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Why Do We Quote?

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Ruth Finnegan

II. Beyond the here and now

4. Quotation Marks: Present, Past, and Future

Texte intégral

quote (verb) 1387, ’to mark (a book) with chapter numbers or marginal
references,’ from Old French coter, from Middle Latin quotare ’distinguish
by numbers, number chapters’
(Online etymology dictionary)1

  • 2 MO/H2447.

We were well taught at school about the use of quotation marks
(71 year-old acupuncturist from Oxford)2

1Our writing and reading are nowadays pervaded by the symbols we know as ’inverted commas’, ’speech marks’, or ’quotation marks’ – or often just the shorter ’quote marks’ or ’quotes’, a term that has been around for a century or more. These tell us that the words they enclose are to be attributed to someone else, that they belong to the realm of quoting. And though, like some of the contemporary British observers of Chapters 2 and 3, we may sometimes be uncertain exactly how these marks work, we also generally presume that there are established rules for using them, authorised by the powerful schooled tradition. Quotation marks play a significant part in the influential contrast between repeating someone’s exact words and rephrasing them more indirectly. As unambiguously formulated in a standard manual, to ’put quotes around anything other than a word-for-word repetition… is wrong’ (Trask 1997: 96, bold in the original). This radical distinction between verbatim repetition and indirect reformulation lies, it seems, at the root of the system into which we were drilled as children and students.

2With this background it is easy to take quote marks for granted without being particularly aware of them, as with many of the British commentators reported in the last chapter. Once learned, they seemingly acquire a kind of universal validity attesting to the distinctiveness of ’quotation’. The interlinked distinction between direct and indirect speech and its relation to the presence or absence of quote marks similarly seem built into the foundations of language and of logic.

3But the conventions we follow (or think we follow) today have not after all been immutable. It is by no means self-evident just what quote marks are. They have undergone many changes over the centuries not just in shape, ordering or layout but also in how they are used – or not used – and what they mean. Behind the practices and ideas of today lies a long and complex history.

4.1. What are quote marks and where did they come from?

4So how has it come about that these little marks now apparently hold such sway, and where did they come from? What can account for the officially-authorised dominance of quotation marks but at the same time the variety of formats and usages? And how could the Oxford English Dictionary record the first meaning of our now common English word ’quotation’ as a marginal reference, and the verb ’quote’ as having started as something to do with numbering?

5No one knows how quoting arose in the first place, though some have seen it as one of the great achievements of human history (something to return to in Chapter 6). What we do know something of however is how written quote marks developed in the Western tradition – a more limited topic, but well worth exploring. They have a long and somewhat surprising history, one which throws some light on the nature and vicissitudes of quoting and its signals.

6So to complement the previous chapter’s focus on one particular time and place, let me this time follow these markings back in time. I will start with two slices back through history: first, exemplifying some varying modes for indicating others’ words in one short text over the years; and second noting some of the developments in the use of quote marks that went alongside this.

7So first, a selection of the ways one well-known biblical passage has been printed over the centuries, to illustrate more directly than a generalised historical account some of the varying manifestations of quote marks (and their absence). This short extract describes the immediate prelude to Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem as this is presented in the New Testament at the start of Chapter 21 in Matthew’s gospel. It is a revealingly complex passage, quotation nesting within quotation.

8Here first (Fig. 4.1) is how it appears in one modern version – the New English Bible, first published in 1961 but still in widespread current use.

Fig. 4.1 New English Bible, Oxford, 1961, Matthew, Chapter 21, verses 1-6.

9Jesus’ words involve first his own direct words to his disciples, then further words within that, laying down what they should say to anyone challenging them (’Our master needs them’). Single quote marks here enclose his main command, double the words inside it. After that follows a famous earlier prophecy; though the author’s name is not mentioned, the words are from a well-known passage in the book of Zachariah (or Zechariah) in the Old Testament. ’Tell the daughter of Zion…’ perhaps represents a rather different kind of quotation but is again enclosed within single quotes with the inner words further demarcated by double marks. All this represents a familiar contemporary way of dealing with quotation.

10A second version has it differently (Fig. 4.2). This is older and in a different translation but also follows a well-established format (Revised Standard Version, published in New York in 1946).

11Again familiar conventions are on show, but this time with the double/ single ordering reversed. The words from the Old Testament are treated differently too: ”Tell the daughter of Zion…” is indeed within (double) inverted commas but additionally marked by being set in from the margin, while the inner words (’Behold, your king is coming to you…’) have no quote marks around them.

Fig. 4.2 Revised Standard Version, New York, 1946, Matthew Chapter 21, verses 1-6.

12A Spanish edition (the 1995 Reina-Valera version reproduced on the web) has yet another combination (Fig. 4.3). Here it is the angled marks « » commonly used in continental Europe that surround Jesus’ command, with ” ” enclosing the words within it. « » come again around the Old Testament quote, further demarcated by its spatial layout but no inner quote marking.

Fig. 4.3 Reina-Valera Bible (Spanish), web version, Matthew Chapter 21 verses 1-6.
(http://www.biblegateway.com/​passage/​?book_id=47&chapter=21&version=61 (23 June 2008))

13Or take another example: the widely-distributed Holy Bible, Revised Version published in the late nineteenth century by the Oxford and Cambridge University Presses (Fig. 4.4). Here are no quote marks at all. Neither Jesus’ reported words with their inner instructions, nor the quotation (and inner quotation) from the Old Testament are enclosed by any quote signs at all, a format typical of many earlier versions of the Bible.

Fig. 4.4 Holy Bible, King James Version, Oxford and Cambridge, 19th century, Matthew, Chapter 21, verses 1-6.

Fig. 4.5 New Testament (Greek), London, 1885, Matthew Chapter 21, verses 1-5.
Typical of many earlier versions, especially those in the original Greek, there are no quote marks (superscript symbols in the text are accents and breath-signs, not quote marks) but the Old Testament quotation is demarcated by its indented layout and capital letters

14Another common pattern in earlier printed versions is for the spoken dialogue to be unmarked but the Old Testament quotation clearly signalled. In Luther’s famous translation of 1534, quotation marks are used only for the Old Testament passage (with no inner marks), while many older Bibles lack quote marks altogether but distinguish the Old Testament prophecy by indenting it from the margin. This strategy is common in editions of the New Testament in the original Greek (as in Fig. 4.5), with the words of Zachariah and other quotations from earlier prophets further highlighted by being set out in capital letters.

15Different yet again was the reproduction in William Tyndale’s sixteenthcentury New Testament, the first to be translated direct from the original Greek into vernacular English, as well as the first New Testament printed in English. This had neither quotation marks nor indenting, but did have colons before both Jesus’ words and the Old Testament quotation (and inner quotation) (Fig. 4.6).

Fig. 4.6 The Newe Testament, translated into English by William Tyndale, Worms, 1526, Matthew, Chapter 21, verses 1-6.

16As we go back through the printed versions we find quote marks less and less used, often apparently not thought necessary at all. The oldest printed Bible of all, the Latin fifteenth-century Gutenberg Bible had neither quote marks nor indenting.

17Other devices were sometimes employed to mark notable passages. One strategy in the Matthew example was to signal the status of Old Testament words by giving a reference to the original or parallel passages in the margin. This was the approach in the famous sixteenth century ’Geneva Bible’ taken by the pilgrims to America, the favoured Bible of the Plymouth and Virginia settlers (Fig. 4.7). It was a method repeated in many later bibles – a kind of footnote appearing at the side that followed a long earlier tradition of marginal annotation.

Fig. 4.7 The Bible and Holy Scriptures Conteined in the Olde and Newe Testament, Geneva, 1560, Matthew, Chapter 21, verses 1-7.
The prophetic words in verse 5 are signalled not by quote marks but by a marginal reference to the earlier Old Testament passages where they were first spoken (in Isaiah 62,11, Zachariah 9,9), and to a parallel passage in John’s gospel 12,15 in the New Testament

18Other ways for visibly distinguishing Old Testament citations, while leaving personal speech unmarked, were by a different font, script, size, colour or capital letters. The device of using layout rather than graphic marks goes back a long way. In one of the oldest New Testament manuscripts, the fifth-century Codex Bezae, the Old Testament quotation is set apart by being indented – a system that has, on and off, been repeated through the centuries. But in many cases there were no distinguishing marks at all, merely, as with many of the texts of earlier classical authors, a verb signifying speech or writing: hence the (to modern ears) redundant-sounding formulations like ’he spoke, saying…,’ or ’in the words of the prophet, saying…’.

19Given these diverse ways of representing even one short passage from one book it is scarcely surprising to see variations in the layout and format of quote marks still around today. But the striking thing is that in earlier years neither the inverted commas of contemporary English-language texts nor their more angular continental equivalents apparently played their now-familiar role in marking quotation. Whether in the manuscript tradition of Christian and pre-Christian authors or in early printed books, quotation marks in the form we know them now were absent.

20So a second route to follow is to ask where the quote marks that are so highly visible today came from. What is the origin of our familiar inverted commas?

21The answer would seem to lie in a little graphic sign used by ancient Greek editors to draw attention to something noteworthy in the text.

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  • 3 The interdisciplinary range in this volume has meant that here and elsewhere I have inevitably str (...)

22Shaped like an arrowhead, it was known as the diplē (’double’) from the two lines that formed its wedge shape. Its prime purpose was not, as now, to enclose quotations but to act as a marginal signal for drawing attention to some particular aspect of the text. In the Western written tradition, this basic shape seems to have been the root of the variegated plenitude of modern forms.3

23Its vicissitudes make up an intriguing story. In early Greek manuscripts the diple was a kind of all-purpose marginal mark to indicate something noteworthy in the text, linguistic, historical or controversial. It drew attention to such features as a dubious or variant reading that might need amending or elucidating, the start or end of a section, a new episode, the interpretation of particular word or phrase, or a passage to be commented on.

24This arrowhead mark appeared in varying shapes and settings. Though a more complex system with seven different marginal signs was proposed by a Greek grammarian in the second century BC, the diple remained the mostly commonly-used device. In itself it had no meaning except for drawing attention to something in the text and scribes employed this flexible little sign in many ways. In early Greek papyri an arrowhead in the margin could indicate passages for comment, sometimes drawn from classical authors like Homer or Plato; in that context it was akin to marking quotation but within a more general role.

25Early manuscripts of the Bible also used marginal diples in the fourth and fifth centuries of the Christian era. So did later commentaries on Christian texts. In a sixth century manuscript of Hilary of Poitiers’ Latin commentary De Trinitate, for example the passages ’In the beginning was the word’ and ’In the beginning God made heaven and earth’ (from the New and Old Testaments respectively) were each introduced by ’he said’ or ’what has been written’ accompanied by an inward-pointing arrowhead in the left hand margin of the relevant line. The commentary then followed on immediately afterwards (Parkes 1992: 168- 9, Plate 5). An eighth-century manuscript of Bede’s commentary on the biblical book of Proverbs illustrates a similar technique but more decoratively and elaborately (Fig. 4.8). Here the marginal marks have mutated into something more like elongated commas than arrowheads, this time repeated down the left margin beside each line of the excerpt, large at its start, small in continuing line(s). The whole text to be discussed is further highlighted by a different script introduced by a prominent opening letter followed by the commentary in ordinary script (Parkes 1992: 180-81).

Fig. 4.8 Diple marks in an 8th-century manuscript: Bede’s Commentary on Proverbs.
The Biblical passages for comment are indicated both by diples in the left margin and by a different script. (MS Bodley 819 fol 16, reproduced by permission of The Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford)

4.9 Scribal citation marks, 7th to 9th centuries AD.
The citation marks illustrated here are (starting from the top) 1) Two dots beside a comma (Gregory Moralia in Iob, reproduced by permission of Durham Cathedral: Durham Cathedral Library C.IV.8 fly leaf; 2) A dot and long straight slash-like comma (’Canterbury Gospels’; reproduced by permission of The Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford: Ms Bibl b 2 (P) f14); 3) Pairs of small elongated Y-like signs with a dot inside each (Gregory Moralia, © The British Library Board: Add 11878 f 45v). The bottom three rows give stylised print reproductions of other marginal marks used by scribes, sometimes written in red, and with the single or double commas drawn in a variety of freehand forms (based on examples and discussion in Lowe 1934-71 (esp Vols 2, 3), McGurk 1968, and Parkes 1992)

26The diple sign went on changing and varying, going through an extravaganza of shapes and usages. Usually set along the left-hand margin (occasionally the right), their shapes and numbers varied with geographical region, sometimes with the individual scribe. They often looked very unlike the original wedge-shaped diple (some idea of the many variants can be conveyed by the examples in Fig. 4.9). They came as dots (single, double, multiple), as squiggles, curves, horizontal lines, double or single s-like flourishes, r-shapes, V’s or Y’s with or without dots inside (a diple turned on its head), a cross, double or single comma-like curves, a single or double horizontal stroke sometimes with dots above and below, sometimes in red – and yet other permutations. A reversed diple with dot was used in sixth-century gospels in Syriac, pairs of sinuous strokes in the left margin marked quotations from scripture in an eighth-century example, and a sixth-century insular manuscript showed citations by ’a tiny flourish (7-shaped or like a bird in flight) to the left of each line’ (Lowe 1972: 4). There was also the idiosyncratic version known as the ’English form’: a series of one, two or three dots followed by a comma, sometimes in red.

27These wonderfully shaped forms springing from the diple symbol have sometimes been castigated as ’corrupt’ or ’debased’ compared to the classic arrowhead, described in derogatory terms such as ’loose horizontal s signs’ or ’a particularly limp comma’. Their scribes had, it seems, ’forgotten… how their elders and betters had indicated citations’ (McGurk 1961: 7, 8) – apparently writers were lax (or inventive) even in the ninth century.

28But ’corrupt’ or not, a central function of these varied squiggles was coming to be a sign drawing attention to passages from Biblical sources. For mediaeval Christian writers and readers their prime purpose was to signal scriptural citations, later extended to the writings of the patristic ’fathers of the church’. In the plentiful Latin commentaries, the texts for discussion were commonly marked by some form of marginal diple. In time these came to include non-church works. A diple sign appeared for example in the margins in the tenth century ’Venetian’ manuscript of Homer, drawing attention to accompanying notes round the edges of the page (Martin and Vezin 1990: 139-40). All in all the multiform diple continued through the Western manuscript tradition: not ubiquitous, certainly, but appearing and reappearing through many centuries in varying guises and settings in commentaries on earlier revered sources.

29Alongside the reliance on diple-based marks went other indicators that, like today, sometimes overlapped or replaced them. These varied with period and region, but frequent devices were an alternative script to mark a special passage; colour (red being specially favoured for scriptural quotations); underlining (sometimes in colour); spacing; and projecting or, more commonly, indenting at the left margin. Sometimes the source was noted in the margin. A page in a sixth century manuscript of Gregory the Great’s Cura pastoralis for example had no diple–type signs but, in the margin, references to the relevant passages from the New and Old Testaments (Parkes 1992: 170-71). And throughout the centuries another strategy for indicating quoting in its various senses was to complement or bypass graphic markers and instead use a verb of speech or writing, name of the original source, some recognised introductory word, or syntactical constructions that in themselves indicated reported speech – devices well used not only in the Bible but in texts throughout the world.

  • 4 4 On quotation marks and other indicators in early print I have specially benefited from De Grazia (...)

30The diple-based symbol continued to play a part in printed forms. By the fifteenth century the original arrowhead was sometimes scarcely recognisable, but in one form or another it had become a key graphic sign and like many other manuscript conventions was taken over into the new print technology. It was not immediately obvious however just how it should be used or how citations could be signalled in print. There was the problem that marginal marks were just that – marginal. If they were to appear they would need to be added after the main print block had been set. Underlining biblical citations in red was not easily adaptable to the print technology of the time, so was dropped, and other devices employed such as brackets, differing typeface and the continued use of verbs of speaking. By the early sixteenth century however comma-shape quotation marks, successors of the diple, were being cut in metal type and, after various experiments with shape and placing, printing houses were beginning to construct their own standard type pieces for reproducing them. They were being more plentifully used, at least by some printers, by the seventeenth century, mostly as doubled semicircular signs, now becoming known as ’inverted’ or ’turned’ commas. The signs gradually became more systematised and standardised: the use of type increasingly ensured a greater consistency than in the variegated handwritten manuscript scripts.4

31But there was variety in print too. Although double commas were becoming an accepted signal for citation, they also appeared in other roles. Sometimes they were basically references to side- or foot-notes, or – a common usage in the early centuries of printing – set at the start or end of a line for emphasis. And even in their ’quoting’ role there could be inconsistencies within the very same text as well as in different periods, regions and types of publication. There was at first no uniform system as to which passages were marked, and individual compositors had different strategies. One common pattern was the insertion of roughly semi-circular signs in the left margin, not unlike the earlier manuscript usages. To take account of the two facing pages of bound books, they were sometimes moved to the right (outer) margin of the right hand page, the compositor inverting the type piece to face the other way. At first they were, like the diple, set in the margin outside the line. Towards the end of the sixteenth century however they were being brought within the print measure, often repeated at the start of each line throughout the quotation.

Fig. 4.10 Laurence Sterne, Yorick’s Sentimental Journey, Dublin, 1769 p. 53.
This uses a combination of quoting indications: double commas down the edge, closing double commas within the line, dashes, opening capitals, verbs of speech and (perhaps) italics (courtesy David Wilson)

32Sometimes single sometimes double, sometimes raised, sometimes on or below the line, these comma-like marks continued to vary in placing and usage. The late seventeenth-century printing of William Congreve’s Incognita for example followed the practice of having the marks at the edge even if the speaker changed within the line, but with the symbols sometimes encroaching from the margin into the text. There were no closing quote marks, but the marginal commas were at times (but not always) combined with dashes to show a change of speaker, sometimes with the ending not totally clear. Another variation was to have both double commas all down the edge and closing commas within the line, thus marking not just the start and continuation of someone’s speech but also its end. As exemplified in Fig. 4.10 this was sometimes combined with yet further indications.

33Inverted commas could be replaced or combined with other signals like italics, indenting, dashes, brackets or footnoting, often among other things adding to the decorative effect on page. Verbs of speech were commonly inserted between brackets or commas in the text, with or without other indicators. Even within a single book there could be variations. In the extract from an early nineteenth-century book shown in Fig. 4.11 the first page shows quotation by both double commas down the edge and closing marks within the line, while the next page avoids marginal marks altogether and instead uses italics surrounded by double inverted commas within the line.

34Marking the exact start and finish of quoted words by quote signs within the line was a significant change. They were sometimes combined with marginal marks but from the early eighteenth century began to stand on their own within the text. As novels increasingly started to use mimetic dialogue to represent the discourse of ordinary individuals in realistic rather than lofty language printers needed conventions for distinguishing such dialogues in the text.

35Various devices were tried, among them dashes, italics, and new lines. It took some time for settled conventions to emerge, and even then these took different forms in different countries. But increasingly graphic symbols, now incorporated within the line, became the main device. It is true that both double and single marks continued to coexist, sometimes apparently at random, sometimes to indicate alternating speakers in dialogue, direct as against reported speech or occasionally in nested sequences. National and regional differences in the form and placing of quote marks were also evident. In some print traditions italics were used for quotations from written texts, diple-like forms to mark direct or indirect speech, or for emphasis. Other devices for separating particular passages from their surrounding text also continued, like layout, special print, brackets and, especially, dashes. But in general the placing and uses of quotation marks were by the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries coming to coincide more nearly with modern practices. The diple and its descendants had moved from being an annotation sign, marginal in more than one sense, to a punctuation mark within the line.

Fig. 4.11 The Crisis of the Sugar Colonies, London, 1802, pp. 131-32.
This early nineteenth-century publication illustrates a variety of different quoting indications in two sequential pages: on the first page, double commas down the edge (but within the line) alongside the quoted words, and closing marks inside the line (replaced in one case by an asterisk and footnote); on the next, no edge marks but italics surrounded by double inverted commas (courtesy David Murray)

36The system is still far from uniform. Long-used strategies for marking quotation continue, like speech verbs, grammatical construction, layout, textual appearance, and alternative marks such as dashes or (common now as in the past) italics. But the diple-based forms remain the most visible and most constantly cited symbols when quotation is discussed, and in their continental chevron versions (« ») even more directly allied to the original arrowhead than in the curved inverted commas of English-language usage.

37Given this complex background it is, then, scarcely surprising to encounter contending views and practices around quotation marks today or the varying shapes and settings in which these marks are depicted. The contemporary British observers’ comments on the variety and elusiveness of quotation indicators summarised in the last chapter were well founded. Among them are the shifts between double and single marks and their diverse interpretations and applications, and the (apparent) alternatives achieved through differing forms of layout, lettering, punctuation or verbs of speech or writing. There are dashes, colons, new paragraphs, indents, footnotes, special titles or headings, or (sometimes) no visible signal at all – a multiplicity of devices for indicating others’ words, some, as we have seen, dating back many centuries, others exploiting modern technological resources unavailable earlier but now increasingly exploited in both hard copy and web displays. Marking quotation is a multiple and variable process even in this age where we tend to think of most aspects of writing and, especially, print as standardised.

  • 5 To add to the variety, French and Italian practice is usually to enclose the quoted words with out (...)

38The long history of diple development also underlies the apparently contrasting formats taken on by quote marks in differing print traditions. Quote marks nowadays do not come just in the familiar English format of pairs of inverted commas above the line, but also as curly or straight, as angular rather than curved, upright or oblique, below or beside the line, alone rather than in paired sets, or absent altogether. There are the ’duckfoot’ or guillemet marks of French tradition (literally ’Little Willy’, after the sixteenth-century typecutter Guillaume [William] Le Bé), also known as chevrons or angle quotes and widely used in Latin, Cyrillic and Greek typography.5 Chinese and Japanese scripts in the past lacked punctuation, but with developing print technologies around the late nineteenth century they too sometimes started using printed block-shaped corner-type marks 「--」and『--』. Thegraphic symbols for quoting make their appearance in many different guises but in a sense come within one broad family, with roots in the diple.

39Overall then, what we have is less some straight-line development into print uniformity than a series of still-continuing alternatives and variants. Unlike the relative standardisation of spelling, punctuation has remained uncertain, above all in the inconsistencies over indicating quotation. Out of this long history of visual signs two striking points emerge: first, the variety, indeed elusiveness, of devices to indicate others’ words; and, second, the long but mutating roots of many of these signals, most notably the prominence in the influential European written traditions of forms ultimately developing from the ancient Greek diple.

4.2. What do they mean?

40But as interesting as the origin and changing shapes of quote marks is the question of just what they convey. This is a more complex set of issues than at first appears, and will need to be tackled from several angles. For though quote marks may nowadays seem just part of the normal rules of grammar, their changing roles over time are not a merely technical matter but linked intimately with their social and cultural settings.

  • 6 Main sources here include Oxford English Dictionary, Harper Online Etymology Dictionary, Chambers (...)

41One way to start is to consider the vicissitudes of the English word ’quote’. Its first recorded meaning, back in the fourteenth century, was not at all to enclose a quoted passage. It was ’to mark (a book) with numbers (as of chapters, etc.) or with marginal references to other passages or works’, and, by the sixteenth century, ’to give the reference to (a passage in a book), by specifying the page, chapter, etc., where it is to be found’ (Oxford English Dictionary). The word itself was derived from the Medieval Latin quotare ’distinguish by numbers, number chapters’ (from the Latin quot, how many), relating to the practice of dividing a text into shorter numbered divisions – chapters in the Bible for example – thus enabling precise identification. The earliest meanings of ’quotation’ followed the same lines: in the fifteenth century ’a numbering, number’ (as of chapters in a book), and, a century later, ’a (marginal) reference to a passage in a book’ (Oxford English Dictionary). Seventeenth-century dictionaries were still defining ’quote’ in such terms as ’to marke in the margent, to note by the way’, a background still echoed in the dual resonance of the common idiom ’Mark my words’.6

42It is not difficult to see the developing connection between the idea of identifying text by a marginal mark or number, and that of the modern ’quoting’. But it was not until around the seventeenth century that the meaning of ’quote’ was apparently moving from marking a reference or citation by a marginal signal to that of reproducing words from elsewhere, or the term ’quotation’ used to refer to the act of quoting or the quoted passage itself. It was only then that ’quotation’ was taking on something like the modern sense of, as the Oxford English Dictionary has it, ’a passage quoted from a book, speech, or other source; (in modern use esp.) a frequently quoted passage of this nature’.

43It was thus many centuries before diple-type symbols were associated with our contemporary meaning of quotation and understood as a way of directly marking an exact quoted passage by opening and closing signs – before, that is, they acquired their modern role of identifying a demarcated written excerpt as someone else’s words. It has been even more recently still that they have assumed the now-familiar function of enclosing actual or fictional dialogue.

44One crucial factor in this history of quote marks and their meanings has been the changing treatments of written texts and the contexts in which they are used.

45The purpose of diple and other non-alphabetic graphic marks was for many centuries tied into reading aloud. In earlier texts, especially those prior to print, the graphic symbols we now interpret as punctuation marks were guides to reading aloud rather than grammatical indicators. They indicated to the reader the points at which to pause, how long the pauses should be, and where to take breath. Such aids were sometimes fairly sparse. When texts were in a familiar language or, like the repeated liturgical texts in Christian worship, well-known to the reader, little guidance was needed. But over the centuries there were changes both in the way texts were written – with or without word separation for example – and in the settings in which they were read. In the sixth and seventh centuries scribes started inserting marks more plentifully, especially in Irish and Anglo- Saxon contexts where many readers no longer had Latin, the medium of writing, as their first language.

  • 7 On changing interpretations and practices of punctuation see for example Honan 1960, Ong 1944 and (...)

46Changing approaches to written texts over time had implications for the meaning of these now more plentiful graphic marks. Reading aloud long remained important (and arguably still does). But silent reading gradually became more recognised, the sense to be taken directly through the eye to the mind. In some circles this dated back many centuries, but for many a key transition came in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Alongside this went a move from a performance-focused to a grammatical view of punctuation. Graphic symbols, increasingly prolific and systematic with the development of print and further codified in the eighteenth century, started being interpreted less as pragmatic aids for delivery than as indicators of the logical structure of sentences. They had become marks of punctuation – a matter of syntax and grammar rather than oral delivery.7

47This approach basically coincides with contemporary understandings of the meaning of quote marks. Unlike in earlier times, they are now broadly assimilated to punctuation and seen as a specialised aspect of grammar, well exemplified in the attitudes of many of the mass observers as they associated the use of quote marks with grammatical correctness.

48Equally important have been changing views about what counts as ’quoting’ – or, rather, about whose words are recognised as worth attending to and in what form. This goes beyond a matter of graphic marks into evaluative judgements about what words and voices should be singled out. Passages from notable writers like Plato and Homer as well as biblical sources were signalled by diples in early Greek papyri. In the influential Latin writing tradition of the West, dominated as it came to be by Christian writers, it was Old Testament passages that were for long sanctioned through graphic marks or other quoting indications. Sometimes different forms of the diple were used to distinguish between pagan and Christian or biblical and non-biblical sources; in some Syriac manuscripts different marginal signs were used for orthodox or non-orthodox passages. For long it was predominantly biblical citations that were highlighted in Western writing conventions – quotation quintessentially appertained to the scriptures.

49In time the diple marks and parallel indicators like colour, marginal annotation or special fonts were extended to other revered authorities, especially the church fathers – another long and powerful source for citation. Proverbs and other well-worn sayings came to be marked too, as well as extracts from the ancient classical sources, and in Renaissance texts sententious sayings like commonplaces, aphorisms and proverbs were also indicated by marginal marks.

  • 8 On the above see especially de Grazia 1991, 1994 and sources mentioned there.

50These marks signalled passages from written sources, from the past, and primarily from authors who were dead and attested by tradition. This may seem to equate with more recent concepts of quoting. But though it was indeed a way of signalling words from elsewhere, it was not quite quotation as we now understand it. The marks acted as handy signals, certainly, easily findable in margins. But their point was not to convey that a passage necessarily came from elsewhere but, as for example with the ’gnomic pointing’ of sententiae (as Hunter 1951 has it), that it was to be noted as important in some way, that it carried weight. It could be a revered or pleasing text, something known and worth commemorating from the great classical and biblical authorities of the past, something that readers could turn to for preaching or meditation, or for inserting in their own commonplace books. Here was something open for public use and copying. It was not until the eighteenth century that inverted commas were taken to mark quotation in anything like the contemporary sense and, with the gradual formulation of the concept of copyright and authorial rights, started to signal not common ground open for public use but an assertion of private ownership over roped-off words.8

51In these earlier uses of the diple and similar indicators, highlighting was for the written formulations of authorities or accepted wise sayings. It was not for the speech of ordinary mortals. It is only quite recently in fact that such words have been accepted as qualifying for quote marks. One significant factor here has been the style in which dialogues and speeches have been represented in literature. The traditional form for presenting characters’ words in literary works, both fictional and other, had commonly been through such verbal clues as ’he announced’, ’they replied’, ’he spoke thus to the crowd’, and so on. This was often followed either by an indirect paraphrase of what they had said or by lengthy rhetorical speeches with beginning and end marked by the context. The sense was clear without the need for quote marks.

52From around the eighteenth century however novelists were starting to present sequences of realistic dialogue with rapid repartee and interaction in direct speech and less formal language. The status of such dialogues had to be clarified in some way that avoided tediously repeating ’he said’ or ’she said’ between each interchange. For this many writers and printers turned to quote marks, sometimes combined with alternative markers like dashes or italics. Inverted commas became a common convention for marking these imagined dialogues, adopted as an appropriate signal for demarcating the direct speech of individuals. More recently still the spoken words of ordinary speakers remembered or recorded from everyday situations have also become recognised as suitable for distinguishing by quote marks, and similarly, though still sometimes with a certain unease, the transcribed utterances of speakers on radio or television.

53In such contexts the meaning of quote marks is not just a matter of grammar, the rules of writing, the shape of visual signs over the centuries, or even just of changing literary and media styles, though these have all played a part. It is also, more radically, tied into changing perceptions of the significance of particular divine and human agents and how to position their words. Over time there have been alterations in the relative weightings between different kinds of voices and in the purposes and contexts in which these are to be recognised. What could and should be signalled, and why, interacted with changing perspectives on the nature of humanity and of the world and with literary or political movements like the emphasis on realism and ’naturalism’, mimetic dialogues in novels or the voice of the ’common man’. These viewpoints are still up for discussion today. Whether in the philosophical or literary musings of scholars or remarks by reflective commentators from the mass observation panel, people still find it a matter of controversy what kind of author – or authority – we envisage when we mark something as a ’quotation’.

54The meaning(s) of quote marks and their parallels is further complicated by the question of just which words are being quoted and which not. If quote marks are used to demarcate words from elsewhere and distinguish them from the surrounding text, has it always been clear which elements are to be taken as the words or voices of ’others’, which, as it were, the ’main’ text?

  • 9 Interestingly discussed in Kittay and Godzich 1987.

55Strangely enough the answer is not always self-evident and has turned out differently in different contexts. In some cases, of course, it is plain. But it depends on cultural convention, not least on how the text is positioned in relation to the participants. In a collected edition of poetry or drama the notes and commentaries can emerge as the intrusive outsider voice. Within a predominantly prose work a poetic extract can look the intruder – typographically set apart from the ’normal’ prose surround. Nowadays we often see it as the poetry which is the ’quoted’ – but arguably in the early days of the emergence of vernacular prose it was the prose which was ’different’.9 In some texts brackets are used to add a verb of speech, once a common form and still sometimes found today, as in ’… That was the last straw (she added) on top of so much else…’ where the bracketed aside might in some ways seem the voice from outside, with the rest being the primary and continuing text. In the past brackets and quote marks sometimes alternated in ways which run counter to contemporary usage. In the fourteenth century and earlier, for example, diple forms sometimes appeared where we would now use parentheses; later, brackets enclosed words or passages where we might now use quotation marks. Or take the signalling of what used to be called sententiae – maxims or wise sententious sayings. They could be made to stand out from the surrounding text in various ways – by different fonts, commas, asterisks, inverted commas at the start, or a hand in the margin. Another method was to bracket them, with or without italics (Hunter 1951, Lennard 1991: 34ff). In Shakerley Marmion’s seventeenth-century Legend of Cupid and Psyche ’Wicked counsel ever is most dear to wicked people’ (a sententia) comes within brackets in a kind of apposition to the ’main’ text:

Which to confirm, ungrateful as they were.
(For wicked counsel ever is most dear
To wicked people) home again they drew,
And their feign’d grief most impiously renew
(Marmion 1637: Section II lines 287-90).

56Here and in similar cases it is less a matter of ’quoted’ versus ’nonquoted’ than of interpenetrating yet distinctive voices, no one of which is self-evidently the primary one.

  • 10 Among the, by now, large literature on this see especially the classic texts by

57The question of whose voice is in possession, whose intrusive is also raised in another notable development: the portrayal of so-called ’represented speech’ or ’free indirect speech’ in the European novel.10 Described by revealing phrases like ’veiled speech’, ’represented speech’, ’experienced speech’, ’quasi-direct speech’ or ’free indirect speech’, this cluster of terms points to the way a narrator conveys the speech or thoughts of a character without the explicit directness of overt quotation or quote marks. Thus – to take one example – Walter Scott represents the thoughts of his Crusader hero, the disguised Sir Kenneth, as he watches the passing procession of veiled figures in a remote chapel:

It was the lady of his love! But that she should be here – in the savage and sequestered desert, among vestals who rendered themselves habitants of wilds and caverns that they might perform in secret those Christian rites which they dared not assist in openly – that this should be so, in truth and in reality – seemed too incredible: it must be a dream, a delusive trance of the imagination
(Walter Scott The Talisman, 1825, Chapter IV) .

58Evident in novelists like Jane Austen, Walter Scott or Gustave Flaubert, this style had become widespread in European fiction by the mid-nineteenth century. It was forwarded too by developments in psychology and popular thought about individuals’ internal lives which emphasised the reality of inner thoughts and dialogues, increasingly, therefore, seen as something that could be represented in written language. By now it is a commonplace element of style in narrative accounts.

59These forms of reportage – in a sense quoting without quote marks – are sometimes seen as a kind of cross between direct and indirect speech (a point to return to). Here both author and projected character are speaking, at once part of the on-going exposition deployed by the narrator and a representation of someone else’s speech or thought. The style has been aptly described as ’doublevoiced’ where it becomes ambiguous which elements are ’quotation’, which the authorial voice: they are interlaced. In a contemporary novel we similarly experience Philip Pullman’s heroine Lyra as she struggles through the snow

She was hearing things. There was the snarl of an engine somewhere, not the heavy thump of a zeppelin but something higher like the drone of a hornet. It drifted in and out of hearing.
And howling… Dogs? Sledge dogs? That too was distant and hard to be sure of, blanketed by millions of snowflakes and blown this way and that by little puffing gusts of wind. It might have been the gyptians’ sledge-dogs, or it might have been wild spirits of the tundra, or even those freed daemons crying for their lost children.
She was seeing things… there weren’t any lights in the snow, were there? They must be ghosts as well… Unless they’d come round in a circle, and were stumbling back into Bolvangar.
But these were little yellow lantern-beams, not the white glare of ambaric lights. And they were moving, and the howling was nearer, and before she knew for certain whether she’d fallen asleep, Lyra was wandering among familiar figures, and men in furs were holding her up
(Philip Pullman Northern Lights 1995, Chapter 17 [ellipses in the original]).

60The interpenetration between the voices becomes a relative matter. For even when this kind of represented speech is not explicitly indicated, the tints of the hero can sometimes so colour the expression that the intonations of author and character(s) are intermingled and it is a moot point which voice is predominant – and for whom – at any one point. Again it becomes a question as to which elements are the main ’narrative’, which the cited words or thoughts of other characters – if indeed it still makes sense to plot that separation at all. Here too perhaps we need to question the stillembedded perception of ’straight’ reporting being the ’normal’ function of language with other representations being the ’marked’ or intrusive ones, and recognise instead the subtly tinged staging of multiple intersecting voices.

61Other developments in the literary scene over the last century have led certain theorists to suggest further that the older distinctions between quoted and non-quoted material have in any case been disappearing. Since the end of the nineteenth century, they would argue, the concept of quoting as a separate activity has been eroded in the writings of authors like Joyce or Brecht who regularly import large tracts of text and merge them with their own without the signal of quotation marks. In such contexts, it would seem, it is no longer a case of some discrete distinction between primary and secondary text, separated by quote marks, but of networks of reminiscences, references and echoes blending together on the written page. In such settings the once-recognised borders round ’quoting’ seem to have lost their meaning.

62Such debates again bring home the difficulty – at times at least – of trying to assign certain units unequivocally to the category of ’quotation’, and others not. It seems indeed that which kinds of excerpts or voices are or are not signalled by quote marks can vary, even within a single language at a particular time. Rather than a transparent grammatical system, diverse genres, groups, and traditions have their own conventions, differing crossculturally as well as changing across history.

63And there is yet a further complication. The fundamental meaning of quote marks is conventionally delineated as based on a distinction between ’direct’ and ’indirect’ speech. To surround words by quote signs signifies that we have someone’s exact written or spoken words and excludes the possibility that it might merely be a paraphrase, surmise or reinterpretation. Inside the signs are the direct words of some other voice, marked as of a different status from a second-hand processing or reshaping of them. The old contrast between direct ’straight’ speech (oratio recta) and the ’bent’ indirect words of oratio obliqua would seem to make good sense: ’he said ”I am coming” ’ (his precise words) is indeed different from ’he said he was coming’. It is the presence or absence of quote marks which validates this deep gulf between these two formulations, one which many of us grew up to accept as invariable truth.

  • 11 On the direct/indirect speech question see especially Coulmas 1986, also Baynham and Slembrouck 19 (...)

64It is worth spending a little time on this for the once-firm distinction turns out to be problematic and the meaning of ’exact words’ more elusive than it sounds. Indeed the idea of verbatim quoting as exact replica, on the face of it an obvious notion, may not only be much less widespread than we might assume, but in practice scarcely easy to achieve. Some argue that it is in fact quite rare and that indirect discourse – speech that has been in some way modified – is actually more common. 11

65The concept of ’exactness’ is in any case a relative one, working differently in different settings. Conventions over how far altered wording can or should be put within quote marks have changed over time. In the nineteenth century, a sentence originally uttered as ’the results will be disastrous and I am fearful for my constituents’ could be reported in a newspaper – within quote marks – as ’the results would be disastrous and he was fearful for his constituents’: wording which, with its shifts in person and tense, might nowadays be classed as an indirect report and thus incorrectly demarcated by quote marks. For some purposes we do however tolerate inverted commas around some pretty indirect reports: around ostensibly ’verbatim’ quotes in newspaper reports, for example, even where it is clear that the reporter’s voice has leaked onto the quote, or round ’recollected’ conversations in personal memoirs which we know are probably only loosely related to any original words. Even in more literary or formal genres, how ’exact’ can the ’represented’ speech of novels or even would-be factual reports be when the writer has assumed something of the voice of a character while still retaining the narrator’s eye? Or again, how often do we report as direct words what we think someone really ’meant’?

  • 12 On this see Tannen 1989: esp Chapter 4, also Robinson 2006: 220ff.

66In a sense ’exact repetition’ is never truly possible.12 Reproducing words on a different occasion or in a different voice produces a new creation rather than a replica of the old, just as something said in one situation can never be copied in precisely the same way in another. The setting, import, purpose, even the actual or intended audience are all changed – subtly and indirectly perhaps but different nonetheless. Anyone who repeats the words of others, whether as writer, speaker, or broadcaster, cannot totally avoid letting their own voice come through and may even make a point of doing so. It becomes a matter of reconstruction and recontextualisation rather than of precise repetition, where the new user of the words, whether overtly or implicitly, is communicating a particular attitude to the words or to their original speaker in this new enactment, manipulating the audience’s interpretation. The quoted words and their import might indeed be closer or more distant to the original event and their recognition as ’the same’ can vary according to the current conventions in play, even according to individual interpretations – and wishes. But there is a sense in which they can never fully be the same. And if there is necessarily always some element of reformulation in the re-presentation of someone else’s words, this once again blurs the idea of ’verbatim repetition’ which had seemed to provide the cornerstone for the direct/indirect contrast and thence for the meaning of quote marks.

67The official documentary record of speeches in the British parliament in the long-authorised pages of Hansard provides a neat case of purportedly exact rendering of words delivered. It is scarcely a literal replica. For one thing it uses current conventions of transcription to transmute what was spoken into the sentences and format of written prose. For another, rather than automatic repetition of what was said – though that is how it is widely perceived and presented – the speakers have the opportunity to scrutinise the transcript of their recorded performance, and have it altered for clarity before publication. In the anonymous verse

And so while the great ones depart to their dinner,
The secretary stays, growing thinner and thinner
Racking his brain to record and report
What he thinks that they think that they ought to have thought.

  • 13 On these issues see references in Notes 11 and 12 above, especially Coulmas 1986, also Blakemore 1 (...)

68The once firmly established dichotomy between ’direct’ and ’indirect’ speech is also up for question in comparative linguistic terms: languages have differing syntaxes for conveying reported speech. In English or German the distinction is indeed prominent, marked by such signals as word order, time words, or shifting person, mood or tense, often further validated by the presence or absence of quote marks in written versions. But these forms are far from universal. In Russian it can be ambiguous whether a sentence should be read as a direct or indirect report of speech; in Japanese even more so. Sometimes – as in some Australian and Nepalese languages, or, as I found in my experience of transcribing from oral delivery, in the West African Limba language – there is little or no linguistic differentiation at all. A comparative analysis reveals many different strategies for conveying the closeness or distance of the reproduction of others’ words or of the current speaker’s certainty about them. These may revolve round such multiple issues as different voices, degrees of authenticity, or levels of authority, and rely on a rich diversity of linguistic devices that can classified in such terms as ’moods’, ’quotative markers’, ' evidentials’, ’hearsay particles’, ’reportive verbs’ and so on. Amidst this plentiful complexity it now seems preferable to speak not of some universally applicable dichotomy between directly quoted and indirect speech but rather of ’tendencies’ (as it is put by Hartmut Haberland 1986: 248): a matter of degree and diversity along a number of dimensions.13

69The ’free indirect’ or ’reported’ speech of novels also challenges the dichotomy. This has been seen as a kind of cross between direct and indirect speech, a third form over and above the classic categories. Here the discourse is carrying the voices both of a given character and of the controlling narrator, the two seeping into each other. This double-voicedness has been most visibly displayed as deliberate style in novels. But it goes further, for representing or evoking the speech or thoughts of (perhaps) a range of voices whilst also retaining one’s own also occurs more widely. It is far from uncommon for an expression to be both quoted, as from someone else’s words, and used as his or her own by the current speaker or writer – a kind of ’hybrid’ quotation as it has been called (De Brabanter 2005). Another way of looking at it is less as one identifiable stylistic device than as a dimension, varying in detail and explicitness,that runs through many forms of speaking and writing. The once-accepted direct/indirect contrast again turns out to be shaky, and with it one of the apparent definitions of what quote marks signify.

70Even in languages that, like English, have a direct/indirect distinction, the application of quote marks to create this divide can be more ambiguous and inconsistent than elementary grammar books divulge. Jane Austen, classic writer as she is, is famous, at least her published versions, for putting inverted commas not just around the ’direct’ words spoken by her characters but also around what some might classify as indirect speech – in some views a ’wrong’ use of quote marks. Here is Emma, the central character, trying to draw out the reserved Jane Fairfax on the subject of Frank Churchill, with but little response from Jane:

She [Jane] and Mr. Frank Churchill had been at Weymouth at the same time. It was known that they were a little acquainted; but not a syllable of: real information could Emma procure as to what he truly was. ”Was he handsome?” – ”She believed he was reckoned a very fine young man.” ”Was he agreeable?” – ”He was generally thought so.” ”Did he appear a sensible young man; a young man of information?” – ”At a watering-place, or in a common London acquaintance, it was difficult to decide on such points. Manners were all that could be safely judged of, under a much longer knowledge than they had yet had of Mr. Churchill. She believed every body found his manners pleasing.” Emma could not forgive her.
(Jane Austen Emma, 1816 Vol. 2 Chapter 2: 34-5).

71Jane Austen also put quote marks around her vivid shorthand impression of the kind of conversation – not the verbatim words – that went on among a chattering group around a strawberry bed in Maple Grove.

Strawberries, and only strawberries, could now be thought or spoken of. –”The best fruit in England – every body’s favourite – always wholesome. – These the finest beds and finest sorts. – Delightful to gather for one’s self – the only way of really enjoying them. – Morning decidedly the best time – never tired – every sort good – hautboy infinitely superior – no comparison – the others hardly eatable – hautboys very scarce – Chili preferred – white wood finest flavour of all – price of strawberries in London – abundance about Bristol – Maple Grove – cultivation – beds when to be renewed – gardeners thinking exactly different – no general rule - gardeners never to be put out of their way – delicious fruit – only too rich to be eaten much of – inferior to cherries – currants more refreshing – only objection to gathering strawberries the stooping – glaring sun – tired to death – could bear it no longer – must go and sit in the shade.”
Such, for half an hour, was the conversation
(Jane Austen Emma, 1816 Vol. 3 Chapter 6: 94-5).

  • 14 These and other enjoyable examples come from ’Gallery of ”Misused” Quotation Marks’ http://www.juv (...)

72In English contemporary usage too there are both differences in the detailed functions of quote marks and variations in practice, and these, though for some arguably ’incorrect’, are for others acceptable, decorative and meaningful. The most visible approved function in the schooled tradition – to indicate the reproduced words of others in (more, or less) exact form – is, as we have seen, contentious enough. But to this have to be added those many other uses to which quote marks are often put in current practice: used for example in lieu of apostrophes or plurals, for highlighting particular word(s), for surrounding the names of recipients or senders on greetings cards, for warning, for decorative display. They occur in such notices as ’Please ”Do Not” deposit cash’ (sign on bank deposit drawer), or ’Only ”2” children allowed in the shop at any time’.14 Often the purpose is less any indication of exact reproduction than to emphasise and draw attention – a role decried by pundits today but one, as we have seen, with a long history.

73It would be easy to multiply similar examples. The point here is not that some writers are lax in their use of quote marks or mistaken in seemingly claiming ’exact’ quotation whether in novels, informal letters, Hansard reports or flamboyant notices, but that what counts as ’quotation’ and how it is treated and marked varies according to viewpoint, ideology, setting and interpretation. As diversities from past and present mingle, the apparent inconsistencies are less a matter of imperfect training or even of changing history than a facet of people’s heterogeneous practice. Some of these many usages are doubtless more practised in some settings – or among some individuals or some genres – than others, and certain ideologies and institutions are indeed more powerful than others. But in the end there is no total consensus about quote marks and their meaning.

74The history of quote marks is thus a winding and confused one, with many changes and inconsistencies over time and space. Starting in one sense from a little mark for drawing attention, but interacting with other visual devices for marking and embellishing writing, and moving through a multiplying range of shapes and usages in the context of changing literary, religious and political institutions, they eventuate now in their current multicoloured rainbow. There is a centuries-long history before the diple-based forms transmuted into the meaning – or meanings – in which quotation is now often understood, or were allowed to demarcate the spoken words, actual or imagined, of ordinary people. Nor is it some uniform matter of ’quotation’ as opposed to ’not-quotation’ but of culturally relative conceptualisations, with multiple layers, nuances, echoes, co-constructed and, it may be, differently understood, by speakers and listeners. The import of quotation, it seems, is founded neither in some abiding meaning signalled by graphic marks nor in some unrelenting forward march of punctuation or typography, but manipulated and recognised differently in varying settings.

75Looked at in historical and comparative terms, as well as in the ambiguities of actual practice, it becomes hard to continue with the idea that quote marks delineate some constant and cross-culturally valid meaning. They are, indeed, a handy and long-enduring convention for marking written text. But their meanings and applications have changed through the centuries and their import neither simple nor universal but tied into varying cultural and historical specificities.

4.3. Do we need them?

76It is clear then that quote marks as we picture them today have been far from immutable. They are essential neither for reading aloud nor for syntactical understanding; their incidence has varied over the ages and according to situation; they have taken – '61nd take – many different forms; there have been changing views about what they mean; uncertainties and inconsistencies surround their exact usage; and some believe they are by now outdated. So – do we still need quote marks?

77In some ways perhaps not. The idea and practice of quoting turns out to be elusive and certainly more complex than implied in the primers that present them as obligatory and uncontentious. For centuries many texts managed without quote marks of any kind – ancient classical texts, writing in Hebrew or Sanskrit, early biblical translations. Classic figures of English literature like Shakespeare, William Blake or early nineteenth-century poets such as Keats made little or no use of quote marks, their apparent presence being modern editors’ revisions. It was not until the eighteenth century that the need for quote marks to enclose words from elsewhere was being laid down in grammar books. Certain textual genres, both now and earlier, in any case avoid graphic quote symbols. They play little if any part in some legal documents and liturgies, in many personal letters or emails, or for words and extracts in dictionaries or anthologies. Allusions and wordplay seldom have them even though the line between these and quoting is a permeable one, and foreign language quotations are commonly characterised by italics rather than quote marks. Poems inserted into a text are signalled by typographic layout rather than inverted commas while play scripts mostly distinguish alternating voices by names and layout. The little signs we know as quote marks are emphatically neither essential nor the only possible mechanism – or even the best one – for signalling the range of meanings which have been attached to them.

78There are after all many other devices for indicating others’ words. Writers can attribute some special status to a piece of text through its wording or by visual indicators like layout, colour, italics, special scripts, brackets, boxes, headings, dashes and similar markers. Some of these devices have in the past sometimes proved more effective than the then-marginal marks in giving a precise differentiation from the surrounding text through markers like underlining, colouring or capitalising.

79It can be urged too that quote marks carry a further disadvantage. For if in one way carrying notably ambiguous meanings, in another they impose too exact an impression. They seem to commit to an all-or-nothing distinction by which words either are or are not within quote marks, on one side or the other of a divide. And yet how often, like several mass observers, we have hesitated over whether something is or is not quoted from elsewhere or over how far it is just part of the common vocabulary even if still perhaps retaining some air of otherness. The presence – or the absence – of quotes can feel too definitive, foreclosing questions that might better be left opaque.

80Marjorie Garber (2003: 24ff) gives a telling example from the conclusion to Keats’ Ode to a Grecian Urn

When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain in midst of other woe,
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
Beauty is truth, truth beauty – that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

81Editors have adopted contrary positions over whether the last two lines should or should not have quote marks round them, and if so where (there were none in the original transcript). Is it the voice of the urn (with quote marks therefore), or of the poet (without)? Or is ’Beauty is truth, truth beauty’ to be taken as some kind of well-worn aphorism? The use or the avoidance of quote marks is to assert too clear an answer. Or again, as Kellett pointed out many years ago, sometimes inverted commas draw too much attention where perhaps what was intended was merely to ’give the reader a slight titillation of the memory – a gentle feeling that this was the old refurbished’ (1933: 10-11). Quote marks are too crude a signal, it could be said, for the subtleties of submerged or fading quotation, allusion, parody, intertextuality, leaving no room for finer gradations. Indeed in certain literary circles there have been moves to forsake them altogether as meaningless or misleading.

82Others have argued for replacing quote marks by something more exact. In 1968 for example I. A. Richards noted the multiple purposes for which we ’overwork this too serviceable writing device’ (Richards 1968: ix) and went on to suggest nine contrasting forms to distinguish the different meanings. Among them were

? ---? equivalent to ’Query: what meaning?’
! ---! a ’Good heavens! What-a-way-to-talk’ attitude. It may be read
!shriek! if we have occasion to read it aloud
i --- i other senses of the word may intervene… ’Intervention likely’
di --- di ’Danger! Watch out!’
(based on Richards 1968: x-xi).

83He adopted the system in his own text ’It is somewhat absurd’, he urged, ’that writers have not long ago developed a notation system for this purpose which would distinguish the various duties these little commas hanging about our words are charged with’ (Richards 1968: ix-x).

84It is hardly surprising however that this complex system did not catch on, demanding as it did a sophisticated – and perhaps near-impossible – precision of thought as well as of typography. The same seems to have happened with the literary attempts to do away with quote marks altogether: though adopted in some settings and by some individuals, these do not look like becoming generally accepted. Inverted commas seem destined to stay.

85In any case, despite the problems round quote marks and their usage, it seems unlikely that ’quoting’ in some sense or another, however elusive, is really set to disappear. Nor can it be assumed that we have no uses for the devices employed to give an indication, however vague, of some of the manifold meanings they imply. It is striking how deeply engrained seems to be the practice not only of drawing on the words and voices of others but also, in some cases at least, of at the same time marking the fact that we are doing so – an enduring facet of human life and action, it seems, in which quote marks however ill-defined have a part. Shot through as they are with continuing overtones from earlier shapes and usages they continue significant in contemporary practice.

86And that itself illuminates another important factor in the life of quote marks. Perhaps in some a-cultural universe we do not need them or could adopt alternative or even preferable devices for marking others’ words and voices. But long established conventions relating to the written word, however confused, are hard to unsettle. They are buttressed by general habit, by the pressures of educational and typographic institutions and by the long history that lies behind them. Our practices are no doubt likely to drift among emerging as well as older patterns, and changes as well as continuity are always in the air. But any project to dislodge quote marks wholesale, however inconsistent, ambiguous, shifting or unsatisfactory they may be, seems likely to go too much against taken-for-granted custom to become easily established.

87The continuance of visual quote marks over centuries of change testifies to the striking conservatism of writing systems. Like many other graphic elements they have been taken over and reinterpreted across the transitions of script to print to web, and survived radical changes in the materials, production and format of the book. In one variant or another, diple-based forms have persisted through changing scripts, have reappeared in print and are still active on the web – a remarkable example of flexible continuity across the millennia.

88But for all their continuity quote marks possess no universal or absolute meaning. We have to read them with caution. For they have in the end to be understood not in themselves but in the light of inevitably changing settings marked by the interplay of diverse cultural, political, linguistic and technological conditions.

Notes

1 http://etymonline.com/index.php?1=q&p=2 (August 2008).

2 MO/H2447.

3 The interdisciplinary range in this volume has meant that here and elsewhere I have inevitably strayed into unfamiliar fields. Rather than cluttering the text with constant references I have largely employed footnotes to indicate the main sources (mostly secondary) on which I have relied for particular sections. So let me say here that for the early history of the diple I have found the following particularly useful: Lowe 1934-71, 1972 (many examples and discussion), McGurk 1961, McNamee 1992, Parkes 1992, Wingo 1972, see also the following footnotes.

4 4 On quotation marks and other indicators in early print I have specially benefited from De Grazia 1991, 1994, Hunter 1951, Lennard 1991: esp. 32ff, 145ff, McKerrow 1927: 316ff, McMurtrie 1922, Mitchell 1983, Mylne 1979, Parkes 1992: esp. 57ff. See also Blackburn 2009 which unfortunately I was not able to consult before this book went to press.

5 To add to the variety, French and Italian practice is usually to enclose the quoted words with outward-pointing chevrons « -- », with single marks for nested inner quotes. In other print conventions, notably German, the direction is often the reverse: » -- « and › --‹, in others yet again » -- », or the single or double sloped „ – ” or curved „ – ”.

6 Main sources here include Oxford English Dictionary, Harper Online Etymology Dictionary, Chambers Dictionary of Etymology, Carruthers 1990: 102-3, de Grazia 1991 (citing Randle Cotgrave, A Dictionarie of the English and French Tongues, London 1611).

7 On changing interpretations and practices of punctuation see for example Honan 1960, Ong 1944 and approaches in such earlier treatises as Robertson 1785 and Wilson 1844. On aspects of the history of (Western) punctuation generally and/or on quote marks Parkes 1992 is a wonderful source, also (among others) Baker 1996, de Grazia 1994, Garber 2003: Preface and Chapters 1-2, Hodgman 1924, Lennard 1991, McGurk 1961, Mitchell 1983, Murray 2008 (on Syriac manuscripts), Saenger 1997, Wingo 1972.

8 On the above see especially de Grazia 1991, 1994 and sources mentioned there.

9 Interestingly discussed in Kittay and Godzich 1987.

10 Among the, by now, large literature on this see especially the classic texts by

Bakhtin 1973, 1981: esp 283ff, Voloshinov/ Bakhtin 1986: 115ff and analyses such

as Banfield 1973, 1978, Coulmas 1986: esp. 6ff, Jakobson 1971, Janssen and Van der

Wurff 1996: 3ff, Robinson 2006: 220ff.

11 On the direct/indirect speech question see especially Coulmas 1986, also Baynham and Slembrouck 1999, De Brabanter 2005, Janssen and Van der Wurff 1996, Matoesian 1999, Rumsey 1990, Sternberg 1982, Tannen 1989. Comparable issues can be raised about the useful but similarly blurred distinction between mention and use discussed in the linguistics and philosophy literature on quoting.

12 On this see Tannen 1989: esp Chapter 4, also Robinson 2006: 220ff.

13 On these issues see references in Notes 11 and 12 above, especially Coulmas 1986, also Blakemore 1994, Hill and Irvine 1993: 209, Palmer 1994, Janssen and Van der Wurff 1996, Suzuki 2007.

14 These and other enjoyable examples come from ’Gallery of ”Misused” Quotation Marks’ http://www.juvalamu.com/qmarks/ (Nov. 2008).

Table des illustrations

Légende Fig. 4.1 New English Bible, Oxford, 1961, Matthew, Chapter 21, verses 1-6.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/921/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 26k
Légende Fig. 4.2 Revised Standard Version, New York, 1946, Matthew Chapter 21, verses 1-6.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/921/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 24k
Légende Fig. 4.3 Reina-Valera Bible (Spanish), web version, Matthew Chapter 21 verses 1-6.(http://www.biblegateway.com/​passage/​?book_id=47&chapter=21&version=61 (23 June 2008))
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/921/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 29k
Légende Fig. 4.4 Holy Bible, King James Version, Oxford and Cambridge, 19th century, Matthew, Chapter 21, verses 1-6.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/921/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 49k
Légende Fig. 4.5 New Testament (Greek), London, 1885, Matthew Chapter 21, verses 1-5.Typical of many earlier versions, especially those in the original Greek, there are no quote marks (superscript symbols in the text are accents and breath-signs, not quote marks) but the Old Testament quotation is demarcated by its indented layout and capital letters
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/921/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 49k
Légende Fig. 4.6 The Newe Testament, translated into English by William Tyndale, Worms, 1526, Matthew, Chapter 21, verses 1-6.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/921/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 81k
Légende Fig. 4.7 The Bible and Holy Scriptures Conteined in the Olde and Newe Testament, Geneva, 1560, Matthew, Chapter 21, verses 1-7.The prophetic words in verse 5 are signalled not by quote marks but by a marginal reference to the earlier Old Testament passages where they were first spoken (in Isaiah 62,11, Zachariah 9,9), and to a parallel passage in John’s gospel 12,15 in the New Testament
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/921/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 50k
Légende Fig. 4.8 Diple marks in an 8th-century manuscript: Bede’s Commentary on Proverbs.The Biblical passages for comment are indicated both by diples in the left margin and by a different script. (MS Bodley 819 fol 16, reproduced by permission of The Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford)
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/921/img-8.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 37k
Légende 4.9 Scribal citation marks, 7th to 9th centuries AD.The citation marks illustrated here are (starting from the top) 1) Two dots beside a comma (Gregory Moralia in Iob, reproduced by permission of Durham Cathedral: Durham Cathedral Library C.IV.8 fly leaf; 2) A dot and long straight slash-like comma (’Canterbury Gospels’; reproduced by permission of The Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford: Ms Bibl b 2 (P) f14); 3) Pairs of small elongated Y-like signs with a dot inside each (Gregory Moralia, © The British Library Board: Add 11878 f 45v). The bottom three rows give stylised print reproductions of other marginal marks used by scribes, sometimes written in red, and with the single or double commas drawn in a variety of freehand forms (based on examples and discussion in Lowe 1934-71 (esp Vols 2, 3), McGurk 1968, and Parkes 1992)
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/921/img-9.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 31k
Légende Fig. 4.10 Laurence Sterne, Yorick’s Sentimental Journey, Dublin, 1769 p. 53.This uses a combination of quoting indications: double commas down the edge, closing double commas within the line, dashes, opening capitals, verbs of speech and (perhaps) italics (courtesy David Wilson)
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/921/img-10.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 37k
Légende Fig. 4.11 The Crisis of the Sugar Colonies, London, 1802, pp. 131-32.This early nineteenth-century publication illustrates a variety of different quoting indications in two sequential pages: on the first page, double commas down the edge (but within the line) alongside the quoted words, and closing marks inside the line (replaced in one case by an asterisk and footnote); on the next, no edge marks but italics surrounded by double inverted commas (courtesy David Murray)
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/921/img-11.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 42k