Are there any languages that punctuate mood?
August 4, 2006 8:57 PM   Subscribe

I just realized (I'm fairly slow that way) that suddenly, and without fanfare, every language on Earth, excepting North-Korean and maybe a smattering of others, has acquired mood punctuation i.e. emoticons. Much like a ? indicates that the preceding sentence was a question, a jocular sentence is marked with a :)
Now, here comes my question. Are there any languages that have mood punctuation that pre-exists the internet? Or something similar? Markings that indicate a mood, feeling or emotion in any way?

And, since I'm being curious I might as well see where it led the cat. Do Spanish-writers precede a jocular sentence with a (: ?
posted by Kattullus to Writing & Language (21 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
Not sure if this counts, but English-speaking writers sometimes use an exclamation point within parentheses in the middle of a sentence to show amused shock or surprise, as in the following:

Bob removed his square pants (!) to reveal that he also wore square underwear.
posted by chippie at 9:02 PM on August 4, 2006


18th century use of smiley.
posted by SPrintF at 9:06 PM on August 4, 2006 [1 favorite]


Well, you could argue that all punctuation is "mood punctuation," in that it's a visual mark that attempts to help the words mimic human speech. Commas are pauses, and delays, in the cadence, of a sentence. Question marks are the uptick in pitch that comes at the end of an interrogative. A ... well-placed ... ellipse displays ... confusion. An exclamation point looks like you're excited! Add more for even more excitement!!!
posted by frogan at 9:23 PM on August 4, 2006 [1 favorite]


Much mood is linguistically encoded in language. e.g.
The admirative mood is used to express surprise, but also doubt, irony, sarcasm, etc.

In Indo-European languages, the admirative, unlike the optative, is not one of the original moods, but a later development. Admirative constructs occur in Balkan Slavic (Bulgarian and Macedonian), Albanian, Megleno-Romanian and Ukrainian Tosk Albanian. A form of the admirative, derived from the Albanian pattern, can be found in Frasheriote Arumanian. It seems that the dubitative/inferential patterns of Turkish - a non-Indo-European language - influenced Albanian and Balkan Slavic languages in this regard.

The admirative carries evidential value. Writing on the typology of evidentiality in Balkan languages, Victor Friedman says:

"As grammaticalized in the Balkan languages, evidentiality encodes the speaker's evaluation of the narrated event, often, but not always, predicated upon the nature of the available evidence. These evidentials can be of two types: Confirmative (sometimes called 'witnessed') and nonconfirmative (sometimes called 'reported', 'inferential', and/or 'nonwitnessed'). The nonconfirmatives can, in Austin's terms, be felicitous (neutral) or infelicitous. Felicitous nonconfirmatives are used for reports, inferences, etc., for which the speaker chooses not to take responsibility. An infelicitous nonconfirmative expresses either acceptance of a previously unexpected state of affairs (surprise, i.e. something the speaker would not have been willing to confirm prior to discovery, the mirative or admirative) or sarcastic rejection of a previous statement (doubt, irony, etc., the dubitative)."
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 9:24 PM on August 4, 2006


MonkeySaltedNuts has it. In the days before the Internet, people were taught to read and to write, and to make a good job of each task. A writer was expected to be able to spell, not to be able to use a spellchecker. A reader was supposed to have a decent vocabulary, and a dictionary. Style counted for something. Editing was a paid job. There were such things as "style manuals."

We're in the process of throwing most of that overboard, in favor of anarchic freedom and YouTube. That's progress, and to get it, we stand on the shoulders of giants. HTH..;-/ kthxbye!
posted by paulsc at 12:32 AM on August 5, 2006 [1 favorite]


Derail: in english, semantic meaning is carried in the phonetics of words. That leaves inflection for emotive content. In asian languages like Mandarin, inflection carries semantic content, so where does the emotive content go?
posted by b1tr0t at 12:55 AM on August 5, 2006


I just realized (I'm fairly slow that way) that suddenly, and without fanfare, every language on Earth, excepting North-Korean and maybe a smattering of others, has acquired mood punctuation

Every language on earth? I have a suspicion that this realization might be based on a rather small sample size, am I right? Or did you mean every language on earth that counts?
posted by sour cream at 4:51 AM on August 5, 2006


theres... Audible Punctuation (youtube link)
posted by softlord at 5:42 AM on August 5, 2006


The use of mood punctuation seems an inevitable byproduct of the use of written language for chat programs, etc.: the most direct analog to an online chat is a face-to-face conversation, which leaves the absence of the emotional information conveyed by body language much more apparent, hence the invention of emoticons.

Once invented emoticon-like things found uses far beyond online chats. I've not seen a language population with a written language that makes use of comptuters and that does not have some kind of emoticon like thing, although there's only two 'families' of emoticons that I've seen: ;-) and (0\_/0)-ish.

b1tr0t: Chinese only uses a subset of the ways to inflect a word for grammatical purposes, and there's enough ways to inflect a word left over for emotional inflection.
posted by little miss manners at 7:19 AM on August 5, 2006


This post is adorable! 'o^_^o'
posted by beerbajay at 7:31 AM on August 5, 2006


MonkeySaltedNuts has it. In the days before the Internet, people were taught to read and to write, and to make a good job of each task. A writer was expected to be able to spell, not to be able to use a spellchecker. A reader was supposed to have a decent vocabulary, and a dictionary. Style counted for something. Editing was a paid job. There were such things as "style manuals."

What on earth does this have to do with what MonkeySaltedNuts said about grammatical mood?
posted by redfoxtail at 8:24 AM on August 5, 2006


What on earth does this have to do with what MonkeySaltedNuts said about grammatical mood?

Nothing, and what MonkeySaltedNuts said had nothing to do with the question, which (lest we forget) is about "mood punctuation." Punctuation, not grammatical categories. I basically agree with frogan that much (not all) punctuation could be called "mood punctuation," but it would still be interesting to see if there are pre-internet antecedents. The alleged 18th-century use, however, is silly; it's just a sentence in parentheses that happens to end in a colon.
posted by languagehat at 9:39 AM on August 5, 2006


it's just a sentence in parentheses that happens to end in a colon.

lanuagehat is exactly right. The Smiley face we know and love was 'created' in the 1970s. The first real emoticon :) is clearly based on it's design.

That same Wiki article does indicate that there was an advertisement in the New York Herald Tribune from 1953 that used something like emoticons, so that may be the earliest known example.
posted by quin at 11:20 AM on August 5, 2006


By the way, as far as I know Spanish writers generally use emoticons after, not before their sentences, despite the ¿ ? and ¡ !
posted by sic at 1:36 PM on August 5, 2006


Well, emoticons developed as a way to get around the limitations of 128-bit ascii text. (And earlier "emoticons" developed to get around limitations of telegraphic codes.)

For typewritten text, you have allcaps, bold and italic for communicating emphasis. Some of this was adapted from handwritten text which could be quite expressive. And of course there is the exclamation point, which could be repeated for even more emphasis.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:29 PM on August 5, 2006


In Chinese, there's emotional inflection, and there are also specific words designed to show inflection. 吧 = suggestion; 啦 = slight exasperation; ye3 (can't find it in my input system) = excitement/coolness; 啊 = light warning/reprimand; etc.
posted by jiawen at 2:55 PM on August 5, 2006


Spanish speaker here :)
sic is right, we don't use emoticons before the sentences.

Maybe this is from English influence, or because at first the ¡ and ¿ symbols didn't work in emails, but many persons don't use them anymore. Or maybe it's just laziness.
posted by clearlydemon at 3:02 PM on August 5, 2006


there's emotional inflection, and there are also specific words designed to show inflection

Vietnamese has these too. I think the one used on me most often is nhé, which is a suggestions like the first one jiawen gives. Sort of a, how can I say, "you know, you really ought to..." mode.
posted by whatzit at 3:25 PM on August 5, 2006


I'd say it's a purely modern phenomenon, with fragmented cultural antecedents. The very nature of a fast-paced, or at least, readily-accessible text-based medium (the internet) necessitated these emoticons. Letters would perhaps be the only real precursor, as they were the only one-to-one (as a concept) forms of communication in text.

But why isn't there more evidence of emoticonitude from past eras? Well, the very nature of a letter is contemplative--thought-out. There's no need for the sudden after-thought which leads to you tacking on the ":)." Whereas in modern, digital (internet) communication, communication is rapid. It has indirectly caused us to chop up our speech (something I'm totally fine with, really) and very much develop a new dialect, a "newspeak," if you will, in which concepts are conveyed as concisely as possible, and in order to give the text the life without which it would merely be neutral symbols, we add the :)s and :xs and the :Ds for flair.

I'm sure you already knew all this, and I find the question fascinating, it's just that there's a reason it's so hard to think of examples.

You also have to consider logographic languages, like Chinese or Japanse...much of the "emotional" meaning is already ingrained in the character itself, and ones character choice can actually reflect quite clearly ones state of mind. Still, that hasn't stopped the Japanese from inventing their own ridiculous world of emoticons, much in the same way.
posted by Lockeownzj00 at 3:50 PM on August 5, 2006


On Spanish: I often see people writing things like

A donde vas¿? (sorry for the lack of accents)

It's interesting, and it kind of seems like a vague foreshadowing that the "double punctuation" of Spanish might eventually die out. I see this among the younger generation more--their instinct is to say what they think, then realise it's a question, rather than have it premediated like it's..."supposed" to be.

And they do have a whole slew of unintelligble slang and emotes, dont you worry :D
posted by Lockeownzj00 at 3:53 PM on August 5, 2006


My personal opinion is twofold: though they're *constructed* out of punctuation, they themselves are not; they're words.

Secondly, they exist because people started using written media for substantially different uses than it had previously been practical to use it for: shorter turnaround times; tighter cycles; more important and intimate topics.

They evolved to suit a need that didn't exist prior to then, because we didn't have those sorts of conversations in writing before then. Personal letters before then were long enough -- and the writers literate enough -- to get the mood across in the words, without help.
posted by baylink at 1:40 PM on August 6, 2006


« Older How to prevent a dog's toenails from scratching a...   |   Please help me find Budge Crawley's 1976 Oscar... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.