Guillemets as quote signs

Sri Chinmoy expressed a preference for quote signs to be rendered as «guillemets français», in case Vasudeva Server was to publish some of his works in the future.

He said, «Guillemets are better to channel the poise I wish to offer to the seeker. Other quote signs are not helpful. They create subtle unbalance and restlessness.»

Using guillemets for English text is rare, although it has been done several times.

Guido Sette, the professional typesetter who has been helping Vasudeva Server, said:

I said to my teacher, Prof. Lambert: If we use guillemets for English text, they will point fingers at us.

He replied: Think carefully about who that «they» is, and you might realise «They» don’t matter too much. And some of those «They» will even say: «Wow».

Guido’s opinion was to follow Sri Chinmoy’s request, even if some readers might take time to get used to it.

Some inquiries were made with a few discerning disciples in the English speaking world. They did not mind guillemets and of course wanted to respect Sri Chinmoy’s wish.

Unfortunately, as of June 2017, the White Books are still not following Guru’s request in that respect.

A few personal notes:

  • Using guillemets in English text could take some reader’s attention away from the text, however only briefly. But he will get used to it quickly.
  • Quote signs should never be considered part of the language per se. They have little to do with the grammatical system; they are arbitrary conventions (though certainly part of the literary tradition and culture of each country).
  • The typesetter has to weigh the relative importance of design integrity, the integrity of the text, for the reader and, above all, the author.
  • Therefore, without a shadow of doubt, Sri CHinmoy’s request should be respected.
  • As it happens, the style as requested by Sri Chinmoy (the Author), althought a bit old (early 20th century) and with a unorthodox twist by mixing English (British style) and French style, is perfectly justifiable even in respect of a scholarly readership.
  • Sri Chinmoy is of course right, also typographically: guillemets are the most careful and the least obtrusive of the quote signs: no interference with ascender and base lines, no major interference with the flush border of the text without having to hang punctuation.
  • Sri Chinmoy’s decision was final, the same way as when he chose a specific grammar and spelling style. Not to respect his request, just to satisfy some readers, does not feel good at all. Not only Sri Chinmoy, but our future selves would probably not be agreeable with that.