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Is the use of single quotation marks below standard style in American English?

The Japanese word “Nagasaki” is pronounced as ‘na+ga+sa+ki’

Double quotation marks would seem more natural to me, but I found the two style guide points below. However, the info in the single quotation marks is a pronunciation guide, not a definition or translation.

Use single quotation marks for definitions or translations that appear without intervening punctuation (e.g., ainsi ‘thus’).

7.52 Parentheses and quotation marks. A translation following a foreign word, phrase or title is enclosed in parentheses or quotation marks. ...In linguistics and phonetic studies a definition is often enclosed in single quotation marks with no intervening punctuation; any following punctuation is placed after the closing quotation mark. (Chicago Manual of Style, 15th. ed.)

  • I use double quotes mostly for quoting what someone said. 'Nagasaki' is just a word,and "Nagasaki" is what he said. In your sentence, all you are doing is setting some parts off from the rest of the sentence, and single quotes are enough. – Yosef Baskin Feb 17 '17 at 20:23
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Here is the longer version of the MLA style advice cited in your first quotation:

k. Quotation marks. Enclose in double quotation marks words to which attention is being directed (e.g., words purposely misused or used in a special sense, words referred to as words, and parenthetical English translations of words or phrases from another language). Note, however, that words used as examples in linguistic studies are [italicized] and not enclosed in double quotation marks (see §10h). Use single quotation marks for definitions or translations that appear without intervening punctuation (e.g., ainsi ‘thus’). ...

Crucially, and unlike in your rendition of the final sentence of this advice, the word ainsi is italicized in the MLA guidance. I take this advice as endorsing the following punctuation (if your original wording had been as given below):

The Japanese word Nagasaki ‘na+ga+sa+ki’ means "long cape."

The justification for the single quotation marks at na+ga+sa+ki is that it appears contiguously to the word Nagasaki, as if it were a consecutive translation. That is a special case for which MLA has carved out the italics 'slanted typeface' exception to the normal rule that words used as words should either be set in double quotation marks (in most academic settings) or in italics (in linguistics studies).

The Chicago Manual of Style, sixteenth edition (2010) does not fully agree with MLA on the specific issue of punctuating a foreign word that is immediately followed by a translation, although it does accept the MLA's view of how to handle such juxtapositions in the specific fields of linguistic and phonetic studies:

7.50 Parentheses and quotation marks for foreign words and phrases. A translation following a foreign word, phrase, or title is enclosed in parentheses or quotation marks. ...

The word she wanted was pécher (to sin), not pêcher (to fish).

The Prakrit word majjao, "the tomcat," may be a dialect version of either of two Sanskrit words: madjaro, "my lover," or marjaro, "the cat" (from the verb mrij, "to wash," because the cat constantly washes itself).

Leonardo Fioravanti's Compendio de i secreti rationali (Compendium of rational secrets) became a best seller.

In linguistic and phonetic studies a definition is often enclosed in single quotation makes with no intervening punctuation; any following punctuation is placed after the closing quotation mark. ...

The gap is narrow between mead 'a beverage' and mead 'a meadow'.

Applied to my revision of your original example, Chicago's advice would support any of the following three forms of punctuation:

The Japanese word Nagasaki (na+ga+sa+ki) means "long cape."

or

The Japanese word Nagasaki, "na+ga+sa+ki," means "long cape."

or

The Japanese word Nagasaki ‘na+ga+sa+ki’ means "long cape."

Again, however, a prerequisite for this advice is the unmediated juxtaposition of the term of interest (in italics) with its definition or, arguably, phonetic expression (in parentheses, double quotation marks, or single quotation marks).

The example you ask about does not satisfy this prerequisite, so the MLA and Chicago guidance. That being the case, I would conclude that the appropriate MLA style, by default, would be to use double quotation marks for the trailing phonetic equivalent:

The Japanese word "Nagasaki" is pronounced as "na+ga+sa+ki."

in most academic settings, and

The Japanese word Nagasaki is pronounced as "na+ga+sa+ki."

in linguistics studies. Chicago refers italics to quotation marks, so its preferred handling of your original example would probably be this:

The Japanese word Nagasaki is pronounced as "na+ga+sa+ki."

  • Personally, I wouldn't put the dot inside myself, as I was somewhat surprised to see recommended for at least one of the permutations above in the part about any following punctuation is placed after the closing quotation mark, such as we do it in technical works on linguistics. Or programming. Or both. :) – tchrist Apr 4 '17 at 1:44
  • @tchrist: The biggest surprise to me was that Chicago followed British preferences in its "mead 'a meadow'." example above, since its style generally requires putting periods and commas inside quotation marks, regardless of the sense of the quotation. In terms of conflicts between U.S. style and British style, this is perhaps the worst U.S. style preference—and I continue to hold out hope that the force of programming-related usage (which requires a more logical positioning of quotation marks) will eventually convince Chicago to change course. So far, rational argument has failed. – Sven Yargs Apr 4 '17 at 2:32
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The fact that this guideline appears in CMOS means that it is a "standard style in American English" more or less by default (a standard, not the standard). If you are indeed writing for an audience in linguistics or phonetic studies, and are adherents of Chicago, it makes sense to accept Chicago's guidance in the matter.

If you aren't, well, then don't. In my opinion it would at best be taken as a hypercorrection, and more likely as a typographical error; switching between single and double quotation marks is rarely encounterd among general audiences except to signify the nesting of quotations.

Ultimately, punctuation edge cases are a matter of style. Adhere to the discipline of your editor, publication, or organization, or in the absence of a house style, select a style manual and be consistent in its application.

  • Thank you. I guess I could have been more specific. Chicago says that in linguistics and phonetic studies, a “definition is often enclosed in single quotation marks,” and my example is about language and phonetics, but what is in single quotes is not a “definition” per se, but pronunciation. Therefore, I thought that Chicago didn’t specifically cover this case, and maybe someone with better understanding of the type of styles in language and phonetics studies referred to in the CMOS reference might have better information. – curious-proofreader Feb 17 '17 at 6:45
  • @curious-proofreader You’re right that CMoS does not cover this specific case. I don’t think any style guide will. Personally, I would set the phonetic respelling in italics or small-caps, rather than quoting it; but if using quotes, I would definitely do as CMoS advise and use single quotes. I disagree with choster that it would be taken as a hypercorrection—this use of single quotes for ‘linguistic matter’ (as it were) is exceedingly common in my experience, much more so than double quotes. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 19 '17 at 8:24

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