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Re: CSS and quotation typography

From: David Woolley <david@djwhome.demon.co.uk>
Date: Sun, 17 Sep 2006 17:57:29 +0100 (BST)
Message-Id: <200609171657.k8HGvTw03894@djwhome.demon.co.uk>
To: www-style@w3.org

> > It was originally designed to allow any reasonably intelligent person
> > to create useful documents.
> As an aside, I haven't seen much freely available evidence for this as a
> *explicit* design goal of HTML. If you look at the 1992 "Design

I must admit that I can't find it as clearly written as I thought, but
you need to go back to 1989 to really get the picture.  Indicators are:

     * The creation of new links and new material by readers. At this
       stage, authorship becomes universal.

   (mailing lists, indexes, etc). It should be possible for users to link
   public documents to (for example) bug reports, bug fixes, and other
   documents which the authors themselves might never have realised
   existed.This phase allows collaborative authorship. It provides a

from the original project proposal

> look at the 1997 HTML 3.2 specification [3] there's an assertion that

By HTML 3.2, commercialisation had taken over.

> Tim Berners-Lee has stated that "HTML is too complex" [7].

I'd certainly agree that by the time that was written, HTML had lost
out in its simplicity objectives, to commercialisation.

> Having said that, comprehensibility to a "reasonably intelligent person"
> (at the very least!) must be an implicit design goal for *any* document
> markup language, and I'm sure it was for HTML too. In my previous post,

A lot of languages are designed for technical authors (but note that
"web designer" is not a job title describing a technical author).

> Did you mean to imply that understanding <q> is beyond the abilities of
> a "reasonably intelligent person", or that it would be especially

It's an unnecessary abstraction for such users.

> difficult to develop tools that generate documents including <q>?  I
> would have thought <q> to be one of the most easily comprehensible
> elements in the HTML 4.01 specification. Unlike elements such as <span>,

It is almost one of the least used.  This is the evidence I am using,
although one has to admit that a minor factor is the lack of backward

> <dl>, <object>, and <frame>, it maps directly to a concept most of us
> learn in school.

Unfortunately (using England as an example) formal grammar is no longer
taught, and rather more important, in my view, HTML is not taught as
part of the English language curriculam, but as part of Information
and Computing technology, with a strong bias towards Art, rather
than language.  My impression is that it is taught at the further
education level in what used to be art colleges, very much as a
visual arts subject.

> Neither MediaWiki [9] nor John Gruber's Markdown [10] include syntax
> comparable to <q>, but as these languages are intermediate interfaces
> between the user and the complexities of HTML, that may be a knock-on

MediaWiki uses HTML primarily as an opaque output format, but in itself,
in my view, actually better reflects the original aims of HTML.  Although
you can pass through raw HTML, I think that HTML is primarily used
as a mechanism for rendering, rather than as a revisable form in its
own right.

> effect of browsers' problems with <q>. DocBook includes a <quote>
> element because using "an element for quotations is frequently more

DocBook is much more of a technical author's tool.  It has a more
sophisticated audience than HTML.

> > that compromise often includes relying on normal punctuation in the
> > text, without specific markup.
> There seem to be two vaguely contradictory assumptions in what you're
> saying:
> A) Correct punctuation is too arcane to facilitate within a markup
>    language designed for "reasonably intelligent" people.

In a UK context, that is probably true, because people don't learn formal
grammar any longer.  (It's first taught as part of modern foreign
languages, but that is not a compulsory part of the national 

> B) "Reasonably intelligent" people can be relied on to produce "normal
>    punctuation in the text".

To be honest, they probably cannot;  a common commplaint of employers is
that new recruits cannot punctuate.  However, that means that any reasonable
punctuation is something of an optomistic expectation, rather than an
indication that SGML/XML markup of the punctuation units would improve
the situation.

> Also, your reference to "normal punctuation in the text" ignores the
> fact that wherever Problem C arises from "normal punctuation", it would

What's problem C?

> require CSS or some new sort of markup to produce punctuation at the
> start of each line -- unless you think people should split lines of
> inner quotations to arbitrary lengths with <br>? Or by "normal
> punctuation" do you actually mean not the punctuation the author is used

As I remember it, this limitation is being fixed in XHTML 2.0.

> to, but rather whichever arbitrary punctuation is within the
> capabilities of current (X)HTML?

By normal punctuation, I mean that punctuation that is possible without
a markup language.

> Given it was never effectively implemented by Internet Explorer or Jaws,

Failure to implement in browsers is always a problem and specificications
can only get round this by creating commercially attractive features
(unfortunately, advertising copywriting and web applications, rather
than technical authoring, are the commercially attractive areas).

Jaws tends not to lead, but rather to do things which help with pages
coded according to de facto current web design practice, so its lack
of <q> support probably more reflects the lack of use of <q>.

> attributes. If browsers had actually implemented those (much as many of
> them implemented the title attribute for <acronym>), it might have made
> the elements rather more popular.

Again, technical authoring isn't where browsers make money, it is 
advertising and thin client applications.
Received on Sunday, 17 September 2006 16:58:18 GMT

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