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Accent marks in Spanish words used in English
Thread poster: spanruss

spanruss
United States
Local time: 02:35
Russian to English
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Mar 4, 2011

I've seen many translators use accent marks liberally in Spanish proper names in English translations. I find them to be not only unnecessary, but inconsistent and improper. For example, country names never bear an accent, such as Mexico and Peru, while many translators will leave in accents for names of cities, regions, and other smaller geographic divisions.

Previously I included accents on personal names, e.g., José, María, etc. Now I'm beginning to realize that is not consistent with common English usage either.

Why would we translators include accents for a target audience that would never put them in themselves?

Are there any generally accepted rules I'm not aware of that would override what appears to me to be common sense?


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 01:35
English to Spanish
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Now Used Mar 4, 2011

More and more I see accent marks on Spanish words used in English language publications, possibly due to the fact that many readers may also know Spanish. My own practice is to always put them in for names of persons, cities, regions and other smaller geographic divisions and others such as names of institutions, etc. and the only place where I omit them is in country names such as Mexico and Peru, because they have been so established in English.

Some members of the target audience (at least those who know Spanish) might indeed put them in themselves. I don't know what the rule is, or by what authority, but having observed a wider use of accent marks I can only conclude that it is becoming the editorial policy of many publications.


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Ambrose Li  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 03:35
Chinese to English
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Why would this be inappropriate? Mar 4, 2011

In fact, personally, accents missing in proper names is one of my most frequent complaints. Of course accents should be left out in names of people with established anglicized spellings, names of countries, and names of other places with actual English names; but for names without actual English names, I find it unhelpful to remove the accents. (Unhelpful as in, say, these accents may be crucial when you actually have to search for more information about these people or places.)

Perhaps I am nitpicking, but having the accents removed just makes the text look wrong to me.



[Edited at 2011-03-04 18:26 GMT]


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Emma Goldsmith  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 09:35
Member (2010)
Spanish to English
The Economist Style Guide Mar 4, 2011

The Economist Style Guide isn't the bible, but it often gives good guidance. With regard to accents, it says the following:

Put the accents and diacritical signs on French, German, Spanish and Portuguese names and words... Leave accents and diacritical signs off other foreign names.
Any foreign word in italics should, however, be given its proper accents.
http://bordeure.files.wordpress.com/2008/11/the-economist-style-guide.pdf

FWIW, I always leave accents on Spanish names.


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spanruss
United States
Local time: 02:35
Russian to English
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TOPIC STARTER
Depends on your point of view Mar 4, 2011

And our points of view are that of translators, a minority in the big picture. A couple of points I'll add:

- accent marks don't exist in English. Most English speakers wouldn't have a clue what they denote. Therefore, these marks are useless to the majority of the audience. Isn't that what writing is all about, i.e., considering the audience first and foremost?

- While Spanish speakers write the accents on their names in Latin American countries, these same names rarely bear accents when used is in an English speaking country.

- Mexico, Mexico (la ciudad de Mexico en el país de Mexico) are examples of both a city and country whose accents have disappeared in English usage.

I'm just saying it all seems arbitrary and inconsistent to me. I also think we translators are trying to force the issue on those who are not linguistically educated. If we were somehow able to make a difference and get the entire English-speaking world to correctly pronounce and write proper names, then there would be no problem. But, in reality, I think it is just as pretentious of us to force the accent issue as it would be to insist on correcting every person we hear who incorrectly pronounces "jalapeño" or "croissant".

Just my humble opinion.


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spanruss
United States
Local time: 02:35
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Even on country names? Mar 4, 2011

Emma Goldsmith wrote:


FWIW, I always leave accents on Spanish names.


Even on country names?


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spanruss
United States
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Link crashes Mar 4, 2011

Emma,

Your link crashes on me before it loads completely. Could you please post the missing section you marked with ellipses? Thanks


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 09:35
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
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It IS unappropriate if you ask me Mar 4, 2011

The use of names in their source-language spelling when there is a traditional use (like no accents in this case) is plain pedantic.

In English, "Los Angeles" will not be "Los Ángeles", the same way in Spanish I don't say "New York" but "Nueva York".


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MedTrans&More  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
English to Portuguese
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Conflicting responses Mar 4, 2011

Hi,

I've sometimes had very angry responses from customers whose names I have neglected to put the squiggly bit on the 'ñ' for, insisting that whether or not 'los guiris' [sic] know how to pronounce an 'ñ', it should be put, as that's what it states on their birth certificates etc.

However, in other cases, clients have insisted on me changing the names of cities etc to their English equivalents, e.g. Sevilla > Seville, Córdoba > Cordova, and so on.

So whether we believe that we have a right and responsibility to educate the readers of what we translate, ultimately it's up to the clients we translate for.

Christopher


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Ambrose Li  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 03:35
Chinese to English
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Just my personal opinion but Mar 4, 2011

spanruss wrote:

- accent marks don't exist in English. Most English speakers wouldn't have a clue what they denote. Therefore, these marks are useless to the majority of the audience. Isn't that what writing is all about, i.e., considering the audience first and foremost?


Of course accent marks exist in English. They are certainly extremely rare, getting rarer by the day, and most if not all of the time optional; but they still do exist.[Edited at 2011-03-04 21:12 GMT]

[Edited at 2011-03-04 21:54 GMT]


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Daniel García
English to Spanish
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My two céntimos Mar 5, 2011

I think it is impossible to give a general answer valid for all cases.

For me, the only right answer is "it depends".

Regarding it usage in English,

1.
accent marks don't exist in English.

They do exist. There is a number of English words which use them. There are only a handful but I believe that thery very well established, fiancé, rosé, Brontë.

Here are some more:
http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Appendix:English_words_with_diacritics

Furthermore, here's what The Economist style guide says about them:

http://www.economist.com/research/styleGuide/index.cfm?page=673907&CFID=157947039&CFTOKEN=52404991

Accents

On words now accepted as English, use accents only when they make a crucial difference to pronunciation: cliché, soupçon, façade, café, communiqué, exposé (but chateau, decor, elite, feted, naive).

If you use one accent (except the tilde—strictly, a diacritical sign), use all: émigré, mêlée, protégé, résumé.


2. Regarding place names, just follow the established tradition for English. Don't use them when it is traditional not to use them (Mexico, Peru, El Alamo, Santa Monica) but do use them when there is no established tradition (Viña del Mar, Yucatán). If you are not sure about a given name, just check a reliable encyclopedia.

3. People's names: I think now the tendency is to keep the accents. Here's a quote from The Economist's style guide:


Put the accents and cedillas on French names and words, umlauts on German ones, accents and tildes on Spanish ones, and accents, cedillas and tildes on Portuguese ones: Françoise de Panafieu, Wolfgang Schäuble, Federico Peña. Leave the accents off other foreign names.


4. Ambiguity: a few Spanish nouns have different meanings depending on the diacritic used. If you are translating a novel or travel guide.

Please, don't ever transcribe names of business "Restaurante de la Peña" or names of celebrations ("Año nuevo" or Año viejo") replacing the "ñ" with an "n" or you might find yourself in awkward situations if the reader happens to understand some Spanish.

I hope this helps!

Daniel


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Emma Goldsmith  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 09:35
Member (2010)
Spanish to English
The Economist link Mar 5, 2011

spanruss wrote:

Emma,

Your link crashes on me before it loads completely. Could you please post the missing section you marked with ellipses? Thanks


The quote I gave was missing the examples in the ellipses:

Put the accents and diacritical signs on French, German, Spanish and Portuguese names and words:
José Manuel Barroso Françoise de Panafieu
Federico Peña Wolfgang Schäuble
Leave accents and diacritical signs off other foreign names.
Any foreign word in italics should, however, be given its proper accents. (See also italics.)


The link loads OK for me. Not sure why it doesn't for you. It's not the most up to date version (2005). But my print version (2010) and Daniel's online link say the same.


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Emma Goldsmith  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 09:35
Member (2010)
Spanish to English
I agree with Daniel Mar 5, 2011

Daniel García wrote:

Regarding place names, just follow the established tradition for English. Don't use them when it is traditional not to use them (Mexico, Peru, El Alamo, Santa Monica) but do use them when there is no established tradition (Viña del Mar, Yucatán). If you are not sure about a given name, just check a reliable encyclopedia.


Exactly. If there is an established "translation" (Peru, Seville, Mexico, Navarre) then the original spelling has been dropped, along with any accents it may have had.
If there is no established translation (Viña del Mar, Ávila), original spelling should be kept.

Since we don't translate personal names - unless you agree with Google Translate's efforts at translating Juan Blanco into John White - then we should stick to the original, accents and all: Emilio Botín, Andrés Iniesta, etc.


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Steven Capsuto  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 03:35
Member (2004)
Spanish to English
+ ...
My general practice.... Mar 5, 2011

I keep the accent marks in people's names but omit them in place names. In English, we traditionally write "Malaga," not "Málaga," because á is not an English grapheme.

Using "é" in place names just confuses people, since, to the extent that the letter E is accented in English, it's done to indicate that the E is not silent. It has nothing to do with stressing the syllable. This is why, for example, the South American drink "mate" is traditionally spelled "maté" in English, even though the stress is on the first syllable. The accent mark indicates that the E is not silent.


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Jessica Noyes  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 03:35
Spanish to English
+ ...
Addresses Mar 5, 2011

I have been taught not to translate addresses in the source language within the body of the translation. It follows logically then, that in these untranslated addresses, México and Perú keep their accents.

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Accent marks in Spanish words used in English

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