|The Good Child's Book of Stops, c. 1825, British Library, C.193.a.181. Image © The British Library Board|
So I've been busy in my sketchbook, working on a few small ideas for a series called Punctuation that does/says what I want it to do/say, not what other people want it to do/say. The thought's been lingering for a while, so this time I decided - for better or worse - to capture it and pin it down. We shall see. More another time. But this book at the British Library caught my attention as a result of my vague fancy. I guess it defined two of the thoughts that I've been grappling with in relationship to the idea of punctuation.
As David Crystal states in Evolving English:
The problem is that two systems of rules lie behind the use of English punctuation. One system requires that people punctuate according to the way a sentence is structured, following the need for clarity in grammar. The other requires that people punctuate according to the way a sentence is to be read aloud, following the need for effective phonetic effect. Much of the uncertainty over the 'correct' way to punctuate a sentence derives from the fact that these two approaches do not coincide.
Madame Leinstein's The Good Child's Book of Stops is clearly a proponent of the phonetic approach. From this spread you can see that she suggests a steady increase in pause lengths as you move from comma to semi-colon, to colon, to full stop. It's a theory that dates back to the sixteenth century and as Crystal points out, if stuck to rigorously, would result in a rather convoluted and ploddingly drawn out reading style.