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Miriam
Are there modern languages that don't use punctuation?
The other day I received a message by a teacher asking me to book two lessons per week with them. I refused because I don't appreciate being approached by teachers like this. But then they send more messages explaining why they approached me and it baffled me that they didn't use any kind of punctuation, even though writing in their native tongue, which definitely uses punctuation. Is this just sloppiness or an online trend to not even divide sentences by full stops but present them in one chunk like a stream of consciousness and then leaving it to the reader to find out where one sentence stops and the other starts? I do occasionally omit full stops at the end of a paragraph here, in two cases:
- when posting a link, because I was told a full stop at the end of a link would make it harder to copy and paste it;
- when writing in Arabic, because the last full stop at the end of a paragraph will for whatever reason I don't understand, jump to the beginning of the paragraph, once I hit the enter key. But I would never omit full stops within paragraphs.
I know that in some languages spaces between words aren't used, e.g. in Chinese and Japanese. But I never came across a modern written language that is typed on computers, that doesn't have any kind of punctuation.
So, my questions are:
1. Why do some people here either when writing in English or in their native tongue not use full stops? Sloppiness or internet trend?
2. Are there languages (modern ones used in online communication, not ancient inscriptions on pottery) that don't use any kind of punctuation, not even to mark the end of a sentence?
Apr 13, 2019 8:19 AM
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Comments · 14

Arabic didn’t have punctuation marks until the 19th century, when a philologist named Ahmad Zaki Pasha developed the punctuation system as part of the modernization process of Arabic. Officially, there is a standardized way to use punctuation marks in Arabic, but in practice this hasn’t really stuck, and you’ll see people using punctuations differently. For example, some people use parentheses (rounded brackets, like these) for quotations and when referring to words, the way quotation marks are used in English, but others use quotation marks. Additionally, “run-on sentences” seem more acceptable in Arabic.

What’s interesting is that even before I learned that punctuation marks are a modern development in Arabic, I thought that Arabic doesn’t need punctuation marks the way English does. I tend to use a more open style (i.e. less periods and commas) in Arabic than I do in English.

The Quran is the most easily accessible example of what Arabic used to be like before punctuation marks. The chapters are divided into verses, but the verse marks don’t always coincide with where a period would go. There are some very long verses that have many sentences.

April 13, 2019
I can't speak to why they did that but I would find it hard to trust a teacher to teach me if they can't take the time to write correctly.  I have mentioned before that my punctuation isn't great but that isn't coming from an inability to try or sloppiness. Though,  I'm not trying to teach someone.
April 13, 2019

If it's not for plain sloppiness or laziness, then it might also be that the person is using a 'voice to text' app which often does not care about punctuation.

Oh, punctuation does matter in many cases. In Russian, we often refer to a phrase (saying) "Казнить нельзя помиловать" which lacks a comma. Depending on where you place it, the phrase will convey just the opposite meaning. One is going to be either executed, if you say "Казнить, нельзя помиловать", or pardoned, if you say "Казнить нельзя, помиловать".

Oh, I just looked it up on the web, there are equivalents (and different examples) in other languages.  "Pardon impossible. To be sent to Siberia" - the full stop was probably misplaced here. It would've meant the opposite thing, had it read, "Pardon. Impossible to be sent to Siberia".

«Perdón(,) imposible(,) que cumpla su condena» (I don't speak French, just citing an example).

Those eager to learn more about the amphiboly, can read this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syntactic_ambiguity .

April 13, 2019
@Olga, Bill, Casey, Hanji, Adam and Dan Smith

Thanks a lot for the interesting comments. So, it seems that punctuation is a rather new invention.

April 13, 2019

Tangentially, if you're interested in this sort of thing you might enjoy a book called Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols, and Other Typographical Marks, by Keith Houston. It's not about punctuation and its function in grammar, it's about punctuation marks and their history in typography. So it's where you find out that the name of this mark ¶ is "a pilcrow," and the surprisingly complicated history of punctuation marks coming and going.  

In any case, if I recall correctly, even the space had to be invented. Originally letters were simply written in sequence without word breaks (and alternating left-to-right and right-to-left in successive lines).

April 13, 2019
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Miriam
Language Skills
Chinese (Mandarin), French, German
Learning Language
Chinese (Mandarin)