LearnLanguageswith Us!

Start Learning!

Language News

¿What’s the story with ¿ and ¡ ? Posted by on Jan 30, 2017 in Uncategorized

¿Did you know the inverted question mark and exclamation point were originally suggested for use in English? ¡It’s true!

Itchy Feet: ¿Confused Face?

Apparently, sadly, the upside-down question mark and exclamation point are slowly dying in the Spanish language. According to one commenter on the comic above, this is because when you use text-to-speech on smartphones it doesn’t recognize questions or exclamations. This doesn’t surprise me, and although I rarely use that function, I don’t expect the device to read my subtle inflections for punctuation. It makes sense that I’d have to add the punctuation in the sentence myself. In most languages this isn’t such a big deal because you simply say your sentence, then when you’re finished you add your ! or ? or . But in Spanish, you’ve technically got to add the ¡ and ¿ at the beginning of the sentence, then speak what you want to say, then add another at the end. We smartphone users are too lazy for that. That’s why the phones are smart – so we don’t have to be.

Thus, the ¡ and ¿ are slowly moving into disuse. After all, they don’t actually add much to the sentence, do they? The exclamation point and question mark already denote what they’re supposed to. Why would you need ones at the beginning of the sentence, too?

Well, back in 1668, it was suggested by several authors, poets and literary luminaries of the day that ¡ and ¿ be used in the English language as a way of denoting irony in a sentence. It didn’t catch on, unfortunately, and now in 2017 have that problem in spades. Have you ever noticed that it’s nearly impossible on the internet to know if someone’s being sarcastic or completely serious? This is such a common phenomenon that it has a name: Poe’s Law. If you don’t add a smiley to the end of a sentence, it’s impossible to communicate that you’re not being serious. Idiots 🙂

Now that ¡ and ¿ are fading from Spanish, perhaps we can reclaim them as universal symbols of sarcasm! Barring that, there’s always the two of them combined, which I just learned about: ⸘ That’s a combination ¡ and ¿ that was originally meant to denote an intensely-asked question. LIKE THIS?! Yes, like that. Somehow it never caught on, either.

So although we may watch the upside-down exclamation points and question marks fade into obscurity, perhaps one day we’ll see them find a new purpose.

Share this:
Pin it

About the Author:Malachi Rempen

Malachi Rempen is an American filmmaker, author, photographer, and cartoonist. Born in Switzerland, raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, he fled Los Angeles after film school and expatted it in France, Morocco, Italy, and now Berlin, Germany, where he lives with his Italian wife and German cat. "Itchy Feet" is his weekly cartoon chronicle of travel, language learning, and life as an expat.


Comments:

  1. Christian:

    I’m a native Spanish speaker and I have always wanted to know if there’s another language that uses both symbols. Do you know?

    Regarding the use, I must admit that my English crept its way into my mother tongue and I find it a pain to write both of them, specially over Whatspp or social media. If I had the time to properly write or in formal settings I always use them…

    • Malachi Rempen:

      @Christian I don’t think there is another language that uses them…weirdly enough.

    • skan:

      @Christian Many languages use “¿” or other kind of symbol to show the start of a question:
      Spanish, Arabic, Waray, Asturiano, Old Gallego, Greek, Church Slavonic… and it’s acceptable in Catalan and Gallego

  2. John Pilge:

    If a language has ties to Spanish, they do use the inverted marks. Galician is the only one that I know still uses the marks. Nowadays, it is discouraged.


Leave a comment: