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RE: proper coding or use for mdash

From: Jukka Korpela <jukka.korpela@tieke.fi>
Date: Wed, 13 Mar 2002 16:33:09 +0200
Message-ID: <621574AE86FAD3118D1D0000E22138A9418563@TIEKE1>
To: WAI-IG <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
Joe Clark wrote:

> The correct character is actually the figure dash, &#8210;. Em dash 
> &#8212; may look the same, but it isn't the same character - -.
> You can, however, use &#8212; anyway. 
> It is a very minor and legalistic difference.

Actually, according to the Unicode standard, the FIGURE DASH "has the same
(ambiguous) semantic as the U+002D HYPHEN-MINUS, but has the same width as
digits (if they are monospaced)". The character U+2015 HORIZONTAL BAR "used
to introduce quoted text in some typographic styles"; its older name is
"quotation dash". People interested in various hyphen and dash characters in
Unicode might wish to check my treatise on them:
http://www.cs.tut.fi/~jkorpela/dashes.html

But the notes you make are correct when applied to the figure dash: it would
theoretically be the optimal character for a quotation dash, due to its
specific semantics; but in practice it's safer to use em dash, &#8212;. The
em dash, being part of the so-called Windows character set, is much more
commonly available in fonts than the horizontal bar (or the figure dash) is.

On the other hand, even em dash isn't universally supported. The support is
fairly good, and includes "graceful degradation" to any normal hyphen on
reasonably new versions of Lynx, in situations where Lynx is unable to use
the em dash itself. But for maximal accessibility, I'd use the good old
Ascii hyphen (HYPHEN-MINUS, to be exact); there's variation in details: some
people would use just one hyphen, while others would double it (--), when
used as a surrogate for an em dash (or a horizontal bar).

But the character issue is just a small part of the question how a dialogue
should be presented on a Web page. The fundamental problem is that a
dialogue is one of the very basic structures in human communication, but
there is no HTML markup designed for it. So anything we do is a surrogate of
some kind.

> Given lousy support for <q> and its poor typographic appearance, and 
> given the fact that all the codes for opening and closing quotation 
> marks are unambiguous, why bother using <q>?

I agree with that, and I'm sure there are people on this list who disagree.

But let's have a look at one of the proposals made: it was essentially
<p>&#8212; <q>...</q></p>
This is not a bad idea, but we might ask: Is it really a place for using
<p>, paragraph, markup? Logically, it's debatable; pragmatically, it would
mean that you would probably want to use CSS to tune the appearance to avoid
excessive vertical spacing. And using <q> is not very practical, especially
since it would sometimes cause quotation marks to be inserted by a browser.

My suggestion is:

<div class="p">
John and Mary were talking about their vacation.
<div class="john">&#8212; I had a great time in Venice.</div>
<div class="mary">&#8212; Did you see many historical places?</div>
<div class="john">&#8212; No, I had spent most of time from one restaurant
to another.</div>
</div>

Yes, I am using class="p" instead of using proper <p> markup, despite the
structure logically being a paragraph. I know I need a very good excuse.
Maybe this will do:

It gets reasonably presented on any browser, with a minor risk of having the
em dash messed up. The <div> markup takes care of starting a new line when
needed for normal visual presentation. The use of classes for the lines of
different persons lets us add CSS comfortably, e.g.
 .john { voice-family: male; }
 .mary { voice-family: female; }
or to use corresponding coloring in visual presentation (e.g. for the
purposes of making it easier to use the text as play manuscript).

I can't use <p> since a <p> element cannot contain <div> elements. And <div>
elements are the most natural here. If I used <br> to create line breaks, I
wouldn't have anything to attach styles to; I would need extra markup for
that. But, admittedly,

<p>
John and Mary were talking about their vacation.<br>
<span class="john">&#8212; I had a great time in Venice.</span><br>
 ...
</p>

would be possible too.

Why not <blockquote> instead of the inner <div>? First, are those really
_block_ quotations? Are they (generally) quotations at all? Does Shakespeare
really _quote_ Romeo, or even Caesar? And one would need to take extra
trouble to add CSS rules to prevent some of the typical features of
<blockquote> presentation, like margins all around and possibly italics font
(though it's not that common any more). But such an approach is possible of
course. After all, anything we do with this is a surrogate of some kind,
with pros and cons. And there are not that many essential differences from
the accessibility perspective between the approaches discussed here. They
all seem to satisfy the fundamental requirement that any presentation should
make the borders of the lines of different persons sufficiently clear.

Of course, for maximal accessibility in this respect, the person's name
should be presented before any line of his or hers. Then dashes would not be
needed; they are, in a sense, generic symbols for peoples names. Then I'd
probably suggest using something like
John: <span class="john">I had a great time in Venice.</span><br>

-- 
Jukka Korpela
TIEKE Tietoyhteiskunnan kehittämiskeskus ry
Finnish Information Society Development Centre 
Salomonkatu 17 A, 10th floor, FIN - 00100 HELSINKI, FINLAND
Phone: +358 9 4763 0397 Fax: +358 9 4763 0399 
http://www.tieke.fi  jukka.korpela@tieke.fi
Received on Wednesday, 13 March 2002 09:32:29 GMT

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