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Map of Quotation marks in European languages

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Not everyone knows this, but different European languages use different quotation marks. The quotation marks used in English are the most common: “these” (double) and ‘these’ (single). These marks are used to open and close quoted matter and direct SPEECH either single (‘’) or double quotation marks (“”). Double marks are traditionally associated with American PRINTING practice (as in the Chicago style) and single marks with British practice (as in the Oxford and Cambridge styles), but there is much variation in practice; double marks are more often found in British texts before the 1950s, and are usual in handwriting. Quotation marks are a relatively recent invention and were not common before the 19c.

Traditional texts of the Bible do not use them and do not suffer from the omission. Quotation marks can be untidy, especially in combination with other punctuation marks and when marks occur within marks. Some writers have therefore avoided them, notably James Joyce, who used dashes to introduce direct speech. Single quotation marks are tidier, less obtrusive, and less space-consuming than double marks, and for this reason are increasingly preferred in Britain and elsewhere in printing styles, especially in newspapers. The use of quotation marks for direct speech, quoted material, and other purposes are discussed separately below; there is considerable overlap among the various categories.

Direct Speech

Quotation marks indicate direct speech (that is, the words of a speaker quoted, more or less exactly) in such forms as BrE He said, ‘Come with me’ and AmE He said “Come with me”, and BrE “Come with me”, he said and AmE “Come with me”, he said.

The marks are normally placed outside other punctuation in sentences of direct speech, such as a final period or full stop, or a comma when the direct speech is interrupted: BrE ‘Go away’, she said, ‘and don’t come back’. AmE “Go away”, she said, “and don’t come back”.

In BrE, they are often placed inside other punctuation marks when they refer to a part of the sentence that is contained within the other marks, as in, when you said ‘Go away’, I was shocked. In AmE, however, the quotation marks are normally placed outside other punctuation in all circumstances, as in when you said “Go away”, I was shocked.

Quotation marks are not used in indirect (reported) speech, except occasionally when the enclosed words are regarded as equivalent to a quotation, as in: BrE He then declared that ‘I was incompetent’. AmE He then declared that “I was incompetent’.

The 66 and 99 are of the English style and are usually realized as “straight quotation marks”, which at some point in time was quite rare, but is now widespread on the internet even in languages that prescribe different shapes. This practice has become especially common in Italy and the Netherlands, where the English style is common even in print media. Spain is likely going to follow suit, since the English style is recommended by El Pais, the second most circulated Spanish newspaper.

Quotation marks are not always language-specific and may differ between countries speaking the same language. For instance, «angle quotes» (guillemets) are used for all four official languages of Switzerland, including German, even though a different style is used in Germany and Austria.

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