Quote Marks in Hebrew?

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HandyMac
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Quote Marks in Hebrew?

Post by HandyMac » Wed Nov 21, 2018 3:43 pm

I'm working on a printing job in Hebrew, which I know a little about but am far from fluent. Recalling that Mellel is the standard for working in Hebrew on the Mac, I'm hoping somebody here might be able to clarify an issue for me.

The job is a translation, including a quotation. The Hebrew translation delivered placed the quotation within typewriter-style "straight" quote marks ("—"). In English such ASCII quote marks are never used in printed material, thus a common chore for typesetters is replacing such quote marks in manuscripts with traditional typographical "curly" quote marks (“—”). (See Butterick's Typography: "…straight quotes are one of the most grievous and inept typographic errors.")

I didn't want to have straight quotes in the book, so, knowing that there is much variety in quote conventions in different languages, I did some research, primarily in Wikipedia, which also led me to a Hebrew Academy webpage, which I ran through Google Translate. (It had information about how to use quote marks, but nothing about which type is "standard".) There seems to be some confusion about quote marks in Hebrew, but it looks like there are three possible formats, shown here in the Times New Roman font I'm using in the book:

Image

#1 (with typewriter-style quotes), even if customary in modern Hebrew, looks crude and amateurish, especially in a traditional-style typeface like Times New Roman. I still don't know what is most common in Israel, where this book is most likely to be read, but #2 (with the first quote mark at the baseline) might be a little arcane, old-fashioned. So I settled on #3 (with both typographical quotes at the top of the line), which Wikipedia says is "standard".

However, the translator disagreed: "…the first version of the three [with straight quotes] is the only one that is appropriate for modern Hebrew." Hmm. This spurred me to further research: What is customary usage in modern Hebrew?

I don't have any Hebrew books, so I looked at some Hebrew newspaper websites, and found that most do use straight quote marks with sans-serif fonts (mostly Open Sans Hebrew), which looks okay. A few did have typographical quotes with sans-serif fonts. None had traditional serif-style Hebrew fonts, and I didn't know where else to look, so I couldn't see if straight quotes are also used with typefaces like Times New Roman.

I surmise that the common use of straight quotes even in formal contexts like newspapers is a result of the Hebrew computer keyboard being patterned after the original Hebrew typewriter keyboard, which like the English typewriter had only that type of quote mark. Since the development of computer typesetting, in English the "smart quotes" feature in most word processors automatically enters the correct "curly" (typographical) quote marks when the straight (a.k.a. "dumb") quote key is pressed; but I gather "smart quotes" is not a common function in Hebrew computing. (Wikipedia says MS Word doesn't do smart quotes for Hebrew.)

So apparently everybody in the Hebrew world is still accustomed to typewriter quotes even in formal publishing (where they would not be used in a Latin-script language). They do look okay with spare sans-serif typefaces such as Open Sans, but I find them rather ugly with a traditional serif-style typeface. (And apparently at least some Hebrew typographers do prefer typographical quotes with sans-serif typefaces, as in two newspapers I saw.) Typographical quote marks have been added as options in the Hebrew keyboard (at least in the Hebrew–PC one as well as the two others in MacOS, where I am working), but I doubt many users know about them. Perhaps those in the graphic arts field do, and use them where appropriate, as with serif-style fonts where they look much better?

Can anybody clarify this issue for me? Is the typewriter-style straight quote mark in common use in Hebrew, not just in informal settings (as in English) as well as with sans-serif fonts on the Web (not as in English), but also as a "standard" in quality Hebrew printed matter with traditional serif-type fonts (e.g. New Peninim, Frank Rühl, as well as Times New Roman)? It really goes against the grain to use "dumb" quote marks in such a context, but I guess I must if it's what Hebrew readers really expect to see.

Thank you,
Andrew Main
Santa Fe, N.M., U.S.A.

jannuss
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Re: Quote Marks in Hebrew?

Post by jannuss » Wed Nov 21, 2018 9:10 pm

Andrew,

Short answer: all good modern Hebrew fonts include both straight and curved or slanted quote marks. Straight marks may be more common, but curved/slanted left and right quote marks are also used. Upper/lower quotes are not generally used.

Long answer: I don't know what the official solution is, but most Hebrew texts I work with do use straight quotation marks. There are several issues at work here here

1. The way Mellel handles punctuation: if you have defined Hebrew as your secondary font and something else [English?] as your primary font, Mellel will always take punctuation marks from the primary font. The only way to force Mellel to use the Hebrew punctuation is to use the Hebrew font as primary as well.

2. The right/left problem: In left-to-right languages, the "opening" quote is the left-quote and the "closing" one is the right-quote. In right-to-left languages it's the other way around. This makes selecting the right mark problematic.

3. Finally, custom. Before unicode, most users/applications only offered a single set of punctuation marks. Hebrew users had to put up with left-curling commas in their right-facing texts . . . awful! The solution waste define "neutral" straight commas [and straight quotes]. It's become the norm.

My suggestion to you is to use the punctuation that works best for you.
I doubt if many Hebrew readers will take much notice.

Janet

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Re: Quote Marks in Hebrew?

Post by jannuss » Wed Nov 21, 2018 9:13 pm

And, by the way, please, please, please don't use Times New Roman.

It has a long history of creating problems with right-to-left text.

Newer versions of the font are generally OK. but you never know when you are going to fall on an older version.
Last edited by jannuss on Thu Nov 22, 2018 12:46 am, edited 1 time in total.

jannuss
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Re: Quote Marks in Hebrew?

Post by jannuss » Thu Nov 22, 2018 12:43 am

And, Andrew, once you solve the problem of quotes, there are a few other issues you will have to address

1. Transliteration: writing a foreign word in Hebrew characters can be difficult if you don't have the right characters. For example, my name, Janet. There is no "J" character in Hebrew. I write my name with a GIMEL [the "G" character] and add an apostrophe to change the sound. ג׳נט

2. Numbers: the old character-based numbering system is still used in Hebrew writing (like Roman Numerals in English). ALEPH is one; BET is two, and so on. An apostrophe is used to indicate when a letter is to be read as a number. For example יום א would be read a A day, but יום א׳ is Sunday (the first day).
YOD is ten. To write eleven you use YOD + ALEPH (10 + 1) and add the apostrophe in the middle י׳א
COF is twenty, so twenty-one is COF + ALEPH but now you use a double apostrophe or double quote כ״א
This holds true for any number over 19. For example the current Hebrew year, 5779 is written as תשע״ט

3. Abbreviations: most short Hebrew abbreviations use a single apostrophe at the end. For example, the abbreviation for doctor is דר׳
Most long Hebrew abbreviations use a double apostrophe or double quote one character before the end. For example, the abbreviation for sum total is סה״כ

In all these cases my personal opinion is that straight apostrophes and double quotes work much better than curved ones.

Janet

HandyMac
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Re: Quote Marks in Hebrew?

Post by HandyMac » Thu Dec 06, 2018 8:47 pm

Janet,

Thanks for your responses. I've been doing more research, and finding the issue just becomes more complicated and confused.
Straight marks may be more common, but curved/slanted left and right quote marks are also used.
Well, yes, I know this; what I was trying to find out was specifically if straight quotes are commonly used in printed material (books, magazines, newspapers) with traditional serif-style Hebrew fonts (like the Hebrew character set in Times New Roman). I can see that straight quotes are commonly used in newspaper Web sites with modern sans-serif style Hebrew fonts (like the ubiquitous Open Sans Hebrew); they look okay in that context, but to my eye they're crude and ugly with classic typefaces.
…if you have defined Hebrew as your secondary font and something else [English?] as your primary font, Mellel will always take punctuation marks from the primary font.
Actually, I'm not using Mellel; I thought about buying it maybe a decade ago, but found it didn't work with Indic scripts, which are my primary interest. I think it does now, but in the meantime I've found other solutions. (This particular job I'm doing in Apple Pages.) Anyway, I came here with my question hoping to get an "expert" answer.

From further research I've learned that:

So far as Unicode is concerned, Hebrew does not have any quote marks; there are none in the Unicode Hebrew block. The two types of quote marks, straight (typewriter) and curly (typographical), are members of the Latin character set, coded in the Basic Latin (ASCII) and General Punctuation blocks respectively. Even in a Hebrew-only font which contains those characters, they are coded in and drawn from those blocks.

This means that a primarily-Latin font which also includes Hebrew (such as Times New Roman) must use quote marks that were designed primarily to harmonize with the Latin letters in the font. Which is why, to my eye anyway, they don't look quite at home in Hebrew text. In Hebrew-only or -primary fonts, however, the quote marks, though still coded in Latin blocks, can be designed to harmonize with the Hebrew letters.

So, for instance, in New Peninim (MacOS) pressing the (") key produces a character identical to the gershayim (that is the punctuation gershayim U+05F4, not the cantillation gershayim U+059E — turns out there are two traditional Hebrew characters with the same name but quite different forms, functions, behaviors). New Peninim's curly quote mark (”) is Latin-style, like Times'.

Meanwhile, Corsiva and Raanana (also MacOS) produce identical characters for the straight quote, curly quote, and gershayim, though each is coded separately (thus there are three identical glyphs in the font, in different code positions).

I've also downloaded a bunch of Hebrew fonts from the Web, and found several variations on this theme: in some the straight quote mark is identical to the gershayim, but positioned a little higher; in one the straight quote is identical to the curly quote; in another the "curly" quote looks just like a (Latin) straight quote, while the straight quote is similar but not identical to the gershayim. Kind of bewildering.

This seems to explain why some of the Hebrew newspaper websites have Latin-style straight quotes, because they use Open Sans Hebrew, which includes the Latin character set; while others have typographical-looking quotes, because they're using Hebrew-specific fonts with quote marks designed to match the Hebrew characters (and accessed via the quote key on the keyboard).

In sum, the situation is quite chaotic. And the keyboards don't help: The Hebrew keyboards in MacOS and Windows (which I don't have, but assume the Hebrew-PC keyboard in MacOS is the same), while nearly identical at the basic level (duplicating the original Hebrew typewriter keyboard) are otherwise very different, and neither has all the relevant items in logical, convenient, consistent locations.
In left-to-right languages, the "opening" quote is the left-quote and the "closing" one is the right-quote. In right-to-left languages it's the other way around. This makes selecting the right mark problematic.
In my experience, as I'm still learning how to work with this RtoL script (using the Hebrew–QWERTY keyboard with the Keyboard Viewer), I've noticed that selecting and entering punctuation can be a hassle (e.g. sometimes I put the cursor at the beginning of a word, press the parenthesis key, and it appears at the end of the word). Since punctuation such as quotes, parentheses, comma, period etc. are drawn from the Latin code blocks, they may tend to "act" LtoR unless kept firmly in hand, even when used in Hebrew. I don't understand the details, but suspect this may be why they can be troublesome to work with.
Hebrew users had to put up with left-curling commas in their right-facing texts . . . awful! The solution was to define "neutral" straight commas [and straight quotes]. It's become the norm.
I haven't seen any "straight" commas; the comma, semicolon and question mark used with Hebrew look weird to me, since they are all designed for LtoR flow.
And, by the way, please, please, please don't use Times New Roman. It has a long history of creating problems with right-to-left text. Newer versions of the font are generally OK. but you never know when you are going to fall on an older version.
Well, it's actually a small job, and I haven't run into any RtoL problems with the font, which is a 2017 version. I don't remember now exactly why I chose it; I needed something with the same "traditional" look as Palatino (was surprised to learn that Hermann Zapf had apparently never designed a Hebrew typeface), with four styles including Bold Oblique. TNR is not an inspired design, but okay for the job. If I had it to do over I might try harder to find a different font.
Transliteration… Numbers… Abbreviations… In all these cases my personal opinion is that straight apostrophes and double quotes work much better than curved ones.
Well, actually these should be geresh and gershayim, for which "straight" apostrophe and quote marks were used in typewriter days; and such usage has continued into the computer era, though the genuine marks are now available — but tend to be hidden away in the Hebrew keyboards in places where most users may not know they're there. (And certainly Latin-style curly apostrophes and quotes would not be suitable substitutes for these marks.)
My suggestion to you is to use the punctuation that works best for you. I doubt if many Hebrew readers will take much notice.
Probably right about that. The translator says she grew up in Israel, came to the U.S. for graduate work; so I guess straight quotes are what she's used to seeing — but in what context? Certainly that's what a Hebrew typewriter would produce, and they look okay with the sans-serif typefaces that appear to be commonly used in e.g. Hebrew newspapers. But they don't look right to me with a traditional typeface.

I also wrote to the Hebrew Academy (who have an English-language Web site), but have received no response to my question. So apparently there's no "official" policy on the issue. Of course there's no official English Language Academy, but there is a community of English language typographers, among whom the use of straight quotes in formal printed material (with any typeface other than, say, Courier, which is designed to look like the product of a typewriter — and with which typographical quotes look weird) is regarded as an egregious error. Maybe there's a similar community of Hebrew typographers, but I don't know where to find them.

So in the end, having spent entirely too much time on the question, I just went with the straight quotes the translator used.

Unicode is a wonderful system, but seems to have a lot of odd gaps — things that weren't well thought out originally and now are set in stone. Like the block for Devanagari, the script used to write Sanskrit, Hindi, et al.: It includes only the basic character set, though there are many character combinations in the script; a comprehensive Sanskrit font has over a thousand glyphs, but nearly all of them must be tucked away in some sort of Private Use Area. And the Hebrew block also contains only the basic character set; the dotted consonants are kept elsewhere.

I'm a little surprised that the Hebrew computing community hasn't gotten together and demanded that Microsoft, Apple and Unicode get it together and organize the Hebrew computing environment to work logically and conveniently: punctuation that harmonizes with Hebrew's RtoL flow; clear and logical quotation marks; keyboards that include all Hebrew elements, and so on. All would be easy to do; all that's missing is the will to do it. And all the time that's wasted wrestling with the present chaotic system.

Anyway, thanks for taking the time to respond to my query.

Andrew Main

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Re: Quote Marks in Hebrew?

Post by jannuss » Thu Dec 06, 2018 9:32 pm

Andrew,

You've given me a lot of food for thought -- I never bothered to differentiate between apostrophe and gerish before.

Most of the fonts I use are purchased from Israeli foundries. Here too there is no common ground. The people at fontbit, for example, define straight or curved marks depending on the character of the individual font, while the MF Rosenberg foundry seems to use the same (straight) marks for all their fonts.

Mellel's primary script/secondary script set-up is a major issue for me because of something else you haven't mentioned. I have yet to find a good Hebrew font whose numeric digits meet my standards. I always couple my Hebrew texts with an English font whose numeric digits I like AND that means I'm stuck using the punctuation marks defined on the English side.

I'll keep my eyes open and see what mire I can learn on the subject.

A happy Hanukah to you.

Janet

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