Punctuation creativity

In nearly every one of my conversations about texts written in classical Chinese, the topic of punctuation comes up at least once. Mostly this is because I’m trying to figure out the grammar that lets us know what the meaning of the words should actually be, and since when these things were originally written, there was no punctuation. It’s all been added since.

What’s more, I end up thinking about punctuation a fair bit in modern texts, though in this case purely for typographic reasons. I prefer full-width commas and all my characters forming columns as neat as the rows (or rows as neat as the columns for the vertically inclined among them). So I was pleasantly surprised to find this:

It’s from a book called 動物學 dong wu xue (“zoology”) published by the Commercial Press. I could find no proper publishing date, other than “really old”.

All punctuation is done below the baseline, without having any effect of the spacing of the characters. I can’t say I’ve seen it done this way before. In a sense it’s unnecessary, since the grammar tells you when a sentence ends anyway, so I can’t help but wonder if it was really an after-thought, put in long after the trays had been loaded, though that’s probably not the case.

I wonder if this practice was widespread at the time. Has anyone else seen this done with printed works? I see plenty of things like this:

But that’s not really what I’m talking about.

You can find the whole text of 動物學 at OpenLibrary.org by searching for “tung wu hseh”. It’s there as a full-color (scan of black and white) PDF.

9 responses to “Punctuation creativity”

  1. Daan says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen punctuation like that before, either. As far as I can tell, the Commercial Press has only once published a book titled 動物學. Its author would be 陳義, and it was surprisingly first published in 1949, 2nd ed 1951, 3rd ed 1956. I was thinking more along the lines of the 1920s/1930s, actually.

  2. Julen says:

    I am not sure that is a great solution, the lines are very spaced in that book, but in more densely packed pages the punctuation would be right in the middle between the lines, cutting the white space…

    I have the impression that spacing was not the objective here anyway, because they are using half-space brackets.

  3. Julen says:

    Regarding the meaning, those “。”are used in the same way as today’s commas right? That or the guy writes in really short sentences. And what are the “.”?

  4. Kellen Parker says:

    Julen: They are short sentences, but it’s a more classical writing style so that is fitting. The solid dots below are, as far as I can tell, the commas in some places, but then on the first line it’s more akin to underlining, as that’s the name of the critter.

    I have a number of texts that do a dot below each character to show that it’s either a name or in some way important.

  5. Julen says:

    On the other hand, if you like regular typesetting it would be better to leave horizontal spaces between characters, like here. I find it quite pleasing to the eye.

  6. Kellen says:

    That’s actually exactly how I set every one of my papers. Also anything I need to read for a while.

  7. Daan says:

    I have a number of texts that do a dot below each character to show that it’s either a name or in some way important.

    I like those dots, actually. Does anyone have any idea how to do those dots in Microsoft Word or OpenOffice?

  8. Jean says:

    In OpenOffice, enable the Asian typography or something like this (I guess it is done already). You can then select the word you want and go to Format -> Character -> Font Effects. There is a part Emphasis allowing you to you choose “dots”, “circle”, “disk”, etc. and the position above or under the text.

    In LaTeX, it is also very easy, d{中}d{国} will put dots under the characters. Powerful but quite cumbersome, for a repeated use I recommend a macro …


    Will create a comment underdots which can then be used to add a dot under every character of the argument. For example 她看问题很underdots{尖锐},不愧是一名优秀的记者。

    Looking at this I am quite sure I am reinventing the wheel …

  9. Daan says:

    Awesome! Thanks!

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