Punctuation Changes Worldwide

Punctuation marks may be hated or even ignored by some people when it comes to writing. Nevertheless, they are sometimes crucial in order to avoid ambiguities. If we take for example the sentence: I know you know. A comma placed in the middle of the sentence “I know, you know” changes its meaning entirely.

When we translate from one language to another, punctuation is something we really have to be careful with. Why? Because something so simple as a question mark in one language may have a completely different use in another. Moreover,  punctuation rules are constantly evolving and may differ from one register to another, from a language to another and even within the same language with the passing of time.

Let’s begin with Greek: the language uses what the English use as a semicolon (;) as a question mark (?). Furthermore, what the English use as a colon (:) and semicolon (;) is instead a raised point (·). In Arabic, Persian and Urdu which are written from right to left, writers use a reversed question mark (؟)  as well as a reversed comma (،). These are new additions however, given that pre-modern Arabic did not use any punctuation marks whatsoever. Hebrew, on the other hand, which is also written from right to left uses the same punctuation marks as English.

Spanish is interesting because it is practically the only language which requires inverted marks of interrogation and exclamation (¿¡ ?!)  at the beginning of sentences as well as the normal marks we are used to at the end. As someone who’s bilingual in Spanish, I find them sometimes tedious when it comes to writing but admittedly they are rather useful when you’re reading aloud because it prepares you for the intonation required in questions or exclamations.

The French language also has it’s peculiarities. A space is required both before and after all punctuation marks and symbols such as: (:), (;), (!), (?), (%) and ($). Canadian French however does not require this, except in the case of the colon.

The period has several uses throughout the world. In most European languages such as French and German, it is used to separate thousands (i.e. 1.000) and the comma as a decimal point (1,5). In English however the comma is used to separate thousands and the period for decimal points. Burmese is strangely interesting for a Westerner because their break characters consist of (l or ll) which act as a comma or a period. Also, their decimal separator is not a comma nor a period but a character similar to our forward slash but slightly lower in height.

It seems like the only common use of punctuation marks worldwide is in smileys. Luckily we have expert trained translators who are always ready to tackle these linguistic differences in all of Trusted Translation’s projects.