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An Argument for the Strengthening of Q (Much Ado About Q)

PRECIS: Proposed, that the Q element use the "src" or "href" attribute to point to a target document, and provide a for/id binding between the Q element and the CITE element; additionally, the "cite" attribute of Q should be redefined to provide human-comprehensible bibliographic information; this would bring Q's attribute set in harmony with the global use of "src" element of the Embedded Module to provide an actionable target. Furthermore, BLOCKQUOTE should be deprecated in favor of a single element: either Q or QUOTE.

The Current Definition of Q

Currently, XHTML2 defines Q as follows:

This element designates an inline text fragment of quoted text.


The Common collection
A collection of other attribute collections, including: Bi-directional, Core, Edit, Embedding, Events, Forms, Hypertext, I18N, Map, and Metainformation.

Visual user agents must not by default add delimiting quotation marks (as was the case for the q element in earlier versions of XHTML and HTML). It is the responsibility of the document author to add any required quotation marks, either directly in the text, or via a style sheet.

Nested quotations using d

<p>John said, <q>"I saw Lucy at lunch, she told me
<q>'Mary wants you
to get some ice cream on your way home.'</q> I think I will get
some at Jen and Berry's, on Gloucester Road."</q></p>

q with a cite attribute

Steven replied:
<q cite="">We quite agree</q>

Notes on the Current Definition

1. the first example is an example of dialogue, not quotations, and so should be:

<p>John said, <d>I saw Lucy at lunch, she told me <d>Mary 
wants you to get some ice cream on your way home.</d> I 
think I will get some at Jen and Berry's, on Gloucester 

2. the cite attribute needs to be reformed, with its current function assumed by the globally available src attribute;

3. there is the possibility of a for/id relationship between the Q and CITE elements], which means that the for attribute would need to be reintroduced into the Core attribute collection;

Proposed Attribute Set for the Q Element

  1. reuse the globally available src attribute as a pointer to a specific target;
  2. redefine the cite attribute so as to provide human-understandable information about the quote (such as contextualizing bibliographic information);
  3. reuse the globally available src attribute in the CITE element, so that an author can point to a standardized external reference profile for the resource encased in the CITE element;
  4. add a for/id relationship between the Q element and the CITE element, which allows the author to bind individual quotes to a common source;
<section role="main">

<!-- ... -->
Perhaps Mencken's most familiar -- and most often misquoted and 
misattributed -- aphorism is: <em class="air-quote">No one ever 
went broke underestimating the intelligence of the average 
American.</em>  What Mencken actually wrote, is far more subtle, 
and yet even more cutting as social criticism: <q 
src="" for="source1"
>No one in this world, so far as I know -- and I have researched 
the records for years, and employed agents to help me -- has ever 
lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great 
masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public 
office thereby.</q>
<!-- ... -->

<section role="secondary">
<h id="biblio">Bibliographic References</h>

  <li role="contentinfo"><cite id="source1" src="dubcore-s1.rdf"
  >The Complete Works of H. L. Menken: Volume 3; Butz, Claude, <abbr 
  title="editor">ed.</abbr>; (New York, Library of American Letters: 
  1998), page 27</cite></li>


Note that, in the above example, the EM element has been used to demarcate the false quote, allowing me to use CSS to mark the misquote with quotation marks:

em.air-quote:before { content: "open-quote" }
em.airquote:after { content: "close-quote" }

so as to distinguish the misquote from the quote, as the text contained in the class="air-quote" is not actually the text being quoted, but a common and widespread corruption of the actual quote.

This is how the print convention of encasing a word or idiomatic expression in quotes can -- and SHOULD -- be handled: by using EM to mark the quoted word, and CSS to provide the emphasis -- (or, if you prefer, air-) quotes. Quotation marks are also employed to denote euphemism and slash or ironic intent, as in the headline:

 Kane Found in Love Nest with "Dancer"

thus, the Q element makes a clear distinction that what's being dealt with is an actual quotation -- which makes the Q element both a logical AND a semantically meaningful element. As for the use of quotes for emphasis or to denote irony or sarcasm, since these are simply manifestations of emphasizing a discrete string of text, they should properly be marked as EM, and styled so as to produce open and close quotation marks around the emphasized word or phrase.

The Q element is more than merely a textual marker which replaces the character entity (" or " or u0022 or u0027) or "naked" quotation marks -- it is an element which can provide REAL context for the quoted text thanks to its attributes -- attributes that vastly contribute to the comprehensibility of related documents, entire web sites, hypertext or XML presentations, and online curricula.

The promise of hypertext has always been that it would revolutionize the way individuals -- especially individuals who cannot process printed material -- read documents. The Q element does this by allowing the author to provide extra information below the surface -- such as a hyperlink and bibliographic information -- which the reader can choose to take advantage of, or ignore, at his or her choice.

Application of the src attribute to the Q element will allow an author to specify a URI for the source of the quote without cluttering up the page -- enhancing both the readability of the document containing the Q element and the ease of comprehension of the document by placing it in exact context by hyperlinking directly to the location in the original document from which the quote was taken. After all, a quote is an "embedded" object, so use of src is appropriate.

Moreover, quotation marks aren't always used strictly for quotations -- for example, a word or phrase may be encased in quotation marks to emphasize a certain word or phrase, as in:

Finally, everything was back to "normal".

Quotes are also employed to denote emphasis, euphemism, and/or ironic intent, as illuminated in the headline example given above.

Thus, the Q element makes clear that what's being dealt with is an actual quotation -- which makes the Q element both a logical and a semantically meaningful element.

An author might want to style the quoted text as italic or bold, or in different colors, by a font change, etc., instead of using quotation marks. Of course, this should and would be controlled by use of CSS, but styling alone -- especially if embedded in a SPAN element -- cannot convey to the user a vital item of important information: namely, that this segment of text is an actual quotation; therefore, use of the Q element fits the needs and wants of both the author and the user: the author can style the contents of a Q in whatever way pleases him or fits in with the "look and feel" (there's another false quotation) of the resource, while the vital information that what is contained in the Q container is an actual quotation is never lost.

Thus, screen reader and other assistive technology (AT) developers who produce applications which can access information from the DOM, must be urged to enable exposure of the Q element, as well as making the value defined for the reformed cite attribute available to the user, by default or on demand. Through use, parsing, and rendering of Q a screen reader user, for example, then set her screen reader to treat the Q element to trigger a change in the reading voice's characteristics, such as a change in pitch or a change of voice (from male to female, male to deep voiced male, or whatever the user prefers), just as it provides expansions when it encounters the ABBR and/or ACRONYM element, and how some screen-readers know to switch language libraries on the fly in response to the "lang" attribute. All of this, however, is dependent upon use of the Q element, rather than guessing whether content contained in ", u0022 or u0027 is semantically a quote, or an ironic or emphatic use of quotes.

Overlapping user sets would benefit greatly from the ability to have one's user agent or one's assistive technology, generate a list of quotes in a given document, as it would be of interest to some users to have the URI of the quotation displayed in the list of quotes' status line, so that they are aware of the target which activating the quote (as opposed to just moving to it) will lead them, and so that the end user can make an informed judgment on the veracity and quality of resources quoted in the document, and thus assess the quality of the document, itself, as a reliable resource.

Why Deprecate BLOCKQUOTE?

  1. INS and DEL have set the precedent for an element being used both inline and as block level elements; since a main thrust of XHTML2 is to make the language easier and to leave less of a footprint, why not keep the language simple, and the simplest element name is a single letter: Q;
  2. it is misused as presentational markup, despite HTML 4.01's explicit prohibition (deprecation) of such usage in favor of stylesheets;
  3. BLOCKQUOTE is nothing more than a presentational model taken from print conventions, rather than semantic meaning. If Q was ubiquitously implemented, one could use styling rules to create a Q instance with the properties of a block quotation -- that is, as a paragraph indented at least 5em on both left and right margins;
  4. BLOCKQUOTE has no semantic meaning -- it is merely one means of many of demarcating any quote an arbitrary number of sentences long.
  5. a quote is a quote is a quote - how it is demarcated as a quote is a presentational matter; what is important is that the material be logically and consistently marked up, so why have 2 forms of QUOTE, when only one is needed?
  6. a user of non-visual renderers, would greatly benefit from having her screen reader let her know where a quote begins and where it ends, no matter how large or small the QUOTE; if the user wishes to cite the quote, or go to the target to which it points, the user must first need to know where it begins and ends, not whether it is indented and presented in a specific styling: a user agent should recognize a quote when it encounters one, and apply aural or screen or print media selectors so that the end user knows where the quotation begins and where it ends; this is why emphatic quotes should be marked up using the EM element, and styled, if the author so desires, through the use of CSS-generated quotation marks
  7. BLOCKQUOTE, is - by definition - presentational in nature, and is used as a presentational, rather than a semantic element of document design / implementation. The print convention of separating a quote of more than 3 sentences in a block of text, seperated from the main text by blank lines at top and bottom, with twice the whitespace on left and right margins, than the main text. There is nothing semantically sensible about preserving BLOCKQUOTE, as a quote is a quote is a quote -- what is important to the renderer is where does the quote begin and where does the quote end, so that appropriate style rules can be applied, either by default, specified by the author or subject to a client side styling rule. Thus, it is up to the author, using CSS, to define the presentational characteristics a quote will take, if that author wishes to replicate the print convention of a BLOCKQUOTE. The only thing that separates a BLOCKQUOTE from a Q is how it is rendered by a user agent; despite its distinctive styling, a quote is still a quote, is still a quote, and XHTML2 should recognize that simple fact.
  8. Q's attribute set must be reformed, with the global attribute src replacing the current definition of the cite attribute (a target URI from which the quote is taken), and the re-definition of the cite attribute, to enable the author to provide either human-parseable bibliographic information about the quote, or to point to a standard reference file, such as a Dublin Core document.

Dublin Core References (originally provided for HTML Working Group)

Q as Both A Block and an Inline Element

Quotes will need to be nested within one another, for often one quotes a source which, in turn, quotes a third party; redefining the Q element as neither an inline nor block element, but as a "flow" element, should be equal to this task. Precedents include both the INS and DEL elements in HTML 4.01.

Although the Q element is defined in HTML Strict as an inline element, it will either need to be contained in the P element when used to indicate an extended quotation, or -- optimally -- the other way around, so that Q can be used inline, for brief quotations, as well as for extended quotations, such as selections from a journal or diary, citations from legal documents, or the use of a partial quote as part of contextualizing text which leads to an extended quote, as illustrated below.

Example of Q as Both an Inline and a Block Element With A for/id Binding Between Q and CITE

Rationale: Establishing a for/id binding between Q and CITE -- which would apply to Q (as well as BLOCKQUOTE, if that element is retained) -- is an important consideration, especially with the growth of online academics.

The following brief example illustrates not only the use of Q as an inline and a block-level element, as well as an illustration of the possibility of using a for/id association with the source contained in a CITE instance:

<q src="gw_farewell.html#gwfwp23s1" for="source15">The common and 
continual mischiefs of the spirit of party</q>, Washington warned 
his fellow Americans, <q src="gw_farewell.html#gwfwp23s1" 
for="source15">are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of 
a wise people to discourage and restrain it.</q> As Washington 
correctly forecast, the <em class="air-quote">spirit of party</em>:

<q type="block" src="gw_farewell.html#"gwfwp24>
serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the 
public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded 
jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part 
against another; foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It 
opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a 
facilitated access to the government itself through the channels 
of party passion.

<!-- skip to bibliography/references -->


<li><cite type="bibliographic" id="source15" src="dcoreinfo-al.rdf"
>Washington, George. <em class="newspaper">A Farewell Message to My 
Fellow Citizens</em>, printed in <cite>The Independent 
Chronicle</cite> (Washington <abbr title="District of Columbia"
>DC</abbr>, September 26, 1796)</cite>

Note that, in the example above, the src attribute has been added to the CITE element, so as to allow the author to point to a structured external reference resource (such as a Dublin Core representation of the work being cited). Note, as well, that XHTML2 will have to introduce the for attribute into the Core Module's attribute collection.

All of which, lends weight to the argument for a D (dialogue) element, for when one is writing a work of fiction, one isn't quoting one's characters -- it is the characters who are speaking.

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