January 29, 2006

Dubious quotation marks

Gratifying though it is to see myself quoted in print, I'm peeved to see myself represented as using quotation marks for emphasis.  Like, 'for emphasis', meaning for emphasis.  But that's what happens in Leslie Savan's Slam Dunks and No-Brainers, chapter 2 ("Pop Talk is History"), in the section (pp. 33-4) titled "Who needs Esperanto when you've you got Coca-Cola?"  I'm not entirely sure how this happened.  More interestingly, this case illustrates an issue in the mention (rather than use) of linguistic material, including quotation:  faithfulness vs. well-formedness (shades of OT!).

Here's the whole quotation (with two bits boldfaced that were not boldfaced in the original):

    Coca-Cola is so ubiquitous that it's not always considered American.  The Stanford University linguist Arnold Zwicky recalled how, about thirty years ago, his wife, Ann Daingerfield Zwicky, "was teaching an ESL [English as a Second Language] class at Ohio State and used one of her ice-breaker topics: words borrowed into English from your native language.  Alas, this time the first word offered was 'Coca-Cola,' by (I believe) a speaker of Hindi.  An Arabic speaker ... denied this with scorn; 'everybody' knows 'Coca-Cola' is an Arabic word.  Pandemonium ensued.  Even a female student from Japan, normally silent in class, was moved to dispute the others' absurd claims.  The only thing they were agreed on was that the idea that the headquarters of the Coca-Cola Company could possibly be in 'Atlanta'--or anywhere in the U.S.--was preposterous (or evidence that America just grabbed everything away from the rest of the world)."
    [p. 278: from his post to the ADS and an e-mail interview, April 2000.]

Now, there are several ways in which this version differs from what I originally wrote.  Point 1: I used double quotes on "Coca-Cola"; these have now been replaced by single quotes, because they're inside a quotation from me that Savan has enclosed in double quotes.  Point 2: Most of my rapid writing is all lowercase, but this has been altered to conventional capitalization.  Point 3: I originally typed
    ... was "coca-cola", by ...
with quot-punc order, and this has been altered to
    ... was 'Coca-Cola,' by ...
with punc-quot order.  In all of these cases, Savan (or, more likely, her editors) opted against faithfully reproducing what I wrote, in favor of conforming to a style sheet different from the one I prefer.  Well-formedness trumps faithfulness.

The boldfaced words were originally typed inside asterisks, to indicate emphasis in text that sticks to ASCII characters:
    ... *everybody* knows "coca-cola" is ...
    ... could possibly be in *atlanta* -- or anywhere ...
The equivalent in handwriting would be underlining; in print, usually italics, or possibly boldface or small caps, depending on your style sheet.  But not any kind of quotation marks (single or double, smart or plain).  Emphatic quotation marks are usually mocked as an illiteratism; but in any case, they aren't standard.  Yet I have been represented as using them.  I feel sullied, and frankly, I'm puzzled as to how this happened; either Savan, or someone at Knopf, apparently thinks this is an ok way to indicate emphasis.

The larger point -- the conflict between faithfulness and well-formedness in linguistic mention -- is a gigantic one.  I originally started a Language Log posting on the topic back during the discussion of taboo words in titles of books and movies, but it quickly bloated up horribly.  But for fun, here's an unsubtle example (there are subtle and complex ones) that also provides a little homework assignment for the more enthusiastic readers:

Of the two major political parties in Britain, one is known there as the Labour Party; the -our spelling is the British one.  Here in the U.S., the party is referred to in print (in political stories in the New York Times, for instance) as the Labor Party, with the American -or spelling.  Once again, well-formedness, in this case conformity to the local spelling conventions, trumps faithfulness: references to the party are re-spelled.

Now, the homework assignment, in two parts: to find American writing with Labor within a quotation (referring to the political party, of course) that is then itself quoted in a British publication, like the Economist or the Guardian; and to find British writing with Labour within a quotation that is then itself quoted in an American publication, like the New Yorker or the New York Times.  Are references within quotations re-spelled?  (The earlier examples were outside of quotations, in the main text.)

For extra credit, look for occurrences of British Labour in book titles that are then cited in American footnotes or bibliographies, and the reverse: occurrences of American Labor in book titles that are then cited in British footnotes or bibliographies.

General observation: well-formedness tends to trump faithfulness, but not always.

zwicky at-sign csli period stanford period edu

Posted by Arnold Zwicky at January 29, 2006 08:46 PM