Is that word
or a mistake?
Recently I read an interesting article arguing that foreign words in fiction written in English should not be printed in italics, as is standard practice, but left in Roman type for the reader to decipher from the context. This would not only correspond to the way people actually talk in a multi-lingual environment but would also challenge readers to step outside their comfort zone where English is the dominant language.
The first line of reasoning is true. I lived for many years in
, a part of Alsace
where around two thirds of the population still use their native Germanic
dialect alongside the official French language. When I first lived there, I
strained my ears to understand, but gradually became accustomed to hearing
people start a sentence in one language and finish it in another, or drop
French words into a stream of dialect. All across the world, there are similar pockets
of bilingualism created by migration flows or the presence of borders. France
Yet speech is thing, writing another. Even against the background of
soup, the local press and most authors adhere to the convention of printing
French words in Roman type and German or dialect words in italics. This makes for
In my work as a translator, I have occasionally cursed when stumbling over a foreign word inserted into a French or German text without any markers. For example, the French language has now imported the English term burn out, but the first time I encountered le burnout, I was puzzled. Was it a typo, a word I didn’t yet know, a newly created word, or an invention of the author?
Using italic type is like using capital letters to start a new sentence, or putting brackets round extra bits of information inside a sentence. Without holding the reader up, these almost imperceptible markers make a text readable. Keep them, I say.
Picture courtesy of Katemangostar - Freepik.com