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Using italics for second-language words? September 8, 2014

Posted by Erin Ptah in Meta.
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What is your opinion about the use of italics for “foreign” words in fiction in general? How do you determine which words to italicize? To what degree it is a stylistic or political choice?”

The article there has a bunch of opinions from pro writers. Fic writers, what do you do?

Me, I’m thinking I’ll keep using italics, and there’s one reason carrying most of the weight: because on the Internet, not all your readers are going to have English as their first language, and ESL fluency levels will vary. If the second language coming up in the fic is one that they speak, great. But if it’s not, they might just end up lost.

Anecdote 1: One time I had on Radio Junior, a kids’ radio/streaming station that broadcasts primarily in French. My brother and I were both taking French in school at the time. The station changed songs, and he said, “You know, I was recognizing some of the words in that last song, but now I’m not getting anything at all.” The new song…was in Italian.

Anecdote 2: Another time I went to the wordreference.com forums seeking help with a word I couldn’t find in any dictionaries. Turned out it was a typo.

So it seems polite to signal “hey, don’t stress about not recognizing this phrase, or not being able to find it on your translation website of choice — it’s a different language from the main text, and there may even be a translation at the end of the chapter.”

Other fannish people, how do you handle this? Especially those of you who regularly read in a second language: what do you prefer?

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