Monday, November 09, 2009

Editorial Tip of the Week: Writing in Other Languages

Parlez-vous français? Yeah, me neither. Although I do own une caniche (a poodle), I traveled one summer during college à Paris, and j’adore le chocolat. Impressive, I know, so I will admit I studied French for three years in high school, but didn’t continue because the Madame who taught fourth year French was très frightening. But I love to hear other languages spoken and try to add a word or phrase to my vocabulary, here and there. Not to be partial, but French and Italian are probably my favorites. I have a strange tendency to read novels by Italian authors, who write about Italian characters, living in Italian places, and yes, incorporating the Italian language into their prose. There is a correct way to do this, though, according to the experts.

If you’re writing about the food at a Mexican fiesta, an encounter at a Parisian café, or the art and architecture of Rome, there may not be an English word that does it justice. As a reader, I enjoy when writers slip in a foreign word or two (when it fits, of course). If a foreign word is likely to be unfamiliar to readers, use italics on its first reference. In my little rant above, I used italics when writing une caniche because I figured it would be unfamiliar; let’s face it, who regularly talks about their poodle in French? In these cases, it is also appropriate to translate the foreign word in parentheses or quotation marks. According to Chicago, if a familiar foreign term (such as parlez-vous français, à Paris, and all the other French I spoke above) appears in the same context as an unfamiliar term, choose to italicize either both or neither to remain consistent.

On the other hand, if a foreign word is commonly used by English writers, there is no need to use italics or to translate. As a general rule, you may check Webster to see if the foreign word is listed, but this should not be the sole basis for deciding whether or not to italicize. Use your best judgment when deciding how familiar a word is to readers. Ciao!

1 comment:

  1. Wow, I had no idea that kind of thing had rules! I thought that writers put foreign phrases in italics to be extra fancy. :)