Uniting Speech and Writing: the Half-Mark.

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Uniting Speech and Writing: the Half-Mark.

Postby LittleKey » Mon Aug 18, 2008 10:49 am UTC

First of all, read this example: "Do you want to go out on Thursday? Because I'm off that day." Now, imagine saying that in real life; you would combine it into one sentence, wouldn't you? you'd put the rising tone on "day" to make it a question and meld it into one sentence while keeping the first part as a question. It's one of those sentences where the first part is a question, but it can still be made into a sentence in normal flowing speech. What's my point? Try typing it in one sentence, like you would say it in real life. There's the problem! Sure, you can say "Do you want to go out on Thursday, cause I'm off that day?" but that kind of changes it's meaning a slight bit. Keep trying, I bet you can't find a way to put that into one sentence perfectly like you would in speech. The entire point of written language, I believe, is to embody how you would speak normally, in written form. If you look at it like that, there's a gap here. If you want to put it in the most basic form, my point is that this is something that can be spoken, but not transcribed into written words. And I don't really like that, because like I've said, i think that written language should be made to sound like how you would speak in real life.
My idea for a solution is a new grammatical symbol. It could be a new symbol, or maybe just a half-sized question mark. What would happen is that you would insert it after "Thursday" in my example. The function of it would be to keep the first part being a question, without breaking it up into two sentences. Because in speech, you wouldn't break it up, so why should you in writing? I understand that this isn't a crucial issue; it's just something flawed, that should be corrected. This is a reasonable idea in my opinion. It wouldn't be used very often, like commas or periods. In all honesty, must people probably wouldn't use it very often. But it should be there, for people that want to be as precise as possible. I see it as another step toward uniting speech and writing.

"Do you want to go out on Thursday?, because I'm off that day." - Quoted from Felstaff.
Now, this is an idea of what the mark might look like, and how it would be applied. As you can see, you can easily tell that the first section of the sentence is a question, but it doesn't insert the unnecessary break that you would normally find in writing.

So, what do you think about this? Utterly useless, or worth looking into? The reason I think it's worth it is because there's another example right there! Look at it again, "Utterly useless, or worth looking into?" Say it out loud. I bet that you put a question emphasis on "useless", I think most people would. But if you try to write it, you have to put it like I did, or split it into two sentences. Inconvenient on second thought, isn't it? Remember, what this new symbol would do is inform the reader that there's that lift on "useless" that makes it a question, but without breaking the sentence up. Sure, if you don't use it, everyone will know what you mean without a doubt, but why settle for what's sufficient? Especially when it would be so easy to fix this little inconvenience.
There you go, that's my idea. It may not be terribly important, but why not fix it? Just a little symbol to put after sentences like that, to make what you're thinking be just a little bit easier to transcribe. I haven't thought too much about a name, you can call it a "half-mark". If you have any thoughts, feel free to tell me. I'm interested in seeing what other people think of my idea.
Last edited by LittleKey on Mon Aug 18, 2008 4:10 pm UTC, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Uniting Speech and Writing: the Half-Mark.

Postby Felstaff » Mon Aug 18, 2008 11:15 am UTC

Just punctuate that shit with interrobangs, pointy fingers & irony marks, yo.

؟"You comin' out Thursday ☞ 'cause I need to get my shit on‽"

But anyway, I would say the half-mark would not be needed because the syntax is solely related to speech, and not, you know, non-speech. The half mark would allude to enunciation, "emphasis" and correct pausing of speech, which text has historically not been ABLE to do *well*.

Um, I think my point is that speech does not have to follow grammatical rules and syntax, because it's far more fluid and enunciated (∴ easier understood) than the solid, lumpen style of text. We're kind of stuck with a perfunctory application of speech to text, and people since the dawn of papyrus have tried to communicate the nuances of speech in written form. It rarely works (see any Brontë works where they try to phonetically place accents of non-RP English speakers. It's clumsy and it slows the text down as you have to decipher it) and when it does work, the style never goes universal.

I like the idea of informing the reader that the first part of the sentence should be in the form of a question, even though the signifier does not come until the end of the sentence. Technically, even in speech, it should be two sentences, but I understand that when said, there is not the pause that a full stop/period would imply. I would suggest a superscripted question mark after the 'Thursday', to inform the reader that it is a question being asked, without the pause that the punctuation would imply if it were there. Like an un-interruptive question mark.

"Do you want to go out on Thursday?, because I'm off that day."

The comma would give the correct amount of break in the speech, and the superscripted question mark would ensure the reader recognises it as an entire question spoke within a sentence.
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Re: Uniting Speech and Writing: the Half-Mark.

Postby ZLVT » Mon Aug 18, 2008 12:16 pm UTC

I like it...and I'm a purist anti-change linguistic nazi.
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Re: Uniting Speech and Writing: the Half-Mark.

Postby LittleKey » Mon Aug 18, 2008 4:17 pm UTC

Thanks Felstaff, this is what i mean. I hope it's okay that I used your example with the question mark shifted up. I gave you credit, of course. It's EXACTLY what I have in mind, because it informs that it's a question without clumsily having to wait until the end of the sentence. And yes, I agree that speech doesn't always have to follow the grammatical rules of grammar. My thoughts are that it should be the other way around; writing emulating speech, as long as you don't weigh it down with TOO many punctuations and accents. This isn't a drastic change in writing though, so I don't think it makes reading things any harder.

And thanks ZLVT, that's a pretty big compliment i think.
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Re: Uniting Speech and Writing: the Half-Mark.

Postby ZLVT » Mon Aug 18, 2008 4:24 pm UTC

read "being too correct" I think you'll see what I mean.

Although I think that in order to be "correct" (in my typical linguistic purity way) we should say "Do you want to go out tomorrow? I ask because I'm off that day."
Last edited by ZLVT on Mon Aug 18, 2008 4:33 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Uniting Speech and Writing: the Half-Mark.

Postby 4=5 » Mon Aug 18, 2008 4:26 pm UTC

I like it. I had trouble with this problem before.
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Re: Uniting Speech and Writing: the Half-Mark.

Postby Puck » Mon Aug 18, 2008 7:34 pm UTC

I am intrigued by your ideas and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.
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Re: Uniting Speech and Writing: the Half-Mark.

Postby Dingbats » Mon Aug 18, 2008 10:25 pm UTC

I regularly use question and exclamation commas and colons in handwriting. They're like question and exclamation marks except the dot it replaced with a comma or a colon.

Other than that, there's a damn lot that writing can't convey that speaking can. You'd need to draw intonation contours over the words or something to even get close. Writing is a retarded cripple compared to speech.
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Re: Uniting Speech and Writing: the Half-Mark.

Postby 4=5 » Mon Aug 18, 2008 11:06 pm UTC

Puck wrote:I am intrigued by your ideas and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

what is that from?
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Re: Uniting Speech and Writing: the Half-Mark.

Postby Silas » Tue Aug 19, 2008 2:32 am UTC

LittleKey wrote:First of all, read this example: "Do you want to go out on Thursday? Because I'm off that day." Now, imagine saying that in real life; you would combine it into one sentence, wouldn't you? you'd put the rising tone on "day" to make it a question and meld it into one sentence while keeping the first part as a question. It's one of those sentences where the first part is a question, but it can still be made into a sentence in normal flowing speech. What's my point? Try typing it in one sentence, like you would say it in real life.


Are you sure you'd put a rising tone on 'day?' Because that would sound strange to me, as though my being off that day were related to your wanting to go out. Unless you were sort of whining, and putting a rising on the end of Thursday and day, repeating the question tone.

I'd think this was two sentences. 'Because' doesn't establish a causal (or otherwise conjunctive) connection between the first and the second clause.
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Re: Uniting Speech and Writing: the Half-Mark.

Postby baker's kilobyte » Tue Aug 19, 2008 2:45 am UTC

Maybe you only think you're saying it in one sentence, whereas in fact you could be saying it in two. Have you ever noticed that when you speak, there's no real audible silence between the words? Try reading this post out loud and see for yourself. It's just our perceptions which allow us to distinguish between words and make sense of what we hear.

My point? Just that it might be a little harder than you're suggesting to compare written and oral language. I mean, it feels like that whole phrase should be one sentence because we say it all together, but there is a slight pause after "Thursday" (if you say the first half like a question), and the two halves are (I would argue) distinct ideas. (Okay, "Because I'm off that day" is not a proper sentence, but "I'm off that day" is a complete idea.) So, would that justify writing that phrase as two sentences? I would think so, even if it doesn't feel the most natural thing to do.
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Re: Uniting Speech and Writing: the Half-Mark.

Postby steewi » Tue Aug 19, 2008 2:53 am UTC

4=5 wrote:
Puck wrote:I am intrigued by your ideas and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

what is that from?

Like many people, I learnt it from The Simpsons (Homer, to be more specific). However, it's more from the little advertisements in the back of (old) magazines for clubs, groups, movements and so on. They print a bit of a manifest and you could cut it out and tick a little box that says something like the above quote and send it in to get more information, etc.
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Re: Uniting Speech and Writing: the Half-Mark.

Postby LittleKey » Tue Aug 19, 2008 7:36 am UTC

Dingbats wrote:Other than that, there's a damn lot that writing can't convey that speaking can. You'd need to draw intonation contours over the words or something to even get close. Writing is a retarded cripple compared to speech.

That's the problem. And besides, intonation contours aren't very useful, cause we already know how words sound when put next to other words. Contours just aren't necessary.

Sure, you could just say "I'm off on Thursday, do you want to go out?" That would be flipping it around so that the question would be at the end, no problem. But isn't one of the greatest things about English the diversity? You can say a sentence in tons of different ways. I could spend an hour and probably think of fifteen ways of saying this sentence/question, and each way would be correct. But if I was speaking to someone, I would say the example the way I originally put it. So why can't I write it that way effectively? When you seperate it by a comma, it destroys the questioning tone. And when you separate it by a question mark, it breaks it in two. It's a battle of extremes; not enough intonation, or too much? My little half-mark idea would be the middle ground. When you say "Do you want to go out on Thursday, because I'm off that day?" it changes the way it's said. I like saying it my way, I don't want to have to alter the sentence structure, to be honest. But then if you put "Do you want to go out on Thursday?, because I'm off that day." then look, huzzah! There's still a sentence at the end! That's the way I want to say that sentence. If you don't have the half-mark there, you'd still understand it, but it's awkward. With the symbol, you can still read it very easily, and there's absolutely no confusion to speak of. It just... flows very well, i think.

Here's the other example: "Utterly useless, or worth looking into?" Completely understandable, but it could be intepreted in several minutely different ways. Then, change it to "Utterly useless?, or worth looking into?". Ahh, look, now you know without a doubt that there's a question tone on that first part. This, in my opinion, is crafted JUST right. It seems like the perfect way of transcribing what you would say in real life, into words. When you look at the original example, it's just the comma, making it harder to see the question in there. You know, you could do this with exclamations too !, but it seems harder to make examples for that. So yes, please keep asking questions, I'll be glad to try my inexperienced hand at answering them.
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Re: Uniting Speech and Writing: the Half-Mark.

Postby Dingbats » Tue Aug 19, 2008 12:04 pm UTC

LittleKey wrote:
Dingbats wrote:Other than that, there's a damn lot that writing can't convey that speaking can. You'd need to draw intonation contours over the words or something to even get close. Writing is a retarded cripple compared to speech.

That's the problem. And besides, intonation contours aren't very useful, cause we already know how words sound when put next to other words. Contours just aren't necessary.

Perhaps not necessary (we obviously get by fine without them), but if we wanted to be able to express everything that speech can in writing, we'd need something like it. There's tons of ways you could say "do you want to go out on Thursday?". It could be ironic, sarcastic, honest, doubtful, nervous, annoyed, joking, tired, etc, etc. There's no way you can get that across in writing.
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Re: Uniting Speech and Writing: the Half-Mark.

Postby LittleKey » Wed Aug 20, 2008 7:30 am UTC

i DO see how sarcasm/irony contours would be useful. normally i just capitalize the word, but i can see it.
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Re: Uniting Speech and Writing: the Half-Mark.

Postby Alpha Omicron » Wed Aug 20, 2008 6:53 pm UTC

A 'question comma' was once introduced to solve this problem. It didn't catch on.
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Re: Uniting Speech and Writing: the Half-Mark.

Postby roc314 » Thu Aug 21, 2008 2:40 am UTC

Why not make the question mark a non-terminal punctuation?. A question mark wouldn't end the sentence, but would be treated more like a comma. If the question mark is at the end of a sentence, put a period after it. Would be slightly easier to type than introducing new punctuation marks.
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Re: Uniting Speech and Writing: the Half-Mark.

Postby kirkedal » Fri Jun 26, 2009 2:39 pm UTC

I believe that the point of written language is a way to record knowledge, history, fiction etc. rather than to embody spoken language. Phonetic alphabets do that.
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Re: Uniting Speech and Writing: the Half-Mark.

Postby gmalivuk » Fri Jun 26, 2009 4:24 pm UTC

Felstaff wrote:Um, I think my point is that speech does not have to follow grammatical rules and syntax

Well, it doesn't have to follow the *same* rules as written language. But there most certainly are still rules for even the most informal of speech.

Dingbats wrote:but if we wanted to be able to express everything that speech can in writing, we'd need something like [intonation contours]

Yeah, the myriad ways to intone a sentence which is technically a question can change the meaning quite a bit, actually.

kirkedal wrote:I believe that the point of written language is a way to record knowledge, history, fiction etc. rather than to embody spoken language. Phonetic alphabets do that.

Right. If I want to convey everything to you that speech could, I'll call you on the phone. If I want to convey all the additional information that can only come from body language, I'll go see you in person. There's no real need to overburden writing with more responsibility than there's usually any need for.
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Re: Uniting Speech and Writing: the Half-Mark.

Postby llamapalooza » Fri Jun 26, 2009 4:30 pm UTC

A letter serves the same purpose as a phone call, but uses written language.

In terms of a symbol to use, what about a question mark without a dot at the bottom? It's like you're taking away the period (the part that makes it end the sentence) but keeping the part that identifies it as a question.
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Re: Uniting Speech and Writing: the Half-Mark.

Postby gmalivuk » Sat Jun 27, 2009 3:47 am UTC

llamapalooza wrote:A letter serves the same purpose as a phone call, but uses written language.

Not really. I would never use a letter to hear someone's voice I hadn't seen in a long time. I'd never use a letter to order food. I'd never use a letter when emails and chatting just weren't cutting it in terms of the depth of connection.
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Re: Uniting Speech and Writing: the Half-Mark.

Postby llamapalooza » Sat Jun 27, 2009 4:59 am UTC

But you'd use a letter to relay what happened this week to someone, just like you might that phone call to someone you haven't seen in a long time. And bringing in email doesn't make sense, because it also uses written communication, so you’re just enhancing my point that written communication is used in place of verbal often enough to have many of the same purposes.
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Re: Uniting Speech and Writing: the Half-Mark.

Postby Simbera » Sat Jun 27, 2009 1:40 pm UTC

A letter is a poor analogue if you want a text-based form of communication to compare to the telephone call. A better one would be internet chatting, like on MSN (or AIM or whatever the hell else you want to use). A letter is a one-sided conversation, a monologue which can be replied to at a later date, whereas in a phone call you build off each other and the conversation can take a very different route.

Even if you were to reply to every single question or statement in a letter, it would still be different to if you were speaking on the phone and started at those same points. It's very different, even before you get into things like body language and intonation (like I said, internet chat is the closest analogue, but even that differs greatly).

To respond to the actual topic, I would write that as "Do you want to go out on Thursday? Because I'm off that day" because that is how I would say it. I would perhaps not have a huge pause between the sentences, but it would definitely be a raised inflection at the end of Thursday, and a pause, and then 'because...'. Admittedly this is slightly awkwardly phrased, so I would probably be more likely to say "I'm off on Thursday; do you want to go out?" or similar (and of course write/type the same...though depending on the level of formality I may replace the semicolon with a comma, through laziness).

I would suggest it is more a failure in your speech patterns than the punctuation of the written text (ie you can't write it easily because you're saying it wrong; they are two separate, though connected, ideas, and to try and put them straight after one another is heading into run-on territory) but that's probably bias on my part.

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Re: Uniting Speech and Writing: the Half-Mark.

Postby gmalivuk » Sat Jun 27, 2009 1:51 pm UTC

llamapalooza wrote:But you'd use a letter to relay what happened this week to someone, just like you might that phone call to someone you haven't seen in a long time.

Yes, so there's *one* purpose that a letter and a phone call can both have, but I mentioned three other purposes for a phone call that a letter *never* has.

So I'm still not sure what point you're trying to make.
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Re: Uniting Speech and Writing: the Half-Mark.

Postby Shivari » Sat Jun 27, 2009 11:48 pm UTC

I'd say that the half-mark would be rather unnecessary and not used enough in writing to be worth the trouble of teaching people to use and accept it. The only people it would actually benefit to utilize it are those who would be writing prose, and that's not what most of us use writing for on a day-to-day basis.

As for how I would say the sentence in real life, I would naturally say "Do you want to go out on Thursday? Because I'm off that day." The only ways I can really see saying it are stretching it into one long question (no comma after Thursday), which sounds a bit clunky, or just splitting it into a question and a statement. If you were to do "Do you want to go out on Thursday (half-mark) Because I'm off that day?), I just don't know how you could say it naturally. You'd raise your voice on "Thursday", and have to sustain that and raise it even more for "day". That's the only way I see that being read with a half mark, otherwise you actually are splitting it into a question and sentence (sounds way more natural) and there's no need for a half-mark.

The same thing goes for "Utterly useless, or worth looking into?". I'd either separate it into two questions (otherwise I'd have to double-raise my voice, which I already addressed as problematic), or I'd just write it as I quoted (sans the comma). Either way, I think it already sounds natural. It should also be noted that you would never have a lone sentence like that if you were trying to be grammatical anyway. You'd say something like "Is this idea utterly useless or worth looking into?", in which case it works perfectly as a single sentence. You might write it the first way if you were writing prose, but it's already imperfect speech, so it should remain imperfect in the written form as well.
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Re: Uniting Speech and Writing: the Half-Mark.

Postby gmalivuk » Sun Jun 28, 2009 2:44 pm UTC

Shivari wrote:The same thing goes for "Utterly useless, or worth looking into?"

The typical way to pronounce that would already be to raise your tone on "useless" and then drop it again on "into". That's the usual pronunciation for questions with a list of options, so I definitely agree that no additional punctuation is necessary.
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Re: Uniting Speech and Writing: the Half-Mark.

Postby Josephine » Thu Jul 16, 2009 10:33 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
Shivari wrote:The same thing goes for "Utterly useless, or worth looking into?"

The typical way to pronounce that would already be to raise your tone on "useless" and then drop it again on "into". That's the usual pronunciation for questions with a list of options, so I definitely agree that no additional punctuation is necessary.


I, personally, would only use one intonation, and I would make the sentence read "Is it utterly useless, or worth looking into?"
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Re: Uniting Speech and Writing: the Half-Mark.

Postby The Galapagos Islands » Sat Jul 18, 2009 11:48 am UTC

What about, "Do you want to go out on Thursday (because I'm off that day)?"

It's grammatically correct, and seems to be pretty parallel w/ speech.
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Re: Uniting Speech and Writing: the Half-Mark.

Postby SSB » Sun Oct 30, 2011 8:35 pm UTC

Another way to express the thought is:

I'm off on Thursday; would you like to go out [then]? -- "Then" would be optional, depending on whether when the event was proposed to happen demanded additional emphasis.
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Re: Uniting Speech and Writing: the Half-Mark.

Postby PAstrychef » Thu Nov 03, 2011 10:55 pm UTC

SSB wrote:Another way to express the thought is:

I'm off on Thursday; would you like to go out [then]? -- "Then" would be optional, depending on whether when the event was proposed to happen demanded additional emphasis.

The semi-colon, that useful friend!
However, even in speech, the given example IS TWO SENTENCES. There is a question, then an explanation.
Also, the idea that text should mirror speech does a grave disservice to both.
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Re: Uniting Speech and Writing: the Half-Mark.

Postby Logomachist » Thu Dec 15, 2011 6:37 pm UTC

Add me to the list of those who think the half-mark isn't worth the trouble, for reasons already mentioned (the same effect can be achieved with commas, dashes, parenthesis and semi-collons). Also, I was taught that sentences already can span punctuation marks, thus:

Ah! The train has arrived.

...is really one sentence, not two. If you really feel the need to classify "I'm off on Thursday; would you like to go out?" as one sentence for semantic reasons, you can just declare it so and leave the punctuation alone.
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Re: Uniting Speech and Writing: the Half-Mark.

Postby MightGrabYou » Wed Dec 21, 2011 10:46 pm UTC

Just a little thought. I think a very elegant way of writing the half-mark would be writing a ? with a , (comma) instead of a . (dot). Seems like a natural way of writing it to me, dots end a sentence, comma's give a pause but don't end the sentence.
The same could be done for ! (exclamation marks). but I can't think of an example where that would be used right now.
Might have to write that comma a little bigger, but I'm sure you catch my drift.
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Re: Uniting Speech and Writing: the Half-Mark.

Postby Catmando » Sun Jan 01, 2012 12:28 am UTC

This is a case where I think language has somewhat failed us when it comes to clarity, but where I try my best to follow the rules of language anyway. My compromise is reordering how I would say it when I have to type or write it: "I'm off Thursday; do you want to go out that day?" I think it still works—the only real problem with it is that I kind of have to do a double-take and then figure out how I'm going to fix it. I do that a lot with language anyway, of course, so adding one more time, and in a situation that's rather rare anyway, shouldn't be much of a problem.

That said, I suppose I could try your method when I'm writing stuff, but then I'd have to explain it to people I'm using it around, and it would be more of a hassle than my method, I think. When it comes to typing, I think it would be entirely useless unless I constantly had a superscript question mark on my clipboard. That's assuming the tags on different forums I use it on are the same, though, for the superscript—and when it comes to chats like in Steam, it would be a total loss, which is ironically the only place I think I would use such a thing. After all, I'm not exactly going to ask someone out on the XKCD forum (no offense!).
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Re: Uniting Speech and Writing: the Half-Mark.

Postby Роберт » Thu Jan 12, 2012 9:14 pm UTC

I just realized that I already(!) have a method for inserting exclamation and question marks mid sentence. I think it's fine.
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Re: Uniting Speech and Writing: the Half-Mark.

Postby ConMan » Thu Jan 12, 2012 10:57 pm UTC

MightGrabYou wrote:Just a little thought. I think a very elegant way of writing the half-mark would be writing a ? with a , (comma) instead of a . (dot). Seems like a natural way of writing it to me, dots end a sentence, comma's give a pause but don't end the sentence.
The same could be done for ! (exclamation marks). but I can't think of an example where that would be used right now.
Might have to write that comma a little bigger, but I'm sure you catch my drift.
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It's mentioned on Wikipedia's article on Punctuation, under the heading "Novel punctuation marks. Interestingly, in flicking through the articles for ! and ?, I have learned that in some forms of subtitles it's common practice to use (!) for sarcasm and (?) for rhetorical questions.
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Re: Uniting Speech and Writing: the Half-Mark.

Postby Daniel Cohen » Fri Mar 16, 2012 3:58 am UTC

I think that Spoken English is a different language from Written English.

The mechanism for each language is different, although many features of the brain and body are shared.
But the dynamics are totally different, forcing some of the rules and content to be different, too.

Spoken is generated on-the-fly. Your speech is pre-planned, but the utterance includes a lot of flubs, slurs, and re-starts. Yet this is taken as part of the way speech works.
Also, spoken has a live and active audience, who frequently interferes, mis-directs, or supersedes the speaker. This is also acceptable.

In contrast, written is also pre-planned but it can be uttered out-of-order, then re-edited at the word, sentence, or paragraph level. The "perfect" version passes as the original.
The audience is remote and disconnected, so feed-back cannot be immediate.

I avoid the "Unity" problem entirely, by claiming that a person who speaks and writes is automatically bilingual.
So we know that translation is possible, but is fraught with pitfalls and counter-incentives. (Phew! I could never say this sentence to anyone!)
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Re: Uniting Speech and Writing: the Half-Mark.

Postby Derek » Sat Mar 17, 2012 9:11 pm UTC

Written and spoken English are better describes as two different dialects, rather than different languages altogether.
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Re: Uniting Speech and Writing: the Half-Mark.

Postby gmalivuk » Sun Mar 18, 2012 5:47 am UTC

Not even different dialects, I think, so much as different registers.
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