W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > www-style@w3.org > January 2013

Re: A proposed standard for CSS-controlled sentence spacing

From: Thomas A. Fine <fine@head.cfa.harvard.edu>
Date: Fri, 11 Jan 2013 14:55:09 -0500
Message-ID: <50F06E1D.9050003@head.cfa.harvard.edu>
To: "Jens O. Meiert" <jens@meiert.com>
CC: www-style@w3.org
On 1/11/13 11:49 AM, Jens O. Meiert wrote:
>> The javascript relies on finding two spaces between sentences for
>> sentence detection.
> I can’t help it: “[T]ypographically speaking, typing two spaces before
> the start of a new sentence is absolutely, unequivocally wrong.”
> * http://web.archive.org/web/20110728124818/http://www.slate.com/id/2281146/pagenum/all/
> * http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sentence_spacing#Typography
> * http://designaday.tumblr.com/post/129167950/an-appeal-to-english-teachers

Before I answer let me say this.  HTML should not take sides in any 
debate like this.  It should provide the necessary tools for either 
"side" of the argument.  Unfortunately the current situation is that 
HTML has the appearance of having already taken sides.  In most 
discussions of "one or two spaces", HTML's space-collapsing behavior is 
held up as an endorsement from the web standards people (us) that "one 
space" is the only correct option.

But for the curious, those articles suffer from all kinds of problems, 
which I describe in my blog.[1]  My opinion is that typographically it 
should be a matter of choice, but in terms of human-computer interface, 
two spaces makes more sense as it unambiguously marks the sentences, 
which then lets you space them as you wish.  I blogged about that too.[2]

Let me throw in some arguments that aren't there too.

The American Psychological Association still recommends two spaces 
between sentences.  (This irony is not lost on my when I try to find 
studies on reading speed and sentence spacing, of which there is almost 
nothing, and I see article after article with wide spacing.)

The Modern Language Association, which recommends one space, states on 
their web site that this is only to match existing practices and that 
there is nothing wrong with two.  Even the FAQ for the Chicago Manual of 
Style recognizes that many professionals still use two spaces.

In many technical communities, use of TeX and LaTeX are still common and 
these by default format sentences with additional space (and frequent 
errors if the author isn't observant, because they use a very naive 
sentence detection algorithm).

So wider spacing is by no means dead, and absolutely not "wrong".  But 
another decade or two of HTML without a practical means for non-experts 
to use wide spacing between sentences will probably eliminate the 
practice entirely.


Received on Friday, 11 January 2013 19:55:45 UTC

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