Title Case

As translators, we are faced with many decisions, not the least of which are the stylistic conventions to follow for each project.

There’s tone, tense, word choice, capitalization and punctuation to consider. In English and Spanish alike, there are several sets of rules available. But which do you follow?


Take capitalization of titles, for instance. American English has down style and up style for headlines. So you pick one. Easy, right?

But wait, the Chicago Manual of Style and the Modern Language Association (MLA) uses up style, capitalizing all words except for articles, coordinating conjunctions, and prepositions… unless they are the first or last word of the title.

The Associated Press (AP) follows almost the same rules, except that it also capitalizes prepositions and conjunctions over four letters

And then there’s also the British standard to consider. Most publication prefer down style capitalization, reflecting sentence capitalization.


So, when taking a text from one language to the next, how do you decide?

In my experience, the best place to start is with the source text. Analyze the structure. Coupled with the content, you get a better idea of who will be reading your translated version.

If the piece uses AP style, I look to journalistic styles in the target language. For Mexico, for example, El Manual de estilos del País is useful.

If I’m looking at a human resources manual or business report that uses MLA style, then I might turn to the Español al día section of the Real Academia España.

Going back to capitalization of titles, you’ll find that in Spanish there is no up style. And yet there are many documents–especially online–that reflect the up style found in American English.

So when translating from English to Spanish, what do you do? Do you preserve the correct Spanish down style and explain the stylistic convention or comply with a client’s explicit instructions to reflect the American English up style?

What would you do?

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