Symbol , ? .

The inserting of standardized marks or signs in written documents to clarify the meaning and the separate structural units of sentences and utterances.


Spontaneous speech is difficult to punctuate correctly. The path of the conversation is generally unplanned, and spoken utterances are often based upon impulsive decisions. For this reason, punctuation is a difficult sentence structure convention.

Below, we describe in detail the use of the transcription punctuation set: the comma [,], the period [.] and the question mark [?]. These are the only possibilities for punctuation within a turn. Some general rules, however, apply to the entire punctuation set (the [,] [.] and [?]).

General Rules

1. A white space [blank space] is always set before and after the punctuation.
ex: I would like to go home now .
notice: the space between the "w" and the "."

2. After a period or question mark, the transliteration is continued in lower case unless the word category requires capitalization.
ex: I would like to go home now . would that be all right ?
notice: the "w" Not Capitalized after period

3. The setting of punctuation generally follows the punctuation rules of the specific language.

4. Elements inside of a set of <> always follow the punctuation, with the exception of pronunciation comments.

5. Punctuation never follows the <%> convention.

6. The end of a turn must have either a period [.], a question mark [?], or a turn break <*T>t in the event that the turn was broken off or aborted.

7. If a turn consists only of a filled pause, breathing, or a human noise, no punctuation, nor a turn break, follows.
Ex: m021_8_0599_JOHN_00: <uh>.

Special Cases

English: Because rules vary by region and person, the punctuation rules, which follow, particularly commas, were developed by VMB as its own set of guidelines.

The Comma



The punctuation mark is used in writing to indicate separation of ideas or elements within the structure of a sentence.


In transcription, the comma is used almost analogously to the manner in which it would be used in writing. This is difficult because English has few ground rules for the usage of the comma.

Rules for Transcribing the [,]

1.When it is necessary to make a transcript more readable

2. When the conventions dictated by regular written English require the use of [,]

3. During confusing situations in the transcription, or when you would feel inclined to use a dash. Since dashes are not a permitted form of punctuation, use the comma in a similar manner as the dash to enhance the clarity of the sentence.

General Rules

The following rules should be viewed as general guidelines to the usage of the [,]. You should be aware that these rules may not always apply, but are for the most part good indicators of when a comma will be required. Therefore, you should use the [,]

1. After an interjection such as:

  • oh, well, yeah
  • okay , this sounds good .
  • yeah , this is good .

2. Before or after a naming, such as:

  • I say Bill , <uhm> you are in charge of these units .
  • I didn't mean to give you such a long winded answer , Steve .
  • Bill , we have you until eleven thirty ?

3. After "good morning" or similar salutation or phrase:

  • good morning , Mister Smith .
  • how are you , Susi .

4. Between two phrases where an interjection is a distinct or separate idea:

  • that hotel , like the one we stayed at before , would probably be a good idea .

5. To connect thoughts, ideas, or items in a list

  • I bought two oranges, two mangoes, and a bunch of concord grapes.

6. When it serves as a syntactical pause within a statement:

  • I think so , but I'm not sure .

7. To separate lists:

  • well , you know how to increase group cohesiveness , <B> you have to <P> interact frequently , you have to have a small group , <B> and you have to reward them .

8. When a comma helps to clarify the meaning of a statement, or to indicate the separation between clauses or interjections:

  • I would like to , but I'm afraid I have class at that time .
  • she said she would go , you know , but she had too much to do.
The Question Mark:



A mark that is used in writing and printing at the conclusion of a sentence or utterance to indicate a direct question.

Rules for Transcribing the [?]

1. Use [?] to identify questions, sentences, or phrases that are used to interrogate or gather information

2. When the utterance is structurally a question, but has falling tone at the end

3. When the utterance is a statement with rising tone at the end - in this case, the statement would become a question.


Questions are transliterated on the basis of:

  • Interrogative statement
  • Construction of the sentence
  • Intonation (speakers tone rises at the end of the speech)
  • Context

1. what time does that flight leave on Sunday ?

2. perhaps she does it too detailed ? +/cou=/+ could that be ? did we ever see something ?

3. really ?

4. don't we have a lapel mike for him ?

5. hi , John . how are you ?

The Period:



The punctuation mark indicating a full stop placed especially at the end of declarative sentences.


The period is used in transcription as it would be used in normal text. It represents the end of a complete thought or idea.

Difficulty arises in transcription between when the use of a period or the use of a comma should be employed, especially when the speaker talks fast and has a tendency to babble. In such cases, it may be difficult for you to decide whether to use a period or a comma. You will have to decide if the ideas are similar or connected, or if there would be a natural sentence break at that particular point in writing. This decision will be made based upon your own judgment, the context of the speech, and intonation.

Spontaneous speech is rarely grammatically correct. Therefore, the decision to place a period should be based on the following:

Rules for Transcribing the [.]

The decision to use a [.] is based on:

  • Grammar
  • Intonation
  • Pauses, respiration
  • Beginning of a new thought or idea



1. she was in New Guinea or New Zealand or someplace on vacation .

2. oh , yeah .

3. ah , I wasn't around .

4. he has a name for it , too , but I can't remember the name of +/the heli=/+ the landing pad .