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Re: Whose problem is a strange French typesetting habit...

From: Bert Bos <bert@w3.org>
Date: Sat, 26 Oct 2013 16:11:27 +0200
Cc: W3C Digital Publishing IG <public-digipub-ig@w3.org>, Dave Cramer <Dave.Cramer@hbgusa.com>, Pierre Danet <pdanet@hachette-livre.fr>, Thierry Michel <tmichel@w3.org>
Message-Id: <D25AF75B-49BE-42BA-94D3-B2D116366C2F@w3.org>
To: Ivan Herman <ivan@w3.org>
On Oct 26, 2013, at 13:04, Ivan Herman wrote:

> Reading through Dave's text[1]...
> There is an unusual French typesetting habit? rule? that I have not seen in any other language. Afaik, in French it is required to have a space before a '!', a ':', a '?', etc. sign. (But not before a full stop.). Ie, you are supposed to write

I believe it is the fault of the typewriter: Most printers in Europe in the days before the typewriter put a non-breakable narrow space before all punctuation bigger than a period. (The rules of the French Imprimerie Nationale still recommend that. The Tekstwijzer of the Dutch Staatsuitgeverij regrets its falling into disuse.) The typewriter, of course, didn't have half spaces. In most countries the eventual consensus was to put no space at all, but in France people settled on a normal space instead.

> 	Bonjour !
> and not
> 	Bonjour!
> I also know that it is frequent on, say, Web sites of French newspapers to have a mistake of the sort:
> 	je luis ai dit
> 	:
> i.e., the line break occurs at the space between 'dit' and the ':' characters (which is really disturbing). 

Not many authors know about non-breakable or narrow spaces, let alone how to type them on their keyboard, so they put a normal space. French people are apparently taught to put a space when they follow a typewriting course. And, unless a skilled typographer corrects the text (which seems to happen with books published through major publishers, but not with newspapers, nor with self-published books), the computer will happily insert a line break before the colon...

> The rules are not always followed; I just looked randomly at an iBook version of "Les misérables" and those spaces do not appear. I do not know whether this is considered as a serious mistake for French publishers (Pierre?).

I'm not a French publisher :-) but I would say that that is indeed a serious mistake. I think people are more used to normal spaces and even line breaks before colons than to the absence of all space.

On the other hand, in older French books (say a hundred years old), there is a lot of inconsistency, maybe more than today. In the same book there are ? ! ; : with and without space before them.

A French book I have from 1768 is on the contrary very consistent. No mistakes that I can see. But it also consistently puts spaces before commas, although not before periods.

A Dutch book from 1884 is the same: narrow spaces before all punctuation, except periods. In a Dutch book from 1946 they have all disappeared, except before question marks.

An English book from (probably) the 1860's also has narrow spaces before : ; ! ?. It also has "French spacing": double-width spaces after the period. Another one from 1906 reprinted in 1924 is the same.

> The question is: whose job is it to control this?
> - Up to the author, who should put a &nbsp; (non-breaking space) at the right place
> - The reading system, which should take this into account if the language is set to be French
> - CSS should have a control for this (afaik it currently does not)
> - anybody else?

It's my impression that French authors habitually put a space before ! ? etc. (Many of our French colleagues in W3C seem to have stopped doing that, though. Maybe because they write English all day...) So it seems we can leave it to the author to put in something, although not exactly the right character.

That's one of the reasons why Håkon has argued for a regular-expression capability in CSS, to automatically replace such spaces by narrow non-break spaces (U+202F) with a rule in the style sheet. (Another reason is replacing straight quotes "" by directed ones “” or „”.) Prince implemented it, as the 'prince-text-replace' property. And book publishers indeed use it. I forget who showed an example at the Paris workshop.

The habit of putting narrow spaces before punctuation in other languages seems to have permanently disappeared, though. And that is probably fine. People are used to very compact text now, as exemplified by the Times New Roman font.

I have thought in the past of a special property to control space around punctuation, but maybe Håkon's solution of a general regular expression replacement is actually better.

TeX has a function for the related, confusingly called "french spacing," to automatically make the space after a period bigger. I think this is actually an anglo-saxon style, despite its name. We don't have that built-in in CSS either. CSS is implicitly backed in that by Tschichold, who decried that style. :-)

Another example of differing typographical traditions is how to use quotation marks: We have a <q> element in HTML, and that seems to make sense as long as you deal with English, Dutch or German. Just make the style sheet insert the appropriate quote marks at the start and end and you're done. But in French, the recommendation is to start a quote with an em-dash at the start of the line, nothing at the end of the quote, and nothing where the quote is interrupted either:


   ... to the street. <q>Hello,</q> he said, <q>I'm John.</q> 

   ... to the street. “Hello,” he said, “I'm John.”


    ... dans la rue. <q>Hallo,</q> il disait, <q>je suis John.</q>

    ... dans la rue.
    --- Hallo, il disait, je suis John.

You can say that the French style is illogical and confusing (and I indeed often misread such lines, even in books by very skilled authors, such as Simenon), but that's how it is.

The 'quotes' property of CSS simply cannot handle that. To the point that I now think that the <q> element in HTML was a mistake: either it's too much (authors could add the punctuation by themselves) or too little (lacking mark-up for the “he said” in the middle).

B.t.w., older traditions in various countries are even worse, from the  point of view of CSS. If a quotation was longer than one line, the quote mark often used to be repeated at the start of the line:

    He started to explain: “When I
    “ entered the church, there was
    “ already somebody there. I don't
    “ know who.” Then he stopped.

At least with the current French style, you can ask the author to put in the proper punctuation himself, but with this style that is impossible. And CSS so far has nothing, not even a proposal, to deal with this.

This style is not used in any modern books, as far as I know (maybe precisely because the computer has trouble with it :-) ), which is an argument for not bothering with it in CSS. On the other hand, maybe people want to mimic old books...

> I guess the more general issue is also what I referred to in[2]: how do we make it sure that the various requirements we may formulate are in line with different cultures and writing systems? Or at least they reasonably cover a major percentage of the globe's population?

Most people in the CSS WG are aware of the cultural issues. But it is difficult to get the necessary data and interpret it. The Japanese Layout Task Force has helped a lot for Japanese, and the Japanese government has intervened in different ways to make sure CSS covers the needs of Japanese, but for many other writing systems our information is very likely incomplete. 

> [1] http://w3c.github.io/dpub-pagination/index.html
> [2] http://www.w3.org/mid/5F94D807-5727-4406-B03A-DA91469C6EC4@w3.org

  Bert Bos                                ( W 3 C ) http://www.w3.org/
  http://www.w3.org/people/bos                               W3C/ERCIM
  bert@w3.org                             2004 Rt des Lucioles / BP 93
  +33 (0)4 92 38 76 92            06902 Sophia Antipolis Cedex, France

Received on Saturday, 26 October 2013 14:12:05 UTC

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