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Lost in Punctuation

As languages may differ in terms of structure, gender, and syntax; there’s something that most languages have in common (there are a few exceptions to the rule): they need Punctuation. Punctuation is what helps us make sense of what we read and say, a necessary evil which serves to contain the chaos inherent in language. Different languages have different approaches to punctuation marks. As we have mentioned before, it is a topic for debate whether our language is a reflection of our culture and behavior or vice-versa. But it seems to be clear that both language and culture, as well as behavior, are connected. Just as each mind is a world of its own, we, as a community, having been born and raised in the same country, our ways are shaped together and we develop the behavioral and cultural features which make our country unique among the rest. So, we could say that our personalities are somehow shaped by the environment where we are raised and that, just as we do, our language develops its own personality.

Just as an example, from a seemingly aesthetical point of view, consider this comparison of different languages personalities: whereas English displays northern European austerity by using question marks and exclamation points only at the end of a sentence (English?, English!), the flamboyant, southern European Spanish shows off its bounty of punctuation marks at both ends (¿Español?, ¡Español!); and then we have French in its European flavor which has a penchant for fads and fancies, such as adding non breaking spaces before some, but not all punctuation marks, depending on its mood (Français ?, Français !). So, each language has its own personality when it comes to using punctuation.

Regardless of language personality, punctuation is so important that it is decisive in areas such as Law, where the misplacing (or lack thereof) of a simple comma can swing a Court’s decision either way, as seen in this piece of news. Or it can influence ideals and modify meanings that carry weight in our society. As an example we ca refer to this famous sentence: “A woman, without her, man is nothing,” or “A woman, without her man, is nothing.”

Proper punctuation is a reflection of language education. And also that we understand that getting a message across is not only saying something, but rather how we say it. The best example out there is the famous love letter that can be either the best letter this “Romeo” could have received, or simply the worst one:

Dear Romeo,

I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we’re apart. I can forever be happy—will you let me be yours?


Dear Romeo,

I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, thoughtful people, who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me. For other men, I yearn. For you, I have no feelings whatsoever. When we’re apart, I can forever be happy. Will you let me be?



So, we don’t know what letter he received, or what our Juliet’s true feelings are. All we know is that punctuation is a little like relationships, you almost never know where it’s headed until the full stop comes.