Punctuation is Serious Business in Translation

Sep 9


Charlene Lacandazo

Charlene Lacandazo

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When we think of translation, we mostly think of the 'big' units, sentences, phrases, or at least words. Very rarely if ever do we even consider the importance of punctuation marks, those tiny but oh so crucial elements that hold any text together.

Sometimes we all think that paying attention to the punctuation marks in languages or documents is a silly thing to consider. However,Punctuation is Serious Business in Translation Articles the reality is that learning punctuation in languages is one of the most essential factors in understanding properly the grammar particularly in formally written messages or documents.When I started to learn how to read and write, I was thinking how important punctuation is in languages. I remember, we had this proper writing activity in our school and my teacher would teach us how to use punctuation marks in effective writing, both in Filipino and English languages. However, today no matter how educated a person is, using punctuation properly is sometimes neglected and thus, will confuse a lot of people. Using punctuation could sometimes be a pain in the neck even to professional writers, especially if dealing with foreign languages.One of the best examples of this is the Greek language. People that are capable of speaking both of the English and Greek languages may still find difficulties in properly translating a document from English to Greek or the other way around. This is because punctuation plays different roles or functions in every language. There are may be guides and rules in some of the books that people may read and gather information about punctuation in foreign languages but all too often, the outcome is that  people would still be confused. Hence, the tendency is that people neglect the essential usage of punctuation marks, which is completely wrong. In addition, neglecting punctuation in translation may lead to misinterpretation of documents that may cause embarrassment due to nonsensical interpretation.In the Greek language, at every end of an interrogative sentence, people use semicolons instead of using question marks, and semicolons are used instead of periods. I know this could be annoying and confusing but this is the nature of foreign languages- their uniqueness. Thus, this is important and should be used properly, including in the translation process.One of the interesting examples of using punctuation marks is in the English language. Sometimes, after writing I would really read my article over and over again just to make sure that I used proper punctuation marks, since the English language is not my first language and so, I have to be careful. People need to make sure that proper placing of punctuation marks is applied in every sentence in languages. Let’s take the following example: “Drive slow, men at work” and the second one is “Drive, slow men at work”. Do you see the difference? In language translation, using punctuation marks is important because the interpretation of idea can differ from the originally intended one depending on the position of punctuation. Thus, to be able to get an accurate translation, it is important to consider the functions of punctuation marks in the target language.

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