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Upside down question marks and exclamation points: Why English should use inverted punctuation, like Spanish does.
Nearly any sentence can be an exclamation as long as the situation is right and the speaker or writer is sufficiently agitated.
Take Jennifer Senior’s October interview with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, for instance, in which exclamation points abound.
Such scenarios are likely less common with written questions than they are with exclamations, but similar problems arise there, too.
More traditionally phrased questions present less of a problem, because context cues often alert readers that a question is coming. There is an elegant, efficient typographic option that would allow us to know before we read an exclamation or a question that we should proceed in reading it a bit differently than we would a normal declarative sentence. The Real Academia Española applied the same rule to exclamation points, and books published by the academy thereafter began implementing the inverted marks, though often in a haphazard manner. Other publishers and writers followed suit until, eventually, use of the inverted marks became the norm.
Now, in urging that we turn our system of punctuation on its head, I do not mean to suggest that written English and written Spanish are perfect analogs, or that what works in one language will necessarily work in the other. For those looking to pre-emptively bellyache about what a burden it will be to type the inverted marks, trust me when I say it’s not that hard. If I have my way, though, these marks will be represented as shift-key options on all of our keyboards soon enough. Since Latinos are being sold as face of illegal immigration I guess the diplomatic approach would be to engage Latino US citizens in the solution. This makes exactly as much sense as engaging Asian Americans in developing a solution to our massive debt to China. Sure, the traditional manner of punctuating sentences in English works fine much of the time. When you’re reading a sentence the writer intended as an exclamation, by the time the exclamation point comes in, you’ve already read all the information that was supposed to have received emphasis!


In nearly every case, the reader discovers that Scalia has become worked up only after the fact.
In Spanish, inverted punctuation marks serve as warning signs prior to a question or exclamation’s beginning. And, really, amen for that, because reading exclamations and questions in Spanish is wonderful! There are clear differences between the two—for instance, the frequent use of cue-carrying auxiliary verbs such as do and can at the beginning of questions asked in English, but not in Spanish, may make these inverted marks more useful in the language of Cervantes.
Well, aside from Puerto Ricans and Cubans I really think most Latino Voters are looking for immigration amnesty. Aside from Puerto Ricans and Cubans how many Latinos actually have the right to vote in this country–and actually exercise that right?
So you are basing your policy on polling results which require people to first identify themselves with an ethnicity with an ever-shifting definition? When your eyes reach the punctuation, you already know your wife got the big promotion, or the Pittsburgh Pirates finally made the playoffs, and you’ve missed the chance to read the relevant sentence from start to finish for the first time with the appropriate tone. These inverted marks are both handy and precise—they can be used not just at the start of a sentence, but also within the body of a sentence to indicate the exact spot where the interrogative or exclamatory tone begins. And with longer sentences, it’s possible to be more accurate about when tone or emphasis is intended.
Perhaps this change would even decrease the antipathy some of us feel for exclamation points, since we’d be using them precisely, not as a lazy, reflexive manner of punctuating. But just because something is more necessary in one context does not render it unhelpful in another. Cubans are Caribbean and the Cubans I work with look at immigration as a political rather than an economic issue. I’m thinking that most of these so-called Latinos have as much culture in common with each other as the Germans and the Italians. Brazilians are Hispanic because they have descended from Hispania, the ancient country composed of Spain and Portugal.


A similar scenario occurs with some written questions that aren’t worded in obvious question form.
After all this time, with all these improperly read sentences, why is it that we still read this way? They don’t consider themselves immigrants and the Puerto Rican Newarkers i know are to the right of Lou Dobbs on immigration because they feel their jobs are most threatened by illegal aliens. But they face the same issues that non-Puerto Rican Latinos face with regards to immigration, so when we say Latino immigration groups, we really mean Latinos and Caribbean Islanders that are pushing for immigration amnesty.
I bet many immigrants never had contact with Latinos from another culture until they came to the USA. In fact, the Brazilians in Newark have been returning to South America where the economy is better, and their apartments and jobs are being taken over by Ecuadorans, Newark’s largest Latino group. Latino actually means from Latin America, which includes Mexico, Central America, South America, and Spanish speaking Caribbean countries. In many cases, until the end punctuation comes in, only the writer knows if a sentence was meant to have that extra flair that an exclamation point brings.
Most people really have no problem with the fact that they have to read many sentences to the very end before they figure out what tone and emphasis were intended for the words they already finished reading? And an immigrant from South America that has to get through Central America and Mexico to get into the USA has a lot more at stake than a Mexican immigrant both in getting here and staying here. So while context clues can provide giveaways that you are reading a question rather than an ordinary declarative statement, those methods aren’t foolproof.



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