I know that a punctuation of dialogues in literary texts in Russian and French may use dashes:
— Hé, arrête avec ça, dit-il. (In French)
— Эй, прекрати, — сказал он. (In Russian)

But in English the dialogues are different:
"Hey, cut that out," he said. (In English)

Such a form of direct speech in Russian, for example, most often means the "inner voice" of the character, i.e. his thoughts. Due to this, it is easy to distinguish what the character says out loud, and what only he thinks inside his head.

I wonder, when such "dash dialogues" phenomenon arised historically and what languages use it? What they have in common?
And why Russian and French use dashes, while English do not?

(in my subjective opinion, punctuation of dialogs with dashes is much easier to understand and visually distinguish from the author's speech).

  • 1
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it has limited applicability to linguistics. But the history of writing conventions like this is probably on topic at Writing.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Nov 1, 2017 at 7:39
  • 2
    @curiousdannii I doubt that writers know anything about different languages, their history and common parts.
    – Exerion
    Commented Nov 1, 2017 at 7:48
  • I remember Araby by James Joyce (in English) used dashes for quotes in the dictionary I read.
    – Aryaman
    Commented Nov 3, 2017 at 19:34
  • Joyce has been called out explicitly in histories of English punctuation (certainly David Crystal's) for borrowing the convention from French. Commented Jul 8, 2018 at 13:49

1 Answer 1



This style is particularly common in Bulgarian, French, Greek, Hungarian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish, and Vietnamese.

The cultural vector transmitting the quotation dash, I surmise, is French cultural prestige. This article on the history of the dash in Russian shows it came in directly from translations from French and German in the late 18th century, preserving the punctuation of the originals. According to this article, the quotation dash is not that much older in French itself: it was first used by Marmontel in 1761, who had first proposed it in the form ".." in 1754. In fact, the article notes it was anticipated by the similar use of the dash in English, in Tristram Shandy, Vol I published in 1759.

The quotation dash prospered in French, and thence languages under French cultural influence, and not in English, even if Sterne used it in English first (by two years). That's just the randomness of memes.

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