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Spanish punctuation - inversion of '?' and '!'
Thread poster: #41698 (LSF)

#41698 (LSF)
Malaysia
Local time: 04:52
Japanese to English
+ ...
Aug 4, 2006

What is the story or rather the origin of the inversion of the punctuation marks '?' and '!' at the beginning of phrases/sentences? Or. in other words, how did the deviation from other European languages come about?

[Edited at 2006-08-04 12:15]


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GoodWords  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 15:52
Spanish to English
+ ...
Answers Aug 4, 2006

An answer is given here.

Some highlights:

"The inverted question mark was not adopted until long after the decision of the Real Academia in the second edition of La Ortografía de la Real Academia (1754) to recommend it as the symbol indicating the beginning of a question in written Spanish. The Real Academia also ordered the same system for statements of exclamation using the symbols '¡' and '!'.

"Adoption of these new rules was slow, and there are even books from the nineteenth century that do not use either of the opening symbols, '¡' or '¿'. It did finally become standard usage, most likely due to its practicality given that Spanish syntax in many cases does not help the reader determine at what moment a sentence in progress is a question."

An additional point of interest not noted in the article is that when a sentence contains a question or exclamation, but the question or exclamation does not make up the whole sentence, the question or exclamation alone may be enclosed in the appropriate punctuation marks. If we did this in English, it would look like this:

It's a good idea, ¿isn't it?


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María Teresa Taylor Oliver  Identity Verified
Panama
Local time: 15:52
English to Spanish
+ ...
That's really interesting! Aug 4, 2006

Thank you, GoodWords

A pet peeve of mine is when people forget to use the proper opening question/exclamation marks in Spanish. I see it most often in advertising: billboards, posters, and such. And it makes me cringe!!


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Juan Jacob  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 15:52
French to Spanish
+ ...
I just love them! Aug 4, 2006

Good explanation GoodWords...

I love them because you know right away what kind of sentence it is... of course, somehow borring when it comes to write them down, but well...

By the way, I must disagree with some part of the article:

"Although it has now fallen into disuse, it is actually correct usage in Spanish to begin a sentence with an opening inverted exclamation mark ('¡') and end it with a question mark ('?'), or vice-versa, for statements that are questions but also have a clear sense of exclamation or surprise such as: ¡Quién te has creído que eres? ("Who have you thought you are?"). "

1.- ...now fallen into disuse...!? Wuauw, I wouldn't say that! In phone messages or pagers, certainly, but not in "correct" Spanish! Never!

2.- ¡Quién te has creído que eres?
That's just not that way, never a "¡" and then a "?"
Must be: ¿Quién te has creído que eres?


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Atenea Acevedo  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:52
English to Spanish
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Right on, Juan Aug 4, 2006

Fully agree with Juan. And yes, I'm an inverted question and exclamation marks lover, no doubt.


A.


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Andy Watkinson
Spain
Local time: 22:52
Member
Catalan to English
+ ...
No markers Aug 4, 2006

Lew Shiong Fong wrote:

What is the story or rather the origin of the inversion of the punctuation marks '?' and '!' at the beginning of phrases/sentences? Or. in other words, how did the deviation from other European languages come about?

[Edited at 2006-08-04 12:15]


Assuming you're not familar with the language, an easier way to understand why is that Spanish generally lacks "markers" to know when a question is a question.

a) Did John do it?
b) John did it.

In a) the question mark is almost superfluous; English marks open questions via the use of "do" or by inversion of the auxiliary verb which tell us from the very start that we're dealing with a question.

This is not the case in Spanish.
Word order does not reveal that a sentence is necessarily a question.

a) ¿Lo hizo Juan? (Did John do it?)
b) Lo hizo Juan. (John did it)

As you can see, the only way we'd know it is a question (in writing, and therefore without intonation) is by placing a question mark at the beginning.

Andy


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GoodWords  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 15:52
Spanish to English
+ ...
Before our time? Aug 4, 2006

[
Juan Jacob wrote:
By the way, I must disagree with some part of the article:

"Although it has now fallen into disuse, it is actually correct usage in Spanish to begin a sentence with an opening inverted exclamation mark ('¡') and end it with a question mark ('?'), or vice-versa, for statements that are questions but also have a clear sense of exclamation or surprise such as: ¡Quién te has creído que eres? ("Who have you thought you are?"). "

1.- ...now fallen into disuse...!? Wuauw, I wouldn't say that! In phone messages or pagers, certainly, but not in "correct" Spanish! Never!

2.- ¡Quién te has creído que eres?
That's just not that way, never a "¡" and then a "?"
Must be: ¿Quién te has creído que eres?


What the writer of the article says has fallen into disuse is not inverted punctuation but mixed punctuation where a sentence begins with an inverted exclamation mark "¡" and ends with "?". You say that it was in fact never correct. Indeed, I have never heard of this mixed punctuation before. Could it be that it was acceptable in a previous era, long before we were around?


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Juan Jacob  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 15:52
French to Spanish
+ ...
Yes... Aug 5, 2006

...you're right about what the author says about mixing ¡ and ?, but even so, that's very strange... never heard of that...

¡Nice W.E. to you all!
¿What are you going to do?


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Marta Fernandez-Suarez  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 21:52
English to Spanish
¡vamos que si existe...! Aug 6, 2006

A Juan y a Goodwords

Si bien no veo a mucha gente que use esa puntuación en foros, sí que se encuentra en novelas, artículos, etc.

Una prueba de que nadie se la saca de la manga está en el
Libro de Estilo de El País (18ª edición, página 131, 11.67.):

«Cuando una frase sea exclamativa e interrogativa al mismo tiempo, no se duplicarán los correspondientes signos, sino que se abrirá con el exclamativo y se cerrará con el interrogativo.»

¿Dónde habéis oído o leído que se trata de un error?

Saludotes,

Marta



[Edited at 2006-08-06 10:11]
--------------------

Ups, sorry, I wrote this in Spanish.
Above, I say basically that the use of this puntuation is advised in the 2003 edition of a very popular Spanish style guide called "Libro de Estilo de El País", advised, that is, when the sentence is at the same time an expression of doubt and surprise.

Kind regards,

Marta

[Edited at 2006-08-06 10:31]

[Edited at 2006-08-06 11:51]


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juvera  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:52
English to Hungarian
+ ...
It is all very interesting... Aug 8, 2006

...and I often wondered about it. So I was glad to see this thread.
On the other hand:

Andy Watkinson wrote:

Assuming you're not familar with the language, an easier way to understand why is that Spanish generally lacks "markers" to know when a question is a question.

a) Did John do it?
b) John did it.

In a) the question mark is almost superfluous; English marks open questions via the use of "do" or by inversion of the auxiliary verb which tell us from the very start that we're dealing with a question.

This is not the case in Spanish.
Word order does not reveal that a sentence is necessarily a question.

a) ¿Lo hizo Juan? (Did John do it?)
b) Lo hizo Juan. (John did it)

As you can see, the only way we'd know it is a question (in writing, and therefore without intonation) is by placing a question mark at the beginning.

Andy


...I have to say, that in Hungarian, the above example would be exactly the same:

Did John do it? - John did it.
John csinálta? - John csinálta.

Was it John? - It was John.
John volt? - John volt.

The same with more ellaborate questions, if you like:

Did they depart the day before yesterday?
They departed the day before yesterday.

Elutaztak tegnapelőtt?
Elutaztak tegnapelőtt.


...and it never caused the slightest problem and never crossed anybody's mind of forwarning the reader.

Of course, you can phrase the questions and answers differently, and the answer to the above question may be:

They departed. Or: The day before yesterday.
Elutaztak. / Tegnapelőtt.

- depending on the emphasis.

What I would like to know now, what other languages can express the same English question of 7 words in two words?

Huge word-count difference in source and target!

Judith


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Andy Watkinson
Spain
Local time: 22:52
Member
Catalan to English
+ ...
Spanish - Double Aug 8, 2006

"What I would like to know now, what other languages can express the same English question of 7 words in two words?
Huge word-count difference in source and target!
Judith"

"They used to be in the habit of taking off their shoes and socks" (14 words)

"Descalzábanse" (1 word)

Andy

[Edited at 2006-08-08 18:07]

[Edited at 2006-08-08 18:08]


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Aurora Humarán  Identity Verified
Argentina
Local time: 17:52
English to Spanish
+ ...
Latin Aug 10, 2006

I was surprised last year when I started studying Latin (again, I had taken some courses at High School). Some people get crazy when they see that others do no use the opening question mark and exclamation mark, and the language where Spanish comes from did not have them!

There are other explanations as to the appearence of the opening question mark.

As a colleague pointed out above, not all questions start with a relative pronoun. Some can be totally ambiguous:

Vino María. (María came)
¿Vino María? (Did María come?)
So... a
Vino María? possibility would be quite misleading.

In the case of short sentences, that is no problem.

Tiene tiempo para que le pregunte algunas cosas sobre mi hermano? (ah, ok, it was a question, not a statement! )

I remember having read that only three languages in the world have opening question and exclamation mark.
Can anybody confirm this?

¡Thanks!


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juvera  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:52
English to Hungarian
+ ...
We can do the one-word bits... Aug 10, 2006

Andy Watkinson wrote:

"They used to be in the habit of taking off their shoes and socks" (14 words)

"Descalzábanse" (1 word)

Andy


"legmegkopaszítottabbaitoknak" (1)

"For those amongst you, who's hair is the most thoroughly removed from their head" (14)

(- like the new recruits to the army: the sun is going to burn their scalp, so give them a hat).

It is possible to come up with more in the same vein.
After all, Hungarian is not called "aglutinous language" for nothing.
Some of these words may actually be used once in a lifetime.


[Edited at 2006-08-10 09:59]
Sorry, I didn't mean to highjack the thread, just a bit of light diversion.

[Edited at 2006-08-10 10:03]


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Lorenzo Lilli  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:52
German to Italian
+ ...
3 languages? Aug 15, 2006

Aurora Humarán wrote:

I remember having read that only three languages in the world have opening question and exclamation mark.
Can anybody confirm this?

¡Thanks!


Which are the other two languages? Now I'm curious And thank you all for your explanations, I've always been fascinated by this feature of the Spanish punctuation.


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