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I guess that Internet is a very powerful catalyst in the evolution of languages. This evolution, however, not always takes place to please everybody. For example, I estimated, analyzing some of my emails and a considerable percentage of any kind of messages containing Spanish text, from the past year, comparing the occurrence of ? vs ¿, that the opening question mark is no longer being used. The hits (which I didn't count but manually/visually) of the latter were less than the half from those of the former sign.

This, of course, has no validity. But it motivates the question:

Question: Is ¿ in danger of extinction?

Concretely, are there serious studies, with a broader sampling and a time-dependent plot showing presumably a trend for the use/disuse of ¿ ?

Publicity: If ¿ is going extinct, let's save it!

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@Flimzy It's not about the future, but rather about the past. I'm asking for studies where predictions are made, based on how the bad habits of leaving ¿ out are growing. Some scholars studying germanistics, for instance, predicted that the Genitiv will likely dissapaear. The answer to my question is easy: is either yes, these studies show... or no. –  c.p. Sep 1 '13 at 20:58
I have edited the title of your question to be more along these lines. I hope it's still within the spirit of what you are asking. –  Flimzy Sep 1 '13 at 21:16
@Flimzy yes, it's ok: it caught now attention. –  c.p. Sep 6 '13 at 14:16
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3 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

I don't think the inverted question and exclamation marks are in danger of extinction for the following reasons, among others:

  • On chats, tweets and the like, often we start typing before we decide it's a question or at least before we know where the question starts. We know it by the end of the sentence when we finish, but can't be bothered to go back and insert it at the beginning. If you look closely at your data samples, my guess is you'll probably find other more serious spelling and grammar errors.

  • Some of us are using non-Spanish keyboards, and again, the informal nature of the text or email seems forgiving enough that omitting the opening mark is not a big problem.

  • On more formal texts, books, magazines and publications both on- and off-line the opening question and exclamation marks are alive and well.

  • I am not a linguist but I remember the letters Ll and Ch, which made sense as long as they represented different sounds, were split because they caused serious inconsistencies with computer sorting. I don't recall any such complaints about opening question marks.

These are the considerations that come to my mind, but just as Rodrigo says, I may be wrong because my clairvoyance skills have always been very poor.

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But your first two points support the conclusion that '¿' is endangered :) –  Rodrigo A. Pérez Sep 2 '13 at 22:01
Perhaps, but then so are accents, the letter ñ and the whole Spanish grammar, @RodrigoA.Pérez as inverted question marks are not the only thing that's overlooked. –  deStrangis Sep 3 '13 at 8:56
You claim there is no danger of '¿' disappearing, but support such claim with two points that seem to suggest that '¿' IS disappearing. –  Rodrigo A. Pérez Sep 3 '13 at 12:41
@RodrigoA.Pérez he's not saying that is disappearing, he's saying that most of the time, for most of the people is a pain to write it. If they knew they are gonna write a question or are doing something more "formal" they would almost always use both signs. –  Braiam Sep 3 '13 at 21:28
I'd like to add that, in my opinion, the standard Spanish keyboard layout has a terrible design that makes it cumbersome to type inverted marks and even most other commonplace signs, like { or @. I'm sure computer programmers in the audience will know what I'm talking about ;) –  deStrangis Sep 4 '13 at 11:06
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Use of "¿" in Spanish serves a specific purpose, which is to indicate the beginning of a question which otherwise would be ambiguous as to whether it were a question or a statement:

Q: ¿Existen estudios sobre este tema?

A: Existen estudios sobre este tema.

You see, the exact same sequence of words can be used for the question and the answer. The "¿" is necessary to know how to interpret the sentence from the beginning. Therefore, even if the trend in informal communication is to omit it for whatever reason, I personally doubt that we'll see it being dropped from the language formally.

In English, this ambiguity is not an issue, because there is less flexibility in word order. You start questions with an interrogative word like "how", "what" or "when", or with the word "do". Also a question can be formulated by changing the word order to set it off as a question:

Q: Are there studies on this subject?

A: There are studies on this subject.

In Spanish the word order may stay the same and be grammatically correct. In English the order of the words "there" and "are" makes one a question and one a statement, and you know it right off the bat.

An anonymous user edited my answer to mention the following (which should have just been left as a comment, not an edit):

"Yes, but in English one can also ask: There are studies on this subject? It usually indicates greater incredulity but it does serve as a question."

This is more informal language. Additionally, I'd wager that you'd come across this formulation in verbal communication more often than written. I'm not entirely certain if it is correct grammar technically, but I'm updating the answer because I agree that you will definitely hear this type of forumulation of a question (whether correct or not). I also agree that this type of formulation indicates a greater degree of incredulity. In fact, expressing a high degree of incredulity may be its only purpose. You would not formulate a sincere question in this way. Therefore, I stand by my previous explanation, and believe my points were valid.

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This should be the accepted answer. –  Danita Sep 16 '13 at 18:14
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I cannot answer your question for sure because I cannot read the future, but I think your evidence is quite strong unfortunately. The reason for what you observed is obviously that many of the people writing to you may be using an English keyboard and it is oh-so-tiring to type a special symbol. It happens to me when answering questions in Spanish here. I type and then add all the accents and stuff.

My English-speaking friends always marvel at the inverted question mark. They find it useful to have a visual marker of the beginning of a question (they are mostly mathematicians), so I think it is a symbol worth saving and perhaps even introducing into other less fortunate languages :) ¿Perhaps people who read this can experiment with using the inverted question mark in their English correspondence for a change? I always make it a point to accentuate my last name in English documents and to pronounce it correctly, so ¿why not do the same with a symbol that will enrich the language?.

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I've seen J. Varilly using the opening question mark in these notes about Dirac operators (e.g. page 16), but I've allways thought that that's because he lives(?) in a Spanish-speaking country. I love your suggestion, nevertheless ¿wouldn't one have problems sending a paper with this sytaxis to a peer review journal? –  c.p. Sep 1 '13 at 14:25
Nice... I think I just convinced myself. –  Rodrigo A. Pérez Sep 1 '13 at 14:28
¡Oh! ¡oh! I forgot to mention that the same should hold true for '¡' –  Rodrigo A. Pérez Sep 1 '13 at 14:30
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