Apologia pro punctuatione mea
A defense of my punctuation

Apologia pro punctuatione mea
A defense of my punctuation

by Don  

When I began writing this blog, I ran up against a conceptual difficulty: Russian punctuation differs from American punctuation, so when mixing Russian and English words or sentences, how should the systems be integrated? I also wanted to alter a few standard English punctuation practices that struck me as less than optimal. (Thus Russian readers of this blog should bear in mind that I depart somewhat from standard American English punctuation.)

For instance, it is common when writing about foreign words (or about English words as the words themselves) to set the words off by quotation marks or italics or boldface type:

The Spanish word for “table” is “mesa.”
The Spanish word for table is mesa.
The Spanish word for table is mesa.

The sentence is perfectly clear without those embellishments:

The Spanish word for table is mesa.

Thus, being a lover of clarity and concision, I made the following editorial decisions for mixed Russian-English text:

1. When such contexts are sufficiently clear, individual words are not set off by quotes or distinct typefaces. If the lack of quotation marks allows ambiguity or could confuse the flow of reading the sentence, then quotation marks are used. Phrases of two or more words are set off by quotation marks. Thus:

Both кровать and постель can be translated as bed.
«Желаю удачи» and «большого счастья» can be translated as “good luck.”

2. When there is an uninterrupted sequence of Russian sentences, then of course Russian conventions are followed.

3. When putting quotation marks around Russian words or sentences, кавычки (guillemets, double angle brackets) are used. When putting quotation marks around English words or sentences, then single or double curly quotation marks are used.¹

4. When complete sentences are set off by quotation marks, no preceding comma is used.

5. If a comma must be used in conjunction with a phrase that is set off by кавычки, it goes outside them; if used with a phrase set off by curly quotation marks, the comma goes inside them. Thus:

«Ни пуха, ни пера», «большого счастья», and «желаю удачи» can all be translated as “good luck.”
Пожалуйстa can mean “yes, please,” “you're welcome,” or “here you go.”

The same guideline holds for periods as well:

He said «Меня зовут Дмитрий».
He said “My name is Dmitri.”

Careful readers will note occasional inconsistencies in the application of these guidelines. I ask your patience. The process of finding the style that is optimally clear and concise is still in progress.

¹ By “curly quotation marks” I mean those marks that are variations on “inverted commas.” In some fonts these are rendered as slanted inverted commas without any curls at all.

1 comment

Comment from: Diana Buraschi [Visitor]

I´m from Argentina and restarted studying russian after a short course and many years letting it rust away. Your blog is very funny and I congratulate you for that. About this particular issue (punctuation), wow! you care about detail! I worked as a researcher in agronomy for several years and your concern for style reminds me of those times when a dot in cursive and not print could be a mistake worth scolding from your director.
Well, this apologia looked solitary without feedback. I hope she feels better now. See you! Diana.

02/01/12 @ 03:24

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