Sunday, August 21, 2016

TRANSLITERATION: How to Use It as a Writer

I have been writing travel stories for about a decade now and often spatter a few words of the language of the country to add colour and enhance the sense of place in my articles. This habit has its good side and downsides, and makes me glad I have a good professional editor.
Translation is different from transliteration. 

Translation expresses the sense of the word and is used verbally as well as in text, e.g. when whole articles and books are converted into another language.

Transliteration, in contrast, is representations of written words in a language other than the main language of a book or article. Easier to do if both languages use the Latin alphabet like this post does. More difficult if you're using a word from, say, Arabic or Russian whose alphabet is totally different and you are endeavouring to put it into the Latin alphabet phonetically.

Many years ago, I discovered there are rules for writers when inserting a few foreign words into their writing for publication.  The Chicago Manual of Style is the ultimate guide for transliteration assistance in sections 11.91 to 11.95 for Latin and non-Latin alphabets.
The rules when languages use the Latin alphabet include:
  • The foreign word (other than proper names) is italicized in an English language work if it has not become part of the English language, either for the first use only or all the time – it depends on your publisher's guidelines. 
  • A foreign word that has been absorbed into English is not italicized. You'd be surprised how many have made the transition, so I always check the Oxford or Webster dictionaries to see if the word is listed.  

I visit France often and regularly face this issue when writing about my travels there. The French word for castle is 
ch√Ęteau, but it is now considered an English word too, has lost the circumflex, and would not be italicized. Merci is not in the Oxford Canadian Dictionary. Metro is anglicized. Aurevoir is not.

For example: "Aurevoir," Heloise said, smiling. "The chateau is at the top of the hill in Saumur." (Note the two proper names that are French, but the font is normal.)

If I'm in doubt, I consult an expert. Always! Foreign languages also have different capitalization rules from English for proper names and hyphenation, e.g. rue de Grenelle; St-Malo (note: in English, St. Albans has no hyphen but a period). 

So writers need to employ extreme attention to detail when using transliteration.

© Julie H. Ferguson