“Do we really need that upside down question mark?” asked one of our clients. She was calling from her printer where the Spanish version of their four-color brochure was about to be printed.
The press operator noticed that the initial “¿” in the first sentence of the Spanish InDesign file was missing. (For some unknown reason, the client’s typesetter left out the “¿” in the first sentence of the brochure, which was a question.)
Given her time constraints, our client was hoping that we would grant an exemption to a Spanish punctuation requirement established centuries ago by the Real Academia Española.
Inline does not have that kind of clout!
After all, we reasoned with her, using just the top half or the bottom half of a question mark in English would not be correct, so why would the omission of one of the required question marks in Spanish (the “¿” or the “?”) be OK?
Our client agreed, pulled the brochure from the press, and made the correction. After the dust settled, we did some research on this question mark conundrum.
In 1754 the Real Academia Española recommended the use of an “inverted” or “opening” question mark to introduce questions. Acceptance of the opening question mark began slowly and was not widely used until the Academia gained authority when a strengthened Spanish monarchy emerged in the mid-19th century. With the exception of Catalan—which used the opening question mark until 1993—major Romance languages such as French, Portuguese, and Italian, did not follow suit.
Although the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda steadfastly refused to use it, all Spanish-speaking countries adhere to standard usage of the opening question mark. The only exceptions occur in social media (informal email, text messages, chat rooms, Twitter, etc.).
Given the impact of social media, what should we do now? Or as we say in Spanish: ¿Qué debemos hacer?
Well, unless you are a modern day Pablo Neruda, you should use both the “¿” and the “?” in all questions in your Spanish documents. Omission of the opening question mark in business Spanish is always an error. For Twitter and other social media, however, Inline has issued this proclamation:
You don’t need a special keyboard to type the inverted question mark required for Spanish.
• In Word on a PC, simply press and hold the [Alt], [Ctrl], and [Shift] keys and then press the [?] key.
• In Word on a Mac, press and hold the [Option] key and press the [?] key.
Presto! You now have the opening question mark “¿” for your Spanish document.