LINGUIST List 6.211

Mon 13 Feb 1995

Sum: Written signs in speech

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  1. "Dewi W. Evans", Sum: Written Signs in Speech

Message 1: Sum: Written Signs in Speech

Date: Tue, 07 Feb 1995 18:55:02 Sum: Written Signs in Speech
From: "Dewi W. Evans" <>
Subject: Sum: Written Signs in Speech

Content-Length: 18171

I'm very grateful to those who responded - with such interesting references,
comments and examples - to my query about written signs being transferred to
speech, and apologize that I couldn't thank everyone individually.
Those who replied were:

Agnes Roman (
Peter Jones (
Deborah Milam Berkley (
Karen Gammelgaard (
Gail Stygall (
"Rebecca Larche Moreton (Becky)" (MLRLMVM.CC.OLEMISS.EDU)
Robert Dale (
"Karen S. Chung" (
Peter-Arno Coppen (
"Dr. Christian K. Nelson" (CNELSONVM.CC.PURDUE.EDU)
Philippe Mennecier (
"E.H. Klein-v.d.Laaken" (
Stephen P Spackman (
James Kirchner (

My original posting asked about such sentences as:

 We used to believe that "real" men didn't show their emotions
 which I thought could be expressed in speech as:

 We used to believe that real - in quotation marks - men ...
 We used to believe that quote real (unquote) men ...
 by 'imitating' double quotation marks with one or two fingers of both
 hands when pronouncing 'real'.

 Other examples were the use of the word 'period':

 Elvis was the greatest there ever was, period.

and 'underline', 'unterstreichen' and 'souligner' to mean 'emphasize'.
 Roman Agnes (

 just a few exemples from Hungarian;

 1. "Megirod a leckedet, pont." = You'll write your homework, period.
 (Meaning: strict order, no further discussion permitted.)

 2. "Eljott Kati is, zarojelben megjegyzem, nagyon ideges volt..."
 = Kathy came too, [and] I note in parentheses, she was very
 (Meaning: I make a "side" comment)
 JONES Peter (

The French use 'full stop' with even more emphasis - point, a la ligne.
 Deborah Milam Berkley (

This isn't a serious scholarly answer to your query.

Have you ever heard Victor Borge's routine on so-called "phonetic punctuation"?
 It's awfully funny. He does
it on the video of his 80th birthday celebration at Wolf Trap in the U.S.

A good introduction to problems of transferring written signs to speech and
vice versa is

 Josef Vachek (1989), Written Language Revisited,
 Amsterdam -Philadelphia : John Benjamins.

Your example with the use of period meaning no more discussion necessary has
 equivalents in Czech and Danish.

Czech: "Elvis byl nejvetsi zpevak vsech dob, tecka." (tecka = period)
Danish: "Elvis var tidernes st|rste, punktum" (punktum = period)
 Gail Stygall (

Author: Dillon, George L.
Title: My Words of an Other.
Year: 1988
Language: English
Pub. Type: Journal article; Evaluative report; Position paper
Source: College English; v50 n1 p63-73 Jan 1988
Abstract: Considers the conventions of quotation marks--or "perverted
 commas"--and identifies seven uses, including shudder quotes
 (slang or inappropriate words) and scare quotes (used for attention or
emphasis). Notes that quotation marks influence meaning and that finding a
 personal voice entails using language without quotes. (MM)
Subject Major: Punctuation.
Subject Minor: Discourse-Analysis. Higher-Education. Plagiarism. Semantics.
Identifiers: Quotations. Voice-Rhetoric. Word-Choice. Word-Potency.
 Writing-Attitudes. Writing-Style.
 "Rebecca Larche Moreton (Becky)" (MLRLMVM.CC.OLEMISS.EDU)

Your first example of punctuation that has been put into a spoken sentence is
interesting because the quotation marks around "real" in "real" man are the
written way of expressing ironic emphasis in the voice that would
otherwise be lost in print. Then, reading from the page, or pretending to do
so, the speaker says: real, quote-unquote, or makes one of the bracketing
gestures y ou mention, but I'd be willing to bet he also puts the extra
stress on the work real, just as he would have done if he hadn't said quote-
unquote. So the irony is doubly marked. In the other example, in your
irrefutable statement about The King, the word period serves as an
emphatic sentence particle. This is not the meaning of an actual period, which
in print serves simply to show the end of a sentence. There are, then, two
different things going on in the two examples. I have heard people
who really wanted to cut off further debate say things like:

 You are not going out tonight, period, period!

with the first period on a low pitch and the second one higher and much louder.
The second period has emphatic stress, i.e., is higher and louder than the
first, which has end-of-sentence pitch and a stress.

As for other examples, the only ones that come to mind right now are those
involving the decimal system: In French, one says "sept virgule trois" for
7,3 just as we say seven point three. This must have parallels in other

By the way, since you are interested in this, maybe you'd enjoy hearing the
Phonetic Punctuation routines of the Danish-born pianist and comedian Victor
Borge. He has a system of indicating punctuation by means of
various mouth-noises, usually as rude as possible, which makes for some
hilarious patter. It has been a long time since I heard him, but I believe
his records are still available.
 Robert Dale (

What's your take on the use of the word "parenthetically" as in

 Parenthetically, I should say here that ...

Stretching it a bit further, how about "item" in the following (not at all
 convinced by this one but just in case):

 There are some things we should get straight here.
 Item: no smoking in class;
 item: no eating in class ...
 "Karen S. Chung" (

This happens when certain words are borrowed from the local dialect,
'Taiwanese' (or 'Southern Min'), into the standard national language, Mandarin,
via Latin letters to represent the Taiwanese sound. E.g. a local
variety of lettuce is called in Taiwanese e5 a2 chhai3, and perhaps most people
call it by its Taiwanese name rather than its Mandarin name, wo1 ju4. But then
it became common to represent the Taiwanese term in writing thus: A cai4.
People subsequently started pronouncing it like it was written, which is quite
unlike the Taiwanese compound on which it was based.

The same has happened with the Taiwanese term for 'springy' (in reference e.g
to rice): khiu7 became Q. This raised the tone from a middle level to high
level (there is no middle level tone in Mandarin).I can give you a reference on
 Hansell, Mark ( _The Sino-Alphabet: The
assimilation of Roman letters into the Chinese writing system_. Philadelphia:
Sino-Platonic Papers, no. 45, May 1994.
 Peter-Arno Coppen (

I think the quotation marks can also be expressed by a characteristic
intonation pattern (starting the quoted part with a new tone word, with L*HL

Also, pronouncing quotation marks with "say" seems (in some cases) to be

 I think that, say "intelligence", has something to do with it

About the origin: in the sixties/seventies, the Danish comedian Victor Borge
was rather successful with his "phonetic puntuation", in which he e.g.
"pronounced" quotation marks with two clicking sounds, accompanied
by the finger sign you mentioned. This will surely not be the origin, but I saw
many people imitating him since then.
 "Dr. Christian K. Nelson" (CNELSONVM.CC.PURDUE.EDU)

I'm not sure, but think that what you're interested in might overlap with the
phenomenon of "reported speech," which Bakhtin and his circle dealt with.
Perhaps there is a better reference for their work, but the one I'm
familiar with is V. N. Volosinov's (1973) _Marxism and the philosophy of
language_ (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press; L. Matejka & I. R Titunik,
trans.). I should note that some believe this book was actually authored
by Bahktin, but bears Volosinov's name for political reasons. Anyway, part 3
seems pertinent to your interests.
 Philippe Mennecier

The same phenomena exist in french :
 On a coutume de penser que les vrais hommes (entre guillemets) ne
 montrent pas leurs e/motions.
 (your example), or the same - by 'imitating' double quotation marks
 with *two* fingers of both hands
when pronouncing "vrais hommes".
 To break off further discussion, we say, as your "period" : "un point,
 c'est tout." It's lexicalized.
 Je ne le ferai pas, un point c'est tout. (I shall not do that, period)
 Note also, lexicalized : "Entre parenthe/ses" ("e" with "grave accent")
 or, better, "Soit dit entre
parenthe/ses" (by the way), in order to express a private comment.
 (...) (Soit dit) entre parenthe/ses, il n'est pas tre's malin.
 (By the way, between ourselves, he is not very clever)
 Of course, we can use other expression by irony, like: I said that with
 points of suspension (avec des points de suspension), but
 it is not lexicalized.
 "E.H. Klein-v.d.Laaken" (

I can contribute some Dutch examples:

Je gaat vanavond niet weg, PUNT uit!
You go tonight not away, period end!
*meaning: end of discussion

Of het vlug genoeg gaat .. daar zet ik wat VRAAGTEKENS bij.
Whether it goes fast enough .. there I add some question marks.
*meaning: I'm not to sure about that

Hij ONDERSTREEPTE nog eens hoe belangrijk dit was.
He underlined once again how important this was.

Een echte - tussen AANHALINGSTEKENS - man ..
A real - between quotation marks - man

Een echte man - tussen AANHALINGSTEKENS dan ..
A real man - that is, between quotation marks ..

TUSSEN TWEE HAAKJES, wat doe jij vanavond?
between two brackets, what do you tonight?
*meaning: introducing a question unrelated to the discussion that goes on
 or has just finished.

De boeren, die het, TUSSEN TWEE HAAKJES, al gemakkelijker hebben dan vroeger, ..
The farmers, who, between two brackets, have already an easier life than before,
*meaning: an additional remark, that nevertheless has some importance

I heard or read somewhere (don't know where, don't know when) that people use
also keyboardstrikes in their talk, that would be a modern version of your
question; e.g., F7 meaning 'I will remember' (from WordPerfect)

I seem to recall that the last words of Sellar & Yateman (spelling from
memory!) _1066 And All That_ are "America was now clearly Top Nation and so
history came to a full ."

I'm not sure what kind of example THAT is :-).

The Germans also say/use "in/mit Gaensefuesschen" lit. 'small goose feet', the
colloquial expression for quotation marks, with similar elocutionary force. My
suspicion is that this is a borrowing (by academics?) from English and/or
American, but of course these things are difficult to trace. There must be a
technical term for the study of gestures (the German term is 'Gestik', from
'Geste' 'gesture; the former being an abstract noun 'gesturing' or the like).
I seem to remember the same quotation marks gesture in the German usage (German
here means German language, not limited, in my mind, to German citizens).

It is not uncommon for a German speaker, while lecturing, to use the middle
finger [sic] to punctuate the first in a series of fingered ordinal numbers,
although in a restaurant the thumb is used as '1', thumb and pointer for '2'
and so on. Of course the obscene insult can be used as well, another borrowing?

Spoken ellipsis. "SO, in the middle of the lecture she was saying that the
rhetorical usage was changing dot dot dot. We got the message long before she
 James Kirchner

The first time I became aware of this phenomenon was in the late '60s, when I
was about 12, and some British "progressive rock" song was being played on the
radio here in Detroit (don't remember the name or the group). It began with a
spoken part mimicking a preacher or professor and he was pronouncing the
letters of the abbreviation "i.e." rather than saying "as in": "...[?aj?i:]
society, [?aj?i:] the church..." This spoken "i.e." is so common here in the
States that, despite being a "highly literate" person, I didn't know it meant
"as in" until a year or two ago when my Czech-born teaching colleagues in
Europe told me. I still don't believe the two mean the same thing anymore in
colloquial speech.

People here also pronounce "e.g." for "for example", "a k a" for "also known
as", and Latin abbreviations are often pronounced as written, such as "et al"
for "and others". The French "a la" used in the sense of "after the
fashion of" is so commonly spoken that I now see it written as a word "ala".

The most common rendering of the written quotation marks here is a sort of
quickly spoken compound word "quoteunquote", as in, "He's not a quoteunquote
*real* man." (The emphasis always follows.)

Business offices are full of spoken acronyms spoken such as "CYA" (from "cover
your ass") to mean a nearly superfluous blame prevention precaution or fact
verification measure one takes when doing a particular job
("Do it as a CYA" or "This is just a CYA measure"). "KMA" from "kiss my ass",
in ad agencies, designates a job people have to do free on their own time,
e.g., because it's for their boss's favorite charity ("This is just a
KMA so don't hurry." or "It's a KMA job, but you still have to rush it, I'm
really sorry.") ASAP "as soon as possible" is pronounced as a word sounding
nearly like "ass at". I suppose the classic case of such a thing is
the originally military word "snafu", which stood for "situation normal -- all
fucked up".

Check this if it's useful, but I swear I heard people in the Czech Republic
colloquially using the letters of their abbreviation "atd." instead of the
full "a tak dale" to mean "for example".

Closer to what you're asking for would be the growing use of the phrase
"question mark" over here to mean simply something unknown: "This event leaves
a big question mark over the whole project."

You know, this phenomenon isn't only confined to speech. Here is a sentence
from the letters column of the January 30, 1995 U.S. edition of Time magazine:

"Those of us who have to use PCs at work but choose to have Macs at home know
that Macs, while not problem free, are far and away superior to PC compatibles,

Notice this use of "period" followed by an exclamation point. The word period
in this usage has been reanalysed to such a degree that it's not uncommon in
the U.S. to hear emphatic statements like the following:

"I'm not going period! Exclamation point!"

"Period" has thus come to mean something like "in any case".

Americans also say "slash" to designate "/":

"He's kind of a carpenter slash bricklayer."
"It's more or less like a cafe slash bookshop."
"If he slash she has a gender, *I* sure can't tell!"

We also say "hyphen" in a similar way: "He's an actor hyphen tennis pro."

Also don't forget the emergence over the last 20 years or so of the term
"bottom line", describing the sum of an arithmetic problem or an accounting
ledger, and used to mean "the summation" or "the point of the matter". In
the 1970s I heard it mainly in two set forms, the question, "What's the bottom
line?" (i.e., what's the point?) and a main clause "The bottom line is that..."
(i.e., what I'm getting at is...). Now it's become sort of a
complementizer as well, so you hear things like:

"He gave me this big runaround about how his wife was sick, and he had to do
overtime at work, and he's got an exam coming, and all this crap, bottom line
he's not gonna come."

I've also heard people, who want to end useless heated discussion of something
and move on to another point, yell things like,

Some of this stuff almost sounds like people are thinking in comic strip
images: "There's a question mark hanging over him." (i.e., his fate is
uncertain). This is similar to idioms that most certainly have such origins,
such as, "I just saw a light bulb over your head. What's your idea?"

The Germans read the comma aloud in their decimals much as we here say "point",
so American 1.0 "one point zero" would be German 1,0 "eins komma null".
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