Many people consider a liberal arts major in a business world to be a waste of perfectly good tuition dollars, but I don’t count myself among them. The liberal arts expose you to a vast number of influences and as you gain depth in all, you begin to see the patterns that resonate throughout each. Composition is more universal than some would accept. What makes a song or short story transcendent can be very similar.
One aspect of this universalism is that mathematical, computer, and human languages share certain commonalities in the same way that music and other art forms do. Doesn’t it therefore behoove us to embrace the commonalities and attempt to make the transition from one to another as seamless as possible if for nothing else, the ease with which the next generation can assimilate them? I believe a move towards convergence is a reasonable goal.
In science, math, and computer code, a set of 3 values are delimited by commas such as (x, y, z). Yet in AP Style, the comma between the second and third item in the series (or serial comma) would be omitted. The argument against states that the “and” provides the necessary delimiting factor and that the comma creates ambiguity as it is also consistent with appositive statements. This could be resolved by the use of parentheticals or dash delimited appositives rather than frustrating readers of this sentence: I enjoy Hot Tamales, Mike and Ikes, and Good and Plenty.
Quotes and punctuation
The rule in American English is that when there is punctuation at the end of a quote, you are expected to place the punctuation within the quote regardless of whether it is part of the quote.
Example: I really enjoyed “Gigli!”
In addition to leading readers to believe I have no taste [to be honest, I think I tried watching the movie, but failed to stay awake], this farcical sentence would also potentially lead others to misquote the film name to include the exclamation point. The reason for including it inside the quote is to maintain a consistency of where the punctuation occurs, but it creates confusion that you don’t see with computer code.
Punctuation and musical rests
With some concepts, there is divergence between more technical forms and artistic. English straddles both functions in ways that some others don’t and under these circumstances it’s harder for me to see the obvious path of convergence.
If you’ve read “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” you may be familiar with Lynne Truss’ dislike for the concept of punctuation as musical rests. Lynne’s perspective is that punctuation should focus on setting expectations (the way a semi-colon tells you that the thought isn’t quite complete) rather than cadence. Having written a lot of code and utilizing multi-line functions, I can see the point of that perspective.
On the other hand, I believe that literature should be more like music in this regard. There’s great scene in “Eddie and the Cruisers” where Eddie thinks that the song needs more diversity of timing and he turns to Frank to back him up. Frank discusses the concept of a caesura as a pregnant pause to build tension and emotional context. I’m a firm believer in having that same functionality in English punctuation (granted, you can go overboard with this ala William Shatner caricatures) although I concede that in technical writing it may not be as relevant.
I understand that these perspectives may be controversial, so I’m happy to listen to other points of view and form a discussion. Feel free to comment below and I will try to be prompt in response.