Writing names containing diacritics in English
Thread poster: Tim Drayton

Tim Drayton  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:10
Turkish to English
+ ...
Nov 8, 2006

I wonder whether there exists a recognised standard governing the English spellings of names from other languages that are originally in Roman script but include diacritics (e.g. German umlauts).
There was some discussion recently in the Turkish forum concerning the treatment of Turkish proper names in English translations. Turkish uses a modified form of the Roman script that includes letters with diacritic symbols. The question was whether these diacritic symbols should be reproduced when including Turkish names in English text. As this problem applies to a large number of languages, I thought I would like to widen the scope of the question.
I believe (but am prepared to stand corrected) that there is an accepted principle within the publishing world that when transliterating (if this is the correct term in cases where the text remains in Roman script) names into English from languages that use the Roman script but have letters to which diacritics are added, such letters are reproduced in English without the diacritics. I can illustrate this point with four examples of the way place names are given in news reports by a number of prestigious media organisations:
BBC (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/62770.stm)
Jyvaskyla (in Finnish: Jyväskylä)
the Times of London (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2095-2371860.html)
Lodz (in Polish: Łódź)
CNN (http://edition.cnn.com/2006/SPORT/football/10/26/hungary.coach/index.htm)
Gyor (in Hungarian: Győr)
Washington Post (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/09/08/AR2006090801796.html)
Wurzburg (in German: Wűrzburg)
(I have used Insert/Symbol to get the letters with diacritics – I hope they show up correctly at your end)
I am curious to know what practice is adopted by people working in language pairs where this phenomenon exists and how they feel about this. Personally when working from Turkish into English I follow what I believe to be the accepted practice I have described above, but at the same time I have a visceral feeling that it looks wrong and certainly in the case of Turkish will lead English speakers to mispronounce many names. To repeat my initial question, I also wonder if there exist officially sanctioned rules for this process: this could be of crucial importance under certain circumstances such as where translations are submitted as evidence in a court case.


Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:10
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
Depends on the coding Nov 8, 2006

In 7-bit Ascii there is no possibility, even 8-bit is not suitable for all characters.
Recently I sent some files to yahoo-mail-addresses, because there was an ö in the file name, the file was named ATT0 and could not be changed in any way.
When Mika Häkkinen was a big Formula-1 champion, in Austria newpapers wrote Hakkinen.
With many mobile phones sending SMS with exotic charactes will split the message in many, you have to pay for each.

I wonder if we ever get over this, Unicode could solve the problem, but how about the keyboards?



Ken Cox  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:10
German to English
+ ...
depends on the target audience Nov 9, 2006

IMHO it depends strongly on the target audience, and you should sort this out with you client(s) in advance on a case-by-case basis, as they probably have their individual preferences.

That being said, a few comments on the subject:

Newspapers and magazines for the general public, even 'quality' ones, are notorious for taking a lax attitude toward typographical niceties. This is at least in part a result of time and cost pressures, as well as the fact that such publications are essentially intended to be discarded after being read.

At the other extreme, scholarly publications would most likely insist on accurate rendition of the original forms (particularly in this era of DTP, when there's hardly any practical reason not to do so).

It also depends on the country of your target audience. IMHO it would be insulting to use transliteration in any text intended to be published in the country of origin of the source text (including on a website), but if the audience is limited to the USA (with its traditional attitude of treating other alphabets as quaint anomalies), you could more safely assume that transliteration would be acceptable.


Tim Drayton  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:10
Turkish to English
+ ...
What the European Commission says Nov 9, 2006

I found the following in the European Commission's style guide for translators (under point 1.33):

Traditional geographical names. Anglicise if the English has wide
currency, e.g. the Black Forest, the Ruhr. Otherwise retain original spelling
and accents. Regional products are a frequent example:
a Rheinhessen wine, the eastern Périgord area, the Ardèche region (NB: it is
useful to add “region” or “area” in such cases), Lüneburger Heide

This provides a clear answer to my question and makes me think that I should review my current policy in this regard.


Local time: 01:10
English to Russian
+ ...
another question Jan 23, 2007

I'm not sure whether I should open a new thread, but since this one is concerned with proper names, I've decided to add my post here. My question is not about diacritics, but the ways to show how some of Russian names sound. The point is we have a letter called "soft sign" that makes consonants sound softer and also in some cases produces the [j] as in the word "beauty". I do not know who and why decided that in Russian proper names this should be reflected using the apostrophe. What I would like to ask is: how would you pronounce names represented as follows -

Savel'ev, Gul'ko, Kovyl', Kol'tsov?

Does it make any sense for English-speaking people who have no idea of the RUssian language rules?
(Personally I would write the names as Saveliev, Gulko, Kovyl, Koltsov, as I see no point in trying to make people say something they never learned to say using signes they never use for any purposes other than emphasizing syllables.)
I may be completely wrong - probably any English-speaking person knows how to treat the apostrophe in Russian names shown in Roman script?


Tim Drayton  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:10
Turkish to English
+ ...
It makes no sense to me Jan 24, 2007

An English speaker with no knowledge of Russian phonology and who is anaware of the meaning of this convention would be unable to make sense of this use of the apostrophe. I prefer the spellings you have given without apostrophes.


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