(Translated from Spanish by our interns.)
Orthotypography, or typographical syntax, is essential for a professional translator. Orthotypography defines the correct uses of typographic signs, punctuation marks and different elements of layout. These conventions vary depending on the language, so a professional translator must be aware of them in every language they work with (English, Spanish, Italian…). Mastering the use of orthotypography allows the professional translator to translate and adapt the original text to the target language conventions.
In this post, we will focus on punctuation marks. The first thing to know is the different types there are. Some of the most common are the apostrophe, the period, the comma, the semi-colon, the colon, and so on. However, there are others not so frequently used that we must bear in mind too: the brackets, the hyphen, or the dash.
Apostrophes (‘) are used to indicate letters omitted, possession, and plurals of letters and figures.
Periods (.) are mostly used to mark the end of a sentence. They are also used to mark abbreviation of names such as initials, acronyms and abbreviation of titles of address. However, some of these uses vary upon the use of British or American English. For example, in British English, if an abbreviation of title of address includes both the first and last letter of the abbreviated word, a period is not used. However, in American English it is common to use a period after these abbreviations.
Commas (,) are used to separate items in lists, before question tags, to separate clauses, and after and around certain linking words such as however, therefore, nevertheless, in fact. They can also be used to disambiguate the meaning of sentences. Also, when a date is written as a month followed by a day followed by a year, a comma separates the day from the year. Commas are never used between a subject and its verb. One controversial use of the comma is the so-called Oxford comma. It is a comma placed before a conjunction, usually and, in a series of three or more items. Apparently, it is more used in American English, but there is no true consensus on whether it must be used or not.
Semi-colons (;) are used to divide parts of long sentences or long phrases in a list. Usually, it is possible to divide one sentence into shorter ones, so that semi-colons are unnecessary.
Colons (:) are used to introduce examples, lists, and statements which give in detail what has been stated in general.
Quotation marks, or inverted commas, surround a quotation, direct speech, or a literal title or name. They are also used to indicate irony and a different meaning of the word or phrase than the one typically associated with it. There are different glyphs associated with them, such as the single quotes (‘ ’), or the double quotes (“ ”).
Brackets ( ) are used in pairs and contain material that serves to clarify, or is aside from the main point. A similar effect may be obtained by using a pair of commas as the delimiter. Square brackets [ ] are mainly used to insert explanatory material or to mark where a passage was omitted from an original material by someone other than the original author, or to mark modifications in quotations. It is important to remember that the final period of the text within the brackets would also be within and not outside them.
Another two punctuation marks are the frequently confused hyphen and dash. Hyphens () are used to join words and to separate syllables of a single word. Dashes look similar to hyphens although dashes are longer, but have different functions. There are two types of dashes, the en dash (–) and the em dash (—). Both may be used to denote a break in a sentence or to set off parenthetical statement. In this function, en dashes are used with spaces before and after them while em dashes are used without spaces—before and after—them.
I hope this post will remind you the use of some of the punctuation marks most used by translators.
‘Orthotypographical’ greetings to you all!
Nereida Sologuren for TB
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