Friday, March 6, 2015

Translation tips: Initial Capitals in English translation

Translating from and to many languages brings about lots of interesting facts, increases curiosity and reveals things most people would hardly think twice about. Well we do, so why not share some the know-how?
For instance, we regularly work with translation into English – who doesn't, to be honest :) – and handle both British English and English for the U.S. market. While it is common knowledge that U.K. and U.S. English differ slightly in spelling and also between certain expressions, the two tongues also have very different approaches to the use of Initial Capitals, i.e. the custom of capitalizing the first letter of every word in headers and sub-headers. 

The British keep it subtle, Americans Like it Big

British vs. American use of Capitals
To roughly sum it up, people generally favor the use of initial capitals in the U.S., while in the U.K. there is a tendency to avoid them. If you open a newspaper from the U.S. and one from the U.K., this becomes obvious (well illustrated by the picture  on the right). To a translator, the issue is trivial, but if you publish documents for English readers in general and there is no target market, it may be worth to reconsider the use of initial caps in headers. 

Avoid international Caps schizophrenia

Having noted that Americans like to use initial caps in titles, while the British try to avoid them, for International English we recommend not to use initial caps, because it makes it difficult to balance the heading levels that should have initial caps and those that should not. It is difficult to keep respecting the rule and even more difficult to unify all headers throughout documents and between projects. Further, when writing International English text for a worldwide audience, it is easy to make mistakes if initial caps are used, which is another good reason for advocating the British preference. As to the general opinion of the British that initial caps usage appears ugly, we won’t comment. But let's admit that caps overuse can confuse and distract the reader, a fact that eventually will affect the level of understanding the context and slow down the reading speed. You really don't want your target text to appear that way to the reader – at least not if we talk promotional material. 

When to use initial caps?

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We do, however, agree with and encourage the use of initial caps in proper names, including product names and to some extent special part names, as well as in key phrases, e.g. catch phrases. This includes also titles (e.g. on book covers - as on the picture on the right).


The easy way out

If you are really stuck and can't make up your mind, there is always an easy way out: Simply capitalize all your headers and reduce the point size to avoid them dominating the content.


For other translation and localization tips, language facts and curiosities, keep tracking our blog!

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