[whatwg] Dialogue and inline quotations

Michel Fortin michel.fortin at michelf.com
Wed Nov 1 07:41:30 PST 2006

Le 31 oct. 2006 à 16:26, Henri Sivonen a écrit :

>> I know it has already been discussed, but I'd suggest this:
>>     <dialog>
> What benefits do consumers of HTML get from knowing that something  
> is a dialog?
> What tangible benefits can authors see from marking up dialogs as  
> dialogs? That is, what is the incentive to bother?
> If most authors are not incentivized to mark up their dialogs as  
> such, is there still enough value for consumers of markup if only  
> relatively few dialogs are marked up as dialogs?

Those are legitimate questions.

People have asked how to markup dialogs for a long time, but many are  
reluctant to use <dl> because it is named "definition list" and a  
dialog has absolutely nothing to do with a definition list (basically  
a dialog does not define anything, and it isn't a list more than a  
couple of adjacent paragraphs form a list).

Well, if it comes that <dl> can be used for dialogs, fine. But I  
believe that introducing a <dialog> element will makes things  
clearer, as HTML4 has explicitly proposed the use of <dl> for dialogs  
and many people still find that dumb.

Is there a value in knowing something is a dialog? Not always, that's  
certain. But in certain contexts it is important for styling as  
there's no punctuation to tell what is a dialog and what is not.  
That's when <dl> was used.

> Why not just use punctuation for the quotations?

Indeed. I rarely use <q> myself. But I know other people who do. Why  
is there a <q> element in the first place? Sometimes I wonder.  
Picking up a different voice in screen readers could be one reason.

But now that I reread the spec, <q> is possibly inappropriate for  
dialogs: "The <q> element represents a part of a paragraph quoted  
from another source". Does fictional  dialog speech qualifies for a  
quote from another source? I don't know. So maybe I should have used  
quotes characters instead of <q>.

And, for the same reasons, I'm not sure anymore that <cite> is  
appropriate in a dialog. Maybe it could be said that <cite> has a  
special meaning inside a <dialog> element.

> If printed text in French (and other languages) works with the  
> dialog dash style
> without visual hints where you put the <q> and </q> tags, why would  
> an author
> want to go though the trouble of tagging the dialog like that and  
> then making sure
> that any styling on the <q> element is suppressed?

As Øistein suggested, text could be italicised (as some newspapers  
do), or as I suggested above it could be used to speak the text in  
another voice (which could be useful even in a novel). The <q>  
element may be inappropriate for dialogs however, both semantically  
(refers to another source?) and visually (automatically-inserted  
quotation marks). And thus these were my two points:

1.  there is no way to distinguish quoted text in a quotation from  
     material inserted within the quotation marks;

2.  there is no way to identify a dialog, and to identify inside a  
dialog what
     is spoken text and what comes from the narrator (I made some  
     using <q> inside <dialog> in my first post, but my conclusion is  
     <q> doesn't seem appropriate for this, because of the quotes and  
     because of the semantics of <q>).

I'm not sure yet what could be proposed for this, but it'd be nice if  
a similar markup can be used for quotations and other spoken text.  
(And it'd be nice if such markup can work in Internet Explorer  
without ugly hacks. [1])

  [1]: http://alistapart.com/articles/qtag

>>     <dialog>
>>     <p><cite>Mary:</cite> So where do you want to go tomorrow? I  
>> can tell
>>        you already have something in mind.</p>
>>     <p><cite>Mark:</cite> What makes you think that?</p>
>>     </dialog>
> Why is that better than <dl>?

And why is <dl> better than that?

If you don't care about semantics, they're probably equivalent: both  
have decent default styles. If you care about semantics, using <dl>  
for dialog removes every bit of meaning left in <dl> as "an unordered  
list of associations".

Michel Fortin
michel.fortin at michelf.com

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