I’ve seen this article from Adam J Calhoun on Medium (a great, long-form blogging platform with some potential for providing classroom texts, by the way) linked quite a bit lately on Facebook and other places, so I thought I’d share it with all of you. Here’s the author’s initial question that drives what he finds about punctuation in novels:
When we think of novels, of newspapers and blogs, we think of words. We easily forget the little suggestions pushed in between: the punctuation. But how can we be so cruel to such a fundamental part of writing?
Inspired by a series of posters, I wondered what did my favorite books look like without words. Can you tell them apart or are they all a-mush? In fact, they can be quite distinct.
His findings are very interesting, and the charts and visuals in the article are worth a close look (the image below comes from a visual he shares that compares punctuation patterns he finds in William Faulkner, on the right, to Cormac McCarthy, on the left).
What do Calhoun’s results suggest for us as teachers of grammar? The most important implication, I think, is that these punctuation marks are used by many writers in ways that are reflective of their style and the purpose. Yes, some marks are strictly bound by rules (like the apostrophe), but many others are harder to nail down into set “rules” because writers use them in a variety of ways, based on their patterns for structuring sentences and their purposes.
Here again, studying writing from others is a great way to start to unlock those patterns and the general trends in usage. In class, we’ve highlighted how we do this for phrases and clauses in the sentence (the words that Calhoun suggests we often focus on); it’s just as possible for us to do this with punctuation.