From: Philippe Verdy (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Fri May 23 2008 - 06:18:18 CDT
John Hudson wrote:
> A quick search suggests to me that while
> > there's quite a bit of variety, French users do in fact frequently
> > space out their semicolons.
> Which is very unfortunate because it makes it impossible to
> anticipate and provide a consistent layout-side solution, at
> least for served text.
It's not odd. You can anticipate the fact that the absence of spaces is
considered bad in typesetted text (but correct in data files where
semicolons are arbitrary list separators rather than normal punctuations),
and the presence of spaces satisfies every reader. Now you can be lazy and
forget to type spaces; but others will come later and will correct them for
you (or a spell checker or word processor will make this job).
If you consider the case of colons, the spacing before it is almost
semantic: correct and expected when the colon is a punctuation, but
incorrect when it is a unit symbol (e.g. in time notations). The spacing is
also expected for the question mark at end of questions, but should not be
there when it is a symbol replacing an unknown missing character (the
spacing determines if this pucuation mark is really ending a sentence).
The extra spacing is generally not entered in English only because most
fonts today are made according to English typesetting rules where the
traditional spacing was about 1/8 to 1/6 em in English (depending on the
margin gaps already present in the punctuation type), but 1/6 to 1/4 em in
classic French typography (so the spacing needed for English is present in
the font itself and may be considered enough; it is still not enough for
Generations of secretaries have been told to enter spaces on typewriters (in
official programs in the 1950's to 1980's, they were badly noted if they
forgot one of them in their documents) even if this was not needed with
fixed-width text produced on old typewriters. This heritage is still very
persistant, even if we no longer use typewriters but word processors and
You can't easily make this "magic" within typesetting programs, because
there are exceptions depending on humane interpretation and corrections. In
addition there's still the case of "!!!" or "???" or "?!" or "?:" where
multiple punctuation marks should not have extra spacing between them (the
case is similar to dot leaders in ellipsis) but only before the group, as
they are building a single, unbreakable notation (so the internal gap in
fonts should be minimum, similar the margins present in other characters
like letters and digits).
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