- Posted by Stephen Whiteley
- On 07/07/2014
- French, German, Spanish, traducciones, traducir, traductores, Translation blog, Translations
Did you know that punctuation and even hyphenation rules are somewhat language specific?
Here are some of the best-known differences:
These vary quite a lot between languages and merit a blog entry of their own. I almost wrote “inverted commas” instead of “quotation marks”, but that would merely describe the usual English way to do it. But for example, German does it „this way“, French « like this » and English has either ‘this’ or “this”. A lot of other languages do it “this way” too.
German is unusual in writing all nouns with a capital letter, though this used to be common in all the Germanic languages, as you see in a lot of 18th century and earlier English printing. German requires a comma to precede all subordinate clauses, which can be quite confusing, since there is no distinction between restrictive and non-restrictive relative clauses.
For example, in sentence a) the relative clause restricts or limits the men to those drinking beer, where in b) it is just descriptive (non-restrictive)
a) The men who were sitting in the corner were all drinking beer b) The men, most of whom were drunk, had to call a taxi
One of the ways we contrast such clauses in English is by omitting the commas in restrictive clauses. Putting a comma in English is a typical mistake made by German writers, though it was perfectly normal in English in earlier times. Modern editors remove these commas from the writers like Jane Austen. I always find it a bit odd that Austen should use modern spelling and punctuation, just as Cervantes’ 17th century Spanish looks very odd when written with “corrected” modern spelling and punctuation, especially when the words and expressions are not being modernised.
Spanish uses upside-down exclamation marks and question marks at the beginning of the phrase:
¡Exclamations are done like this! ¿Doesn’t it look odd to use these question marks in English?
It amuses me that many young Spaniards like to preface a spoken queston with “Una pregunta:” (a question:) It’s as though they were actually pronouncing the upside down question mark, and the function is the same, to prepare the hearer or reader for a question.
French is unique for having obligatory non-breaking spaces before and after the following punctuation marks:
quotes « voilà », exclamation and question marks ! ; semi-colons and colons :
But there are no spaces before commas and full stops.
So translators and buyers beware: more pitfalls to catch us all out!