While reading Maruyama Kugane's "Overlord" English translation, I encountered "Is that so." in dialogues many times. Literally like this, without question mark.
For example:

-- There are many events in the arena, and sometimes adventurers end up fighting monsters. I’ve only met this person a few times, when I captured those monsters and shipped them here.

-- Is that so. Still, it ended up being quite useful indeed, so I must thank you for your connection. That said, what sort of monsters did you capture around the outskirts of E-Rantel?

So my questions are:
1. I guess that in this case the phrase was used like a rhetorical question. Am I right?
2. Is it allowed to use it like this in literary writing or was it just a non-conventional method of drawing the difference between the real question and the one that doesn't need the answer?

  • 1
    Punctuation is largely a matter of style, and authors are pretty much allowed a free rein by their publishers (if they insist on it). I would say that your guess is correct. However, translators are more constrained, and would have to agree with the author's (or publisher's) wishes. – Mick Feb 2 '17 at 0:16
  • 2
    Phrases like そうですか are very common in Japanese. It is not really a question, but it is more of a rhetorical reply when you want to politely question or wonder about something. So I think using a question mark in an English version is a matter of style. – user3169 Feb 2 '17 at 2:06
  • The context indicates that perhaps the translation of the meaning would better have been "That is so." – fixer1234 Apr 8 '17 at 2:09

I don't think it's a typical example of a rhetorical question, despite this definition:

A question posed only for dramatic or persuasive effect. (Wiktionary)

The reason I say that is that rhetorical questions are still inflected like normal questions. When you say them aloud, you raise your pitch at the end. This is true even when you don't expect an answer, or the answer is obvious and you're really just framing a suggestion:

Shouldn't we do something to help?

This style, on the other hand, uses a period in order to imitate the intonation that questions like this have in everyday conversation. When you say it aloud, you'll actually come down at the end; it will have more or less the same intonation and meaning as "You don't say."

This is another way of signalling that it's not really a question, of course. The meaning in context could be paraphrased: "I didn't know that, but I'll take your word for it and move on" or "I'm not certain that what you said is true (or is what I wanted to hear), but I'm not going to contest it." It can be politely used to show interest without opening the topic for further discussion, or it can be dismissive.

— "You can't come in here. This is off-limits to civilians."
— "Is that so. Well, I happen to be an undercover officer."

In informal writing, and in literary writing (which often seeks to capture the nuance of conversation), this can be done. In formal writing, such lines rarely appear and if they do they have a question mark.

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