Re: CSS and quotation typography

This discussion probably really belongs on www-html.

> 1) As far as I can tell, that document is strictly a design for the
>    *web*, rather than HTML per se. That is to say, the development of a

I think, if you take the whole document, in the context with other
documents from that period by TBL, it is fairly clear that it is
about the development of HTTP and HTML.

> 2) More importantly, "universal" authorship is clearly much broader
>    than just authorship by the "reasonably intelligent". How well would

However, the document was written in the context of CERN, so it assumes
people who would at least be employable by CERN to handle documents
(although not necessarily just scientist - some examples quoted involve
CVs, which would be, in part, handled by the, in modern terms, HR

> If HTML is no longer remotely simple, then I don't see how an appeal to
> a prelapsarian design goal of radical simplicity (even if such a goal
> can be substantiated) works as an objection to <q> in particular. 

One of the aims of XHTML 2 is to reclaim the basic simplicity.  Also,
most of the complexity has arisen as the result of commercial interests
trying to make it a presentational language, and has nothing to do
with semantic richness.

> the sort; they are swimming in the treacherous waters of hypermedia tag
> soup.

Which is actually backing my position that web designers only have
a very weak concept of grammar (or linear languages in general).

> more complex components than <q>. Designers also tend to be people
> with an interest in correct typography.

The current trend is for all body fonts to be 7 x 5 or 7 x 4, and there
is very little scope for good typography at such resolutions!

> > It's an unnecessary abstraction for such users.
> Why are you so sure of this? What do you think the point of semantic
> abstraction is usually? What advantage does <p> offer over <div> or
> <em> over <i> that <q> doesn't offer over, or add to, "" and friends?

One can see that a lot of authoring doesn't take advantage of these.  In
fact I've come across a product from Apple that seems  to only generate
div, img, a, script, and a few spans.

> Given that even Internet Explorer 7 won't support <q> and that the
> implementation in other browsers is dire, this is hardly a matter of
> "backward compatibility". I really can't see why you think the lack of

The backward compatibility problem is that the quotation marks are completely
lost in back version browsers, so it is not possible to write HTML using
<q> that degrades sufficiently gracefully.  Lack of browser support is
a consequence of lack of use, and also of lack of adequate language
identification by authors.  (Does IE 7 not support :before and :after and
language selectors?)

I'm not sure of the state of discussion for XHMTL2, but at one stage,
the proposal was to include the quotation marks as well, which gives
better fallback.

> Time for some damned lies and statistics. Punctuation of quotations with
> inverted commas is part of the National Curriculum, Key Stage 2 [5]. 63%
> of English 11 year olds passed Key Stage 2 tests to the required
> standard for writing in 2005 [6]. 44% of adults have literacy roughly
> equivalent to the required standards for Key Stage 2 [7].

That's pretty poor!  However, a single level of quotations marks is
a concept that people can grasp without having a good abstract understanding
of grammar.  Authoring semantic HTML requires a good grasp of the concept
of nested structures, so HTML tends only to be learned for things that don't
work visually without tags.

> > that means that any reasonable punctuation is something of an
> > optimistic expectation, rather than an indication that SGML/XML markup
> > of the punctuation units would improve the situation.
> Do people have a better understanding of the concept of quotation or its
> correct punctuation? It seems to me the later is impossible without the
> former.

The conflict is between quotation marks and general concepts of syntax.
> > What's problem C?
> Sorry, see "Problem C: punctuation for wrapped lines of <q>" in my original
> post [8].
> > As I remember it, this limitation is being fixed in XHTML 2.0.
> I'm not sure what you're thinking of here. (If it's <l> then no, that's
> no improvement over <br> since the line breaks in Problem C result from
> width-dependent line wrapping *not* from semantic/structural line
> divisions.)

What I was thinking about was that block quoting was allowed subordinate to

> > By normal punctuation, I mean that punctuation that is possible without
> > a markup language.
> Possible where? In text/plain;charset=utf-8? At a printing house? With a
> typewriter?  On a postcard?

Typewriter or postcard.  Maybe even normal use of word processor, but note
that it is common for even educated people to tab around the end of the line
to get a forced line break in the visual result.

> How did implementing <acronym> or <em> help browsers make money where
> <q> would not? 

IE 6 only imlements one of abbr and acronym!   However the real point
with these is that the browser doesn't actually need to do anything
with them, but will still produce a valid rendering.  em predates
commecialisation, and, treated as a synonym of i by the browser, is
trivially to implement.

> To (attempt to) sum up your position, we should keep the status quo of a
> broken <q> because:
> 1) (X)HTML + CSS must be simple enough to be a universal authoring
>    medium and the under-educated and/or cognitively challenged won't
>    understand the concept of <q>.
> 2) The "reasonably intelligent" who are well educated but not technical
>    authors have no need for <q>.

Most of them.  Some variation of q is a good idea.  The current version,
which doesn't degrade gracefully, was a bad idea.  For any version only
a small minority of authors will ever use it.  Many will use span when
they want stylistic differences for quotations.  Because any mechanism
that degrades gracefully requires both the <q> and the ", it involves
work that looks redundant in many cases; authors are very bad at
volunteering semantics.

> c) an element to distinguish quotations from things that look like
>    quotations but aren't (scare quoted phrases, new terms, article
>    titles, and so on)

In traditional typography, most of these use italics, not quotation
marks, and they are in HTML, but people continually propose their
removal, because very few people understand what they are there for.
Quotation marks tend to be used when only a simple typewriter is

> g) an element that can be recognized by assistive technology even if
>    the surrounding punctuation is unfamiliar or wrong

The reality is that AT is reactive and takes little notice of markup
intended for it, because such markup is the exception in the wild.

Received on Tuesday, 19 September 2006 06:50:51 UTC