Capitalization and Abbreviation in Spanish Translation

Capitalization and abbreviation in Spanish translation raise some peculiar problems because of the distinctive natures of the English and the Spanish languages.

Differences in Capitalization for Spanish and English

Let us begin by identifying how Spanish capitalization differs from English capitalization:

  • In the first place, capital letters are used more frequently in English than in Spanish.
  • In the second place, English capitalizes all the main words in the title of a book while Spanish capitalizes only the first word of the title. Thus, in English, we write “Gone with the Wind” while in Spanish we write “Lo que el viento se llevó”.
  • In the third place, the Spanish equivalent of the English personal pronoun “I”, “yo”, is not capitalized.
  • In the fourth place, the names of the days of the week and the months are not capitalized in Spanish.
  • In the fifth place, Spanish does not capitalize the adjectives derived from nationality and race.
  • In the sixth place, in poetry, Spanish capitalizes only the first word of the first line instead of the first word of every line.

In the above cases, when translating from Spanish to English and vice versa, it is customary for the translator to follow the rules of the target language. This varies only in the case of poetry where, especially in bilingual editions, it is customary for the Spanish translator to follow the rules of the source language.

Translation of Abbreviations

Spanish translation of abbreviations and acronyms also deserves special care. The Spanish translator must make an effort to discover the meaning of the abbreviation in the source language. Retaining the source language abbreviation in the target language can give rise to errors in meaning. Translators often use the example of the Spanish abbreviation ‘TM´, which stands for ‘toneladas métricas´, to warn against this error.

The Spanish ‘TM´ cannot be retained as ‘TM´ in the English translation because in English, ‘TM´ stands for ‘tons per minute´. Some words that are abbreviated in the source language need to be spelled out in the target language to make understanding easier. For example, the Spanish translation of ‘Washington, D.C.’ should be spelled out as ‘Washington, Distrito de Columbia.’

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Translating Acronyms

Acronyms in Spanish translation demand similar discretion on the part of the translator. They may be kept if the target language readers are familiar with them. Otherwise, they need to be translated in full. Hence, ‘CIA´ may be written as ‘CIA´, or it may be translated as ‘La Agencia Central de Inteligencia´. However, international organizations are represented in the acronym of the target language. UNO, therefore, becomes ONU in Spanish.

The translator may choose to attach an explanation to an acronym he or she has kept in the source language. In extreme cases, he or she may write the acronym, translate it and explain it as well. However, the translator does not have the freedom to create his or her acronym in the target language.

When working with capitalization and abbreviation in Spanish translation, a translator will find it useful to have some knowledge about the socio-political and cultural scenario in both the source and target language.

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