, fullwidth quotes such as 『…』 or 「…」 are commonly used in print.
- Since Korean is agglutinative, rules regarding parentheses and spaces are different from European rules. For example, in the sentence "사과(沙果)는 과일이다", inserting a space in between other letters and the parentheses will be an error.
 Other scripts
Ethiopian languages, including Amharic, Tigrinya, Ge'ez, and Afaan Oromo, make use of the following punctuation marks:
- space (፡) (resembles an English colon)
- comma (፣) (resembles an English colon with a line on top)
- sentence end (።) (resembles four dots at the corners of an imaginary square)
- semicolon (፤) (resembles an English colon with two small horizontal lines, one above and one below)
- colon (፥) (resembles an English colon with a small horizontal line between the dots)
- preface colon (፦) (resembles an English colon with a small horizontal line between the dots but more to the right than in the semicolon)
- question mark (፧) (three dots in a vertical line)
- paragraph separator (፨) (seven dots: three in a vertical line flanked by two vertical lines of two dots each, appearing as the corners of a hexagon with a dot in the center)
Originally Sanskrit had no punctuation. In the 1600s, Sanskrit and Marathi, both written in the Devanagari script, started using the vertical bar (|) to end a line of a verse and double vertical bars (||) to end the verse.
Arabic language — written from right to left — uses a reversed question mark: ؟.
In Greek, the question mark is written as a sign resembling the English semi-colon, while the functions of the colon and semicolon are performed by a raised point (·), known as the ano teleia (άνω τελεία).
 Novel punctuation marks
A European patent application was filed, and published in 1992 under WO number WO9219458, for two new punctuation marks: the "question comma" and the "exclamation comma". As of 2006 no patent has been issued for them, though.
Unicode has the General Punctuation (U+2000–206F) and Supplemental Punctuation (U+E000–E0FF) ranges.
Unicode.org chart (PDF)
Unicode.org chart (PDF)
- Allen, Robert (2002-07-25). Punctuation. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-860439-4.
- Amis, Kingsley (1998-03-02). The King's English: A Guide to Modern Usage. HarperCollins. ISBN 0-00-638746-2.
- Fowler, Henry Watson; Francis George Fowler  (June 2002). The King's English. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-860507-2.
- Gowers, Ernest (1948). Plain Words: a guide to the use of English. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office.
- Parkes, Malcolm Beckwith (1993). Pause and Effect: An Introduction to the History of Punctuation in the West. University of California Press. 0-520-07941-8.
- Todd, Loreto (2000). The Cassell Guide to Punctuation. Cassell, ISBN 978-0304349616.
- Truss, Lynne (2003). Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. Profile Books. ISBN 1-86197-612-7.
 See also
 External links
- Larry Trask: Guide to Punctuation A helpful online resource
- Grammar, Punctuation, and Capitalization – a comprehensive online guide by NASA
- Unicode reference tables:
- 重訂標點符號手冊 Chinese punctuation marks manual. Published by [Taiwan]'s Ministry of Education.
- 標點符號的種類 Chinese punctuation marks and their names (Chinese)
- 中華人民共和國國家標準標點符號用法 The PRC's National Standards on the Usage of Punctuation Marks (Chinese)
- Japanese Punctuation Marks
- Ethiopic Script
|The ISO basic Latin alphabet|
|history • palaeography • derivations • diacritics • punctuation • numerals • Unicode • list of letters|