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Choosing the right ‹angle brackets›

Linguists often enclose letters in angle brackets to let people know they're talking about orthography (the way things are written). But Unicode has lots of different angle brackets, some of which don't show up for everyone, and some of which look funny.

Which ones should we use here on ELL?

  1. ‹ and ›

    The English phonemes /θ/ and /ð/ are both written with the digraph ‹th›.

    I think this is the best choice. This is the one we decided on in ELU chat a while back, and they're used by at least some linguists.


  2. ⟨ and ⟩

    The English phonemes /θ/ and /ð/ are both written with the digraph ⟨th⟩.

    This doesn't look quite as nice and it may not technically be the right pair, but it's the pair used on Wikipedia, so some other people have followed suit. Unfortunately, it seems like these don't show up for everyone, so they're best avoided, at least for now.


  3. < and >

    The English phonemes /θ/ and /ð/ are both written with the digraph <th>.

    These should show up for all users, so they work as a last resort, but they do look funny and are mathematical symbols rather than brackets.


  4. &#x2329; and &#x232a;

    The English phonemes /θ/ and /ð/ are both written with the digraph 〈th〉.

    According to StoneyB, the spacing looks a bit extreme on this one.


  5. &#x3008; and &#x3009;

    The English phonemes /θ/ and /ð/ are both written with the digraph 〈th〉.

    This looks okay, though it's a bit wide—it's intended for East Asian languages.


I propose we go with ‹option one›. Any objections?

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  • Do you happen to know the Mac keyboard shortcut for Option 1? – J.R. Dec 27 '14 at 10:42
  • The spacing on 4 looks a bit extreme, and 2 has very limited font support; of the others, 1 looks best, but 3 takes the least effort and is likeliest to be emulated by all users. I'd go with 1 and expect to see mostly 2! – StoneyB on hiatus Dec 28 '14 at 0:38
  • @J.R. I don't, but I just discovered they have named HTML entities! You can type &lsaquo; and &rsaquo;. I guess that's short for left single angle quote and right single angle quote. Hopefully that's a little bit easier to remember. – snailplane Dec 28 '14 at 1:03
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    @J.R. I think they're option-shift 3 and option-shift 4 respectively. ‹sic› – Codeswitcher Jun 1 '15 at 0:15
  • @Codeswitcher - ‹right you are› :^) – J.R. Jun 1 '15 at 0:31
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Many computer programming texts use &lt; (<) and &gt; (>) to demarcate "metasyntactic variables" -- in other words, to show blanks that need to be filled in. I often use this formatting when answering questions on Stack Exchange.

Some programming languages (like C++ and Java) use these characters this way, as part of "generics" and "templates". Many programmers call these characters "angle brackets" (or "open angle" and "close angle") when they are used to delimit something. Of course, programmers also call them "less than" and "greater than" when they are used as comparison operators.

The original poster's intended use of &lsaquo; and &rsaquo; has both a different purpose, and uses different characters, so there is no conflict with the convention for demarcating "metasyntactic variables". (As the original poster point out, &lsaquo; and &rsaquo; are used by linguists for the original poster's purpose.)

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