The Tensor has a post in which he discusses varying ways languages have of indicating questions, in both writing and speech; he discusses Japanese and Armenian, and the first two comments are about Latin and Klingon. In the course of the entry he links to the Wikipedia article on the history of the question mark, which I’d forgotten if I ever knew it. Neither he nor the Wiki, however, mention the fact that in Greek, the “question mark” looks exactly like a semicolon, something that amused me when I was learning the language.


  1. aldiboronti says

    Latin, of course, had the -ne suffix for questions; I wonder if it survived at all in any of the Romance languages, or had it already disappeared in Late Latin?
    A couple of points from the Wikipaedia piece. I’d never heard of the separate mark for rhetorical questions – over-fussy perhaps, but I like the idea. And the interrobamg was new to me; Quinion gives a rundown on it here
    BTW, Tenser said the tensor, great name, Bester was always one of my favourite sf writers, and The Demolished Man is his best book. For those who haven’t read it, the line is part of a mantra the hero uses to prevent telepaths getting a fix on his innermost thoughts,
    Tenser, said the tensor
    Tenser, said the tensor
    Tension, apprehension and dissension have begun.
    (Bester started in comics, in fact it was he who wrote Green Lantern’s oath
    “In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight, let those who worship evil’s might, beware my power, Green Lantern’s light!”)

  2. A. C. Graham has something in the hideously expensive Dutch series on the word “To Be” in various languages, that argues that Aristotle’s categories were derived from the grammar of greek question words (equivalents of what where why how when etc.) Can’t remember a lot more.

  3. well, there is the particle -ko in finnish, it’s is added to the word wich the question concearns.
    puhutteko englantia?
    do you speak english.

  4. Which was the one Finnish sentence I learned before my brief stay in Finland, where it did me no good whatsoever, since it produced an instant flood of Finnish. It dawned on me with a crystalline, piercing light that the best way to find out if someone speaks English is to ask “Do you speak English?”

  5. Unsurprisingly, the Wikipedia article now has a section on Greek:

    Greek question mark

    The Greek question mark (Greek: ερωτηματικό, romanized: erōtīmatikó) looks like ;. It appeared around the same time as the Latin one, in the 8th century. It was adopted by Church Slavonic and eventually settled on a form essentially similar to the Latin semicolon. In Unicode, it is separately encoded as U+037E ; GREEK QUESTION MARK, but the similarity is so great that the code point is normalised to U+003B ; SEMICOLON, making the marks identical in practice. In Greek, the question mark is used even for indirect questions.

  6. Pet peeve #777, far worse than the Greengrocer’s Quotes: question marks thoughtlessly added to every item in a FAQ, whether a question (“How do I reset my password?”), a non-question interrogative (“How to reset a password?”), or neither (“I don’t know how to reset my password?”)

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