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Trends of Punctuation in English and Lithuanian

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Published: Wed, 21 Feb 2018


The world of knowledge always tempted the scientists of any spheres. The nature, human body and brain gave birth to the many branches of science such as physics, medicine and philosophy. The analysis of a language was also one of the most popular branches of research of the linguists and grammarians of the fifteenth century. The unbounded interest in the development and variation of a language, and its constructions presented to the world the new approaches analysing the oral and written forms of any language: the phonology, phonetics, grammar and semantics. At the beginning of the fifteenth century, the scholars focused on the study of sounds and their pronunciation. The phoneticians and linguists analysed the origin of vowels and consonants, their structure and the interactions with other sounds, proffering different theories on the usage of them. A few decades later, the majority of scientists turned their focus on the analysis of a communication, basically, the orally expressed language. They gave birth to the new branch of the analysis of language: the rhetoric. Analysing the language as the changeable system of sounds and their combinations, the scientists believed that oral presentation of a language could be divided into smaller units, which were distinguished with the assistance of hearing. Moreover, this division could help to show the purpose of the thought expressed, not only indicating the mood of a speaker, but also presenting the correct function of a thought in a sentence.

However, the sixteenth century and the growing needs of the written texts, made the scholars to realize that the language was more complex system of communication. The influence of a church encumbered the scientists. Consequently, the linguists had to concentrate not only on the structure of a sentence and its correlation in a paragraph; they also had to find a method to inbreathe the emotions to the written expressions of thoughts, that the created sentences on the paper would have the same intonation as it was produced orally in a conversation. In order to achieve this purpose the punctuation was created.

Motivational basis of the research. The grammarians paid great attention to the phonology, syntax, grammar, the structure of a sentence and its expressions in the oral and written forms. They noticed that the oral structure of the thought cared equal importance of the one visually presented. Moreover, the scientists realized that fair influence was made on the comprehension of a thought or a text. They believed that the punctuation was the basis not only in the specification of the purpose of a sentence, but also in the identification of a style of a text presented. In order to understand the purpose and the usage of marking, the scientists analysed punctuation from different trends of linguistic. Thus, the punctuation was divided into two different traditions: the rhetorical and grammatical.

From rhetorical point of view, the composition played the most important role in any kind of communication. The grammarians assumed that composition was a foundation-stone in the science of rhetoric. They presented a theory that a good text or a paragraph depended on three components: “clear thinking, reading the best and most vigorous writers; and frequent practice in writing, along with careful polishing of what we have written.” ( Meiklejohn J. 1915:175) In other words, the good presentation of a text, especially a thought expressed in written or oral form, depended on the correct and considered structure of a sentence. The linguists, on the contrary, saw oral speech as a “multimodal, multi channel event that encoded a lot of redundant information.” (Dawnkings J. Breath, Grammar, and Proper Punctuation 1925:1) According to them, people varied the intensity of speech; modulated the intonation, making their voice to rise or to fall as well as using the gestures, body language and facial expressions. These actions provided additional information on the message produced. The linguists also assumed that the punctuation was expressed with help of intonation, pitch and pauses. Later, these methods took the role in the grammatical division of a sentence. Intonation in written texts served as “a controller of meaning” providing “more phrasing information to the reader.” (Flippo R.F. Punctuationand intonation effects on the perception of texts 2001:133). Pitch, on the other hand, indicated the emotional state of a speaker. Rising or falling tone of any word uttered showed the feelings of a communicator either anger, the cry, warring or command. The body language and gestures also assisted in the comprehension of a thought expressed.

Grammatical tradition of punctuation, however, lost these “visual and auditory channels leaving only words and grammatical structures to carry the message.” (Dawnkings J. 1925:2) The grammatical punctuation was used as system of marks that separated or combined the words, sentences or their parts. The linguists assumed that the main function of the punctuation marks was to present a correct meaning of a thought and a speaker or writer was responsible for this action. However, the grammarians soon realized that the liberal rules of punctuation not only provided the freedom of a writer to express their thoughts in the structure they wanted; frequently, this method of punctuating texts led the readers into the ambiguity. Although, the grammarians tried to present and explain the grammatical rules in the simplest way as possible, many people as well as students yet confronted with the difficulties in punctuating any sentence or a text. Therefore, the interest in the punctuation as intonational device expressing the thought of a written language and the arising difficulties analysing the sentence from structural point of view in both languages English and Lithuanian languages have formed the motivation basis of the research.

Different groups of linguists understood the conception of the punctuation differently. Ones concentrated on the intonational part of the sentence and analysed the punctuation marks as the markers of the mood or emotional state of a reader or a writer. Others believed that marking consisted of the strict, sometimes called dogmatic, grammatical rules which could divide the sentence for the further graphical analysis. From these opinions the traditional (rhetorical) and modern (grammatical) concepts of the punctuation appeared.

Although, the traditional point of view of punctuation lost the attention in the beginning of the sixteenth century, more and more the grammarians chose to focus their attention on the analysis of the text from the rhetorical point of view, and to practice this way of teaching the grammar, especially punctuation, concentrating on the fluency and the sound of the thought, rather than the structure or strict order of the words. They were of the opinion that the richness and fluency of any text was provided through the intonation and the way to achieve that correct punctuation was required. It may seem that the grammatical point of view had the same function: to indicate a sentence and provide the fluency of the thoughts or texts. However, modern view of punctuation concentrated on the structure of a sentence. It divided a text into units, sentences, and their parts. It indicated the beginning or the end of the thought presented in sentence; provides the general information about a certain type of a sentence such as declarative, affirmative, or question. Grammatical analysis distinguished the sentence into units, while rhetorical point of view presented the sentence analysing its “voice” expressed while reading in silent or out loud.

The purpose of the research paper attempts both: the introduction of the punctuation from the traditional and modern points of views and the comparative analysis of punctuation marks comma and dashas well as their interactions with the structure and meaning of a sentence of the texts in English and Lithuanian languages.

The main tasks for attaining the aim are:

  • to introduce a reader to the major trends of punctuation
  • to collect the empirical data coherent with the variation of the punctuation and its application of rules on the original texts and their translations
  • to analyse and compare the system and the usage of the punctuation marks of both languages: Lithuanian and English

In order to fulfil the research, the analytical, interpretive and comparative methods have been used. The study of analytical method is used for the analysis of scientific literature sources related to the punctuation, its development and the difficulty of its usage. The application of interpretive methods is necessary for the presentation of the different aspects and ideas presented in the analysis the punctuation. The comparative method provides the possibility to distinguish the different functions of punctuation marks used in the texts of scientific and belles-lettres styles.

Literature review. Analysing the punctuation from the very ground, it appeared that the first ever used mark in presenting a sentence was a “space.” Its function was to indicate a short pause between the words either in oral or written forms. Though rhetoric was an ancient science of speaking, it also had some changes including the development of new theories on its function. Defining the rhetoric, it might be said that this science was a system of five canons: “inventio, dispositio, elocutio, memoria and pronuntiatio.” (NauckÅ«naitÄ— 2000: 12) These canons served as the guiding lines to the correct and clear way of a speech presented. Though, the classicists and modernists of rhetoric analysed the texts according to these five canons, they expressed different opinions on the relationship between a speaker and communication. The classicists believed that the mind was the most important feature in a human, while the main purpose of rhetoric was to persuade the listener. The followers of the modern rhetoric, on the contrary, stated that the significant part in a human was the feelings. The expression of feelings used in the communication provided the mutual understanding between the speaker and the listener. Concentrating on the relationship of speaker and listener, the modernists drew a conclusion that the main purpose of rhetoric was to inform the listeners rather than to persuade.

Passing decades, however, made the linguists to realize the significant changes in the conception of rhetoric. Many of them noticed that the rhetoric started to be used an indicator of stylistics. Meiklejohn saw the rhetoric as “the art of putting sentences together.” (Meiklejohn J. M. D. English Grammar, its history and literature 1915: 175) He stated that “a text has to be presented clear, coherent and vivid. “(1915: 175) To achieve this, the writer had to know the grammar, sentence structure, and the particularity of language and its clarity. Rhetorical approach of punctuation presented the punctuation marks as indicators of the intonation. The term of intonation referred “to a means for conveying information in speech which is independent of the words and their sounds.” (Nolan F. 2006:1) According to Francis Nolan, the intonation fulfilled several tasks in analysing language. Intonation “signalled grammatical structure, […] reflected the information structure of an utterance, highlighting constituents of importance.” (2006:1) The punctuation marks, used in the field rhetoric analysis, provided a reader the stylistically presented text. In the text, the punctuation marks indicated the pitch (beginning or the end of the sentence), tone (the mood or attitude of a speaker), and pauses (the length of time, used between the words). Each mark had its own function, such as presenting a request, an order or command. In other words, punctuation provided a reader vivid and natural utterance of a language, which was very similar to the conversation. The usage of a specific punctuation mostly depended on the style the text or a paragraph presented. Therefore, it might be assumed that stylistics also contributed to the rhetoric. Knowing the style or genre of a written text (whether it was scientific, belles-letters or essay) it was easy to notice a particular structure of the sentences, which characterised the punctuation. A text, written on the scientific purpose, had more complicated structure of punctuation than the belles-letters. Long complex sentences, unemotional, specific terminology and concrete language pictured the scientific style, where the basic punctuation marks appeared to be comma, semicolon and colon. On the contrary, the belles-letters style and essay offered more liberal marking system of a text using the figures of speech such as parenthesis, similes or periphrasis. These figures of speech often played the role of a text colouring.

Župerka K. in his work Stilistika showed the punctuation as a tool of a rhetoric, where the words provided the emotional shade of a sentence and the marks only indicated the mood of the speaker. Walker J., however, offered a different explanation of punctuation. According to him, punctuation was a system of principles that arose” from nature of the living voice, from the perception of harmony in the ear, and from a certain super addition to the senesce of language, of which grammar took no account.” (Walker J. A rhetorical grammar 1829:40) This kind of attitude provided the basic explanation of the prediction of a mark. In order to present the actual intonation, used in any conversation or written text, the writers concentrated on the melody of a thought, rather than on the correct structure of a sentence. They wanted to save the natural fluency of words and sentences produced in the written texts, therefore, most of writers focused on the intonational part of a sentence, and its alteration during the conveyance of a correct meaning of a thought. Intonation, especially the rising or falling tones, played as the indicators of emotions of a speaker as well as the directive in the determination of a sentence type.

From structural point of view the punctuation belonged to the syntax – “a device of the communication and the expression of thoughts, presented in the form of colloquial language or written text”. (Labutis V. Lietuvių kalbos sintaksÄ— 2002: 7) Presenting punctuation as a “device of the syntax”( Šarčević 1997:179), the grammarians and linguists concentrated on the functional structure of marking a sentence. The punctuation marks served as the indicators of the sentence or a text. They separated or combined particular parts of a sentence, or the whole units, marked the beginning or the end of thought. Other function of the marks was to present a clear, correct and emotional sentences used in silent reading, as they would be produced in oral communication with all specific details such as tone, intonation or pitch. Mcelroy J. presented the punctuation as a system “ultimately controlled by the principles of construction or thought that depended upon the usage only so far as the usage truly represented these laws of thought and construction.”(Mcelroy 1878:1) He assumed that the choice of punctuation marks and their quantity used in a text was “a question of taste” and depended on a writer. Although, clearly presented conception of the liberal punctuation gave the freedom to the creators of texts, it also influenced the text structure and incorrectly used punctuation, which let the reader or listener to the ambiguity and mistakenly interpreted meaning of a thought. Therefore, the liberty of a writer to choose the punctuating marks according to his point of view, in modern English grammar was replaced by the strict and concrete rules of punctuation.

Analysing Lithuanian, on contrary, it might be said that the modern punctuation of this language were taught and used as a strict system of the rules, indicating the way of punctuating a text. Recent research, however, presented a “liberal tendency of the usage of punctuation.” (SpingytÄ— M. 2010:3)SpingytÄ— M. stated that “this liberation provided to the writer a possibility to correct the emotional weight of a sentence.” (2010:3) It was a choice of a writer to mark or emphasize a specific word or part of a sentence, which, according to him, might have some additional or influential meaning. However, there was a possibility that this kind of liberalisation might negatively affect the functions of separate punctuation marks. The liberal punctuation rules lessened the specific function of each punctuation mark, leaving a writer to decide which marking was better to be used. It might be stated that the liberal punctuation concentrated more on the intonation rather than grammatical structure of the sentence. This conclusion is based on an analysis of silent reading, which was more influenced by the visual usage of intonation and tone, and less- by the grammatical structure.

The empirical data of the research.The primary resources of the bachelor paper are taken from the works: Expression of the Communicative Function of Language in Punctuation by SpingytÄ— M; Introduction to Theoretical Linguistics by Lyons J, and the Forsyte sagaby Galsworthy J. The examples used in the analysis of the punctuation marks are taken from Introduction to Theoretical Linguistics and the Forsyte saga, and their translations to the Lithuanian language.

The structure of the research. The bachelor paper consists of the introduction, two main sections, conclusions and the references of the works used. The first part of the research introduces the reader to the two concepts of the punctuation, its variation and the application in the different fields of study. The first section contains the analysis of the punctuation marks from the traditional and modern points of view, i.e. the study of punctuation marks from rhetorical and grammatical fields, and their influence to the meaning of a context.

The second part of the research paper provides the analysis on the system of punctuation, comparing the specific punctuation marks such as comma,dash and hyphen in English and Lithuanian languages, used in the texts of scientific and belles-lettres styles. The figures, presented in the second part were used to indicate the functions and the spread of their usage.

Part I

The major trends of punctuation

Punctuation has been an inseparable part of written or spoken language. The punctuation marks, which served only as indicators of the elocution at the beginning of the fifteenth century, quickly influenced other parts of science: grammar, syntax and nowadays widely analysed field of the programming.

Through centuries, the formed theories of the purpose and the usage of punctuation marks intrigued the experts and scientists of any language. The grammarians such as George Puttenham and Simon Daines were the first ones who provided the classification of the English punctuation marks from the rhetorical point of view in their works The Arte of English Poesie and Orthoepia Anglicana. The main purpose was to bring, at least, the basic order of punctuation marks, which were missed in the works of twelve century. The biggest merit was to be given to the grammarian Ben Johnson, who systemized the punctuation and provided its analysis from the syntactical point of view.This approach of the punctuation was used till the beginning of the twentieth century. Nevertheless, the Johnson’s analysis had not provided a specific usage of marks; the writers used “commas with every subordinate clause and separable phrase.”(Encyclopaedia Britannica Punctuation in English since 16002008:85) Therefore, analyzing the texts of the middle and early modern English, the inordinate usage of the comma usually is found in those texts.

Later decades brought more clarified analysis of the punctuation marks. The grammarians classified and structuralised the punctuation marks according to their purpose or functions. Punctuation became a significant part of structure and cohesion of any text. The deeper analysis of the text revived the interest of grammarians in punctuation not only from rhetorical point of view, but of grammatical as well. Punctuation became important attribute of grammar for the expression of thoughts and the correct understanding of meaning of a sentence. It did “conduce to make a written language more effective, by exhibiting with greater precision and definiteness the ideas, feelings and emotions of an author.” (Wilson J. A treatise on English punctuation 1856: 2) Therefore, the main aim of the writers was to inbreathe the same intonational expression and emotional influence to the written texts, which was used in the speech and oral communication.

1.1. Rhetorical tradition of punctuation

Rhetoric was the oldest science that analysed a language from the oral perspective. Defined as “the Art of Persuasion”and “artistic use of language for the sake of aesthetic effects”(Jonge C. 2008:49), rhetoric also served as the guide to correct pronunciation and rhythm, used in speaking or the speech presentations. (Walker J. 1829: ii) Intonation, pitch, the length of pause, all these elements were classified as important features used in simple communication or presenting a speech. Moreover, they not only presented a language as a rhythmical system of sounds, they also provided additional information about the speech and the speaker himself. The rhetoricians believed that these “elements of language [were] physical: the noise words made and the rhythm of their relationship.” (Tredinnick M. Writing well 2008: 14) In other words, they had the ability to change the meaning of a sentence produced, when the pitch or tone was used incorrectly.

Since the oral communication was the first human step towards the analysis of a language as a separate field, rhetoric had to carry two functions: to correct the prosody of oral language and to present the basic grammar, in this case- punctuation. The rhetoricians stated that the speech of any style provided to audience had to respond to five basic questions, also called cannons: a) inventio, b) dispositio, c) elocutio, d) memoria and e) pronuntiatio.” (NauckÅ«naitÄ— 2000: 12) Each of the canons had specific function which was needed in order to express the thoughts in correct and beautiful manner of speaking.

  1. Inventio was used to gather and classify the material related to the topic. The speaker had to specify the information used in writing a speech.
  2. The term dispositio stood for the enunciation. Its purpose was to group the elements of language logically.
  3. Elocutio (style) served as the indicator of a speech presented. It was used as guiding line identifying a style of the written text and the correct grammatical usage of language.
  4. Memoria (memorization). Each speech, presented to the audience, needed to be learnt by heart.
  5. Pronuntiatio (speaking). The purpose of this canon was to present the speech in correct manner of articulation and gestures. A speaker had to pay attention to the intonation, pitch, tone of the speaking voice, especially, in order to convey the correct meaning of the thought; apart from the articulation, a speaker needed to use the gestures that convinced the meaning of a though expressed.

The rhetoricians believed that, being correctly used, these canons could present the perfect creation of written or spoken work. However, rhetoric was used not only the elocution, it also involved the concrete cycle of transformation of a thought to a word. In other words, the silent or loud reading also was under the influence of the rhetoric. The reading itself was regarded as a “system of rules, which teaches us to pronounce written composition with justness, energy, variety, and ease”. (Walker J. 1829:39).Thus, it might be assumed that the reader needed to use a combination of rhetoric and grammar, in order to understand a text correctly, and to convey the correct meaning to the listener (if a text was read out loud).

The rhetoric, mostly, the communication itself, involved every part of human life: “thought, language, voice and action.”(NauckÅ«naitÄ— 2000:13) Although the main canons remained the same, passing decades brought some disagreements between the scholars who analysed the rhetoric. The rhetoricians were in the dilemma regarding the approach to a human and communication. These disagreements divided rhetoric into two groups: classical and modern rhetoric. (see Table 1) The followers of classical rhetoric believed that the main purpose of rhetoric was to persuade a listener; it meant to present the ideas, which were correct and kept as facts, until other, more persuasive, thoughts appeared. The information presented needed to be clear, correct and concrete, without any additional elements.

The followers of modern rhetoric disagreed with the classicists. The modernists assumed that a text presented had to inform listeners or readers rather than to persuade them. The communication with the audience was the requirement; the information presented needed to imply some feelings to the audience. Modernists believed that great influence of any speech resided not only in its structure or the specific information, but also in the manner of its presentation. It might be said that the modernists had found a more delicate way to control the attention of a listener or larger audience.

Table 1. The differences in classical and modern rhetoric

Classical rhetoric

Modern rhetoric

  • Most important feature in human was mind
  • The relationship (between speaker and listener) had to be antagonistic
  • Communication was of one-way
  • The purpose was to persuade
  • Most important feature in human was feelings
  • The relationship (between speaker and listener) had to be connection
  • Communication wasmutual
  • The purpose was to inform

Though, the approach of human and communication in the rhetoric confronted disagreements between the scientists, the function of punctuation was clearly defined:”the chief reason for punctuating: to clarify the intent structure of language that would-or simply might-otherwise be confusing or misleading.” (Lauchman R. Punctuation at Work 2002:24) In rhetoric, however, punctuation was used for a wider purpose. In order to present stylistically correct and “living” sentences or text, the punctuation concentrated on the speech patterns such as pitch, tone or intonation. Each mark had to fulfil a specific function that would help the reader or speaker to produce the texts more naturally, i.e. to inbreathe the exact or, at least, similar sound of a tones or pitch used in the oral communication. Moreover, the punctuation marks provided the meaning of the finished thought or showed the need of additional information as well as indicated the type or the functions of the sentences. For instance, the full stop showed the end of a sentence, which had the falling tone. The thought was finished, and had no additional meaning. The question mark, on the contrary, introduced the reader to the rising tone and intonation, and showed the need of additional information form the different speaker. Though, each punctuation mark was important in the reading and understanding any written text, comma, dash and hyphen were widely used in rhetorical punctuation.

1.1.1. Comma and intonation

Communication was inseparable part of human life. It helped to understand others, read their actions, or simply to exchange the information with each other. Writing as well as speaking had the same purpose: to present any information to a reader. However, the complication arose: the most of the aspects of a language used in speaking were not “as well represented in writing: the rises and falls in pitch, the accents, the pauses, the rhythm, the variations in voice quality— all of them features of sound that contributed significantly to speaking but that writing showed haphazardly if at all.”(Chafe W. 1989:1) Thus, the main purpose of the usage of punctuation was to present the visual equivalent to the spoken language in order to show the correct tone or intonation used in the sentence. The missed or misplaced punctuation mark often led to the misinterpretation of the meaning. The equal misinterpretation of a meaning depended on the rhythm, i.e. the stress marks and the length of syllables.

Intonation itself strongly effected the communication; the correct function of information depended on the manner of its utterance. The linguists noticed that people “more violently react to <…> intonational meanings than to <…> lexical ones.” (Hewings M. Tone Choice in the English Intonation of Non-Native Speakers 1995: 251) It might be stated that the information presented to the audience usually was under the influence of intonation. Pitch, rising or falling tones began to play the significant role in the quality of any spoken text. A speaker needed to pay attention not only on spoken text, but also to control his voice level and the length of pauses between the words. The scientists of phonetics noticed that the variations in a spoken activity were influenced by several external factors: environment, the rank of people spoken to and the audience to which information was presented. Through the careful analysis of speech activities, the scientists noticed the three styles of pronunciation: formal, careful colloquial, and rapid familiar. Formal style of pronunciation was used to “reading, reciting, speaking before larger audience, at ceremonies, or delivering an academic lecture.” (Hoppe R. 2004: 20) The careful colloquial style had medium tempo and used the assimilations. This style was used in “every-day conversations, when talking to the official persons or strangers.”( Hoppe R. 2004: 20) The rapid familiar style was expressed in “rapid conversations: speaking with friends, in the family, or in the pub.” (Hoppe R. 2004: 20) This style used fast speed, the assimilations and reductions.

The speech spoken in rapid tempo lessened the length of a pause in a sentence; this led listeners not only to the misunderstanding of the whole information, but also to the annoyance towards the speaker because the information spoken in rapid manner was hard to follow. The slow speaking, on the contrary, extended the length of pauses and they lost main function. A speech or presented text became monotonic and hard to follow, as well as influenced the variation of tone; the long pauses changed the structure of sentence. Therefore, in order to control the length and structure of the sentences, punctuation was used.

It might be stated that comma was the most widely used punctuation mark in rhetoric. The main function of this mark was to present the pauses between the words and to indicate a type of tone or intonation used in a sentence. The changes of intonation depended on the place of comma used in a sentence. In other words, comma separated the words from them to running to other parts of a sentence influencing their changes of intonation. To present the deeper analysis of the tone and intonational variations, the sentences from Galsworthy J. work The Forsyte Saga and its translation into Lithuanian by Irena BalčiunienÄ— were chosen. The visual presentation of the flow and the alteration of the tone and intonation of sentences were analysed using the special marking‌. (see Table 2)

Table 2. The symbols used for the transcription of the pronunciation

The symbol

The purpose of usage.

‌ â•‘

long pause


short pause

low falling melod

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