Where to place punctuation with French-style brackets in US English
Thread poster: Daisy Waites

Daisy Waites  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:47
Member (2014)
German to English
+ ...
Oct 16, 2015

If French-style brackets are used as quotation marks in US English, where should the punctuation go: inside the brackets or outside?
To explain, this issue mostly arises with German clients who use French-style brackets as their house style for quotation marks and emphasis, e.g.:

the proposed conference themes are »Women in the World,« »Intergenerational Conflict,« and »the Future of Health.«

To me, the French-style brackets are so visually disruptive that it would seem more natural to break with the conventions of US English and place the punctuation outside the brackets. However, I am from the UK, so I would really like to know what colleagues in the US think.

My current project is for a university (translation from German to US English), but the issue has also arisen with medical technology and IT translations.


 

Michael Wetzel  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 21:47
German to English
inside or ask the client Oct 16, 2015

They're actually German style quotation marks (that is, backward [French] guillemets). Ask the client if they are really, really certain that they want to use them. If they insist on using them, then use them.

I would certainly follow the UK conventions for placing commas and periods relative to quotation marks, because these also happen to be the German conventions. If they can't even be bothered to use proper quotation marks, they are highly unlikely to understand or want to conform to the US convention of always placing periods and commas inside quotation marks. If you really feel the need, send them an example using the UK convention and ask them if it is OK if you do it like that.


 

Daisy Waites  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:47
Member (2014)
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks, but the client is pretty set on this style of brackets Oct 16, 2015

Thanks for your comments, Michael. The client definitely wants to use these French/German style brackets for quotations and emphasis: it is in their house style guide.
Thanks also for pointing out the Germanness of these brackets: the house style guide I mentioned above refers to them as French brackets, and I lazily adopted this term.
I would, however, venture that direct speech or emphasis that are signalled as »emphasis« or «emphasis» pose a similar dilemma in US English - where to put the punctuation? Inside or outside the brackets?
I am particularly interested in what would seem more natural or "correct" to the US target audience.


 

Neptunia
Local time: 21:47
Italian to English
US English Oct 17, 2015

The period or comma should go inside the brackets according to US English. Doing otherwise always looks to me like the period is just too far away and sadly left out. BUT I have to emphasize that all bets are off when it comes to deliberately incorporating something so foreign and bizarre-looking as those wacky French/German brackets. It looks like some kind of erroneous computer code was mistakenly generated in the place of characters that the browser or printer couldn't handle. I understand it is not your choice, but the position of a period is trivial compared with how jarring the quotation marks are. Good luck!

 

Michael Wetzel  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 21:47
German to English
guillemets in US English Oct 17, 2015

If I were to freely choose to use guillemets in a US English text (which I can't imagine doing, and I would certainly never choose to use reverse guillemets, although I do sometimes use them to conform to clients' wishes), then I would follow the Chicago Style conventions for placing periods and commas inside the end guillemets, because no exception is listed in the manual and adding exceptions on top of exceptions almost automatically leads to inconsistency.

Personally, even as an American, the style of "dogs," "cats," and "chipmunks" looks more or less strange to me, but I know that is how it is done and the last thing I want to spend my time worrying about is where I would place commas if I were free to decide for myself.

American dashes (EM-dashes), which are inserted without spaces in books and with spaces in newspapers, are also one of the things that Germans who want American rarely actually want. And again, if they want reverse guillemets, I would generally just assume that they also want UK/German EN-dashes with spaces on either side, no serial/Oxford comma and periods/full stops and commas outside quotation marks unless the period marks the end of a complete sentence.


 

philgoddard
United States
Member (2009)
German to English
+ ...
I think you should tell the customer Oct 18, 2015

... that their house style is wrong. You shouldn't use foreign punctuation marks in English texts - it's a big visual distraction, and makes it look as though you've done a bad translation or don't know how to do English quotation marks on your foreign keyboard. And since they've got it wrong, your question is academic.

 

Daisy Waites  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:47
Member (2014)
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks for the comments - further thoughts welcome Oct 18, 2015

Thanks Neptunia, Michael and Phil for your comments. Certainly, if the issue crops up with another German client (and I can imagine it might), I can advise them of your reactions to the use of jarring foreign punctuation. I'm afraid I'm stuck with it in this case. Any further comments most welcome.

 

Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 21:47
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
Another vote against guillemets in English Oct 19, 2015

I firmly explain to my clients that source-language punctuation is sometimes just wrong in English.

My source languages sometimes use dashes (long or em dashes, I believe they are called) at the beginning of a quotation and nothing, or said + the person's name at the end.

It sounds very un-English to repeat the person's name so many times, especially if it is long and full of special letters. I use English punctuation and cut down on the repeats of the names, especially long ones full of 'odd' letters!

Danish comma rules are different from English comma rules, so they have to live with those too.

In your situation I would simply treat the brackets like quotation marks, i.e. punctuation inside the thingies, register my protest, and move on!


 


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Where to place punctuation with French-style brackets in US English

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