On not italicizing Spanish

Today I’m editing an article that talks about translation in the bilingual classroom. There was a section of dialogue that was tough to edit clearly: A student read aloud a few sentences from a book, including a line that was spoken in the book, then discussed with three other students how to translate those sentences. The students asked one another in English about this or that word in Spanish, and I used quote marks, offsetting commas, and italics to clarify which words the students spoke, which words they were discussing, and which words were part of the quoted material or their translation. (If the article is freely available when it’s published a few months from now, I’ll link it so you can see what I’m talking about.)

I didn’t even bother to italicize every instance of Spanish, thanks to a video posted by author Daniel José Older last year (before his novel Half-Resurrection Blues was published; which you should definitely read):

The text I’m editing is academic, not fiction, but that doesn’t really matter. It would have been doubly more confusing (and, I decided, wrong) to try and italicize all the Spanish simply because the article as a whole is in English, and it wouldn’t have been true either to the way these bilingual students spoke or to what the reader needed to understand.

The overarching questions I ask as I’m editing are “What are you saying here? How can we get that across to readers so that they get it right away?”

These days, I don’t reflexively italicize Spanish. When I’m following a style guide that does, I stop and think about whether each instance of italics would serve the reader. Today, it would have just gotten in the way. Out it went.

Pirates of the Caribbean gif:

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