George V. Reilly

Elocutionary Punctuation

Punctuation Face

ESR writes about Elo­cu­tion­ary Punc­tu­a­tion, dis­tin­guish­ing it from syntactic punc­tu­a­tion. The latter, says he, is the style taught in schools, where the punc­tu­a­tion cor­re­sponds to gram­mat­i­cal phrase structure. Elo­cu­tion­ary punc­tu­a­tion treats punc­tu­a­tion as markers of speech cadence and intonation.

I think I fall in this camp. I’m careful about my punc­tu­a­tion, though I can’t nec­es­sar­i­ly articulate why I choose one way over another. If it sounds right in my head, that’s the way I go. Even before I started doing staged readings, I paid attention to how my writing would sound, were it read aloud.

While I’m pon­tif­i­cat­ing on punc­tu­a­tion, let me say that I’m a firm proponent of the serial comma—the comma just before the final con­junc­tion in a list, such as “England, Ireland, and Wales”. It wasn’t taught in Irish schools when I grew up, but my logical mind requires the symmetry. I also prefer to leave periods outside of quotations that fall at the end of sentences, as you can see two sentences back.

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