A rough analogy between written punctuation and the Continuity System
Punctuation marks are symbols that indicate the structure and organisation of written language. They can also be used to signify intonation or pacing when reading aloud. Similarly, within the continuity system, certain 'punctuating' devices are used to indicate the structure of the text, while the general speed and rhythm of the cuts sets the pace and rhythm of the film.
The use of audio-visual 'punctuation' is highly nuanced in order to disambiguate the meaning of individual shots (audio-visual 'sentences') and sequences of shots (audio-visual 'paragraphs'), but, since the punctuation marks are not symbols, it cannot be described exactly. Take the camera movements that punctuate individual shots. Here the individual filmmakers must decide how best to reveal new information within the basic 'sentence' from a wide variety of possible camera movements (outlined in greater detail in the section 'Camera Movements'). The choice will also be influenced by the 'Camera Placement', 'Choice of lenses', etc. in the previous shot. For these reasons it would be impossible to produce a precise audio-visual punctuation guide; however, we hope this diagram will provide you with a crude but useful analogy to the written system.
NB. Please note that to avoid turning the diagram into a glossary, I have avoided referring to certain shots (e.g. point-of-view shot) and cuts (e.g. jump cut). Similarly, I have not tried to explain the different uses of say the semi-colon or colon in terms of film language (though I know it can be done). The aim here is to show that the analogy works. Once this is understood, the nuances of the system of audio-visual punctuation and grammar are there for each individual 'reader' to explore and discover.