Translation is a multi-talented activity. Translation specialists are expected to have an excellent command of the source language, exquisite written comprehension and the ability to read between the lines for nuances, cultural references, ambiguities and even the unsaid. From the target language perspective, the quality of expression and chameleon-like adaptation to all types of texts and registers take precedence. Research capacity, critical thinking, grammar knowledge, respect for orthographical knowledge and lighting a virtual candle at St Mary’s Cathedral so that we can pay attention to all these fronts at the same time are also essential. Consequently, orthotypography tends to be relegated to the background, not as an oversight, but because the budding translator has been too busy training themselves in many other aspects of their profession.

  • What is Orthotypography?
  • Incomplete Punctuation
  • The Vocative Comma
  • The “Criminal” Comma
  • The Disappearance of Angled Quotation Marks
  • Excessive Use of the Upper Case
  • Italics in Titles and Creative Works
  • Italics in Foreign Words and Boluntary Mistakes
  • Non-breaking Spaces Before a Symbol
  • The Spelling of Numbers
  • Punctuation of Dialogues

What is Orthotypography?

Wikilengua, a service offered by the EFE Agency and the Royal Spanish Academy through the Fundéuinitiative, defines it like this:

Orthotypography is the set of particular uses and conventions that govern writing through the typographic elements in each language. It deals with the combination of orthography and typography, and, in particular, the way that the first one applies to printed work: upper and lower case, spacing, formats (italics, bold, small caps...), punctuation, etc.

Therefore, it’s a set of recommendations that determine the way in which the punctuation and visual aspects of the characters that make up our text are written. When do we use a capital letter? When should we add a comma? How do we write symbols? What are italics for? These are some of the questions that orthotypography tries to answer. Maybe they initially look small and insignificant, but they are often used as a means of measuring the linguistic knowledge of a translator. After all, if they have had time to learn about these aspects it might be because they have mastered everything else.

The top ten orthotypography mistakes in Spanish

1. Incomplete Punctuation

New technologies have destroyed many things along the way and, among other things, some punctuation marks. Nowadays, in Spanish it’s frequent to omit opening question and exclamation marks, as well as the full stop in any text that looks like a WhatsApp conversation.

La puntuación está incompleta! (English: Punctuation is incomplete!)*

¡La puntuación está completa! (English: ¡The punctuation is complete!)

Escribe bien, amiga (English: Write properly, my friend)

Así se escribe, amiga. (English: That’s how it’s done, my friend.)

2. The Vocative Comma

While some commas may be subject to debate, the vocative comma is not one of them. This name refers to the comma that we add when we directly address somebody else, regardless of whether this is by their name, role or maybe some other less pleasant names.

¡Te dejas la coma del vocativo imbécil! (English: ¡You're forgetting the vocative comma fool!)

¡Te has acordado de la coma del vocativo, guapo! (English: ¡You remembered the vocative coma, handsome!)

3. The “Criminal” Comma

Something similar happens with the so-called “criminal” comma: the comma that separates the subject from the rest of the sentence. Under no circumstance should this comma appear in any text.

La coma criminal, es una herejía ortotipográfica. (English: The “criminal” comma, is orthotypographical heresy.)

¡La coma criminal es una herejía ortotipográfica, no como esta deliciosa frase. (English: The “criminal” comma is orthotypographical heresy, unlike this lovely sentence.)

La coma criminal, como esta de aquí, no es una coma criminal porque forma parte de un inciso. (English: The “criminal” comma, like this one, is not a “criminal” comma because it’s part of an insert.)

4. The Disappearance of Angled Quotation Marks

With the growth of new technologies, the omnipresence of English is another big factor that has modified Spanish speakers’ perception of their own language. One of the most indelible marks is the posterity gerund, but that’s a conversation for another day. With regards to orthotypography, nothing stands out like the disappearance of the traditional guillemets in the wake of the invasion of the English quotation mark.

Cuando le pregunté, me dijo: “Te dejo porque no usas comillas angulares.” (English: When I asked him, he said: “I’m leaving you because you don't use angled quotation marks.”)

¡Cuando le pregunté, me dijo: «Te amaré hasta el fin de mis días porque usas comillas angulares y encima escribes el punto después de cerrarlas». <3 (English: When I asked him, he said: «I’ll love you until the end of my days because you use angled quotation marks and you even write the full stop after them». <3)

5. Excessive Use of the Upper Case

The consolidation of English as lingua franca is also the reason why Spanish writers adhere to the use that anglophones make of the upper case. There are multiple examples and circumstances in which this phenomenon occurs, but two cases stand out: titles of fiction works and landforms.

Los Anillos de Poder es una obra de terror. (English: Rings of Power is a horror work.)

Los anillos de poder es una obra de fantasía. (English: Rings of power is a fantasy work.)

El abuso de las mayúsculas llega hasta el Monte Everest. (English: The abuse of the title case has reached Mount Everest.)

Yo no abuso de las mayúsculas, te lo juro por el monte Everest. (English: I don’t abuse the title case, I swear on mount Everest.)

6. Italics in Titles and Creative Works

Italics, upper case and quotation marks are the three mechanisms the Spanish language has to highlight that a word or group of words is not part of its common vocabulary. There are many cases and exceptions when it comes to applying these tools, but one of the most established criteria is the use of italics to mark the titles of movies, series, books and any other creative work.

“La culpa fue del chachachá”, claro que sí, guapi. (English: “La culpa fue del chachachá”, yeah, sure.)

La culpa fue del chachachá, gran canción. (English: La culpa fue del chachachá, great song.)

7. Italics in Foreign Words and Boluntary Mistakes

Among the most extended and unified usages of italics, we can also find the transcription of foreign words that have not been adapted to Spanish, and words that are purposely written the wrong way.

He tenido un crash con las italics. (English: I had a crash on italics.)

He tenido un crush con las italics. (English: I had a crush on italics.)

8. Non-breaking Spaces Before a Symbol

The displaying of text, tabs, margins in quotes that don’t bear quotation marks... Orthotypography even covers the way that we use spacing. One of the most common rules in this respect is the mandatory separation of numbers and the symbols next to them.

Ortotipografía a 1€ el kilo, ¡contiene un 70% de rumorología de internet! (English: Orthotypography for 1€ a kilogram, ¡contains 70% internet rumourology!)

Ortotipografía a 10 € el kilo, ¡100 % libre de errores! (English: Orthotypography at 10 € a kilogram, ¡100 % free of errors!)

9. The Spelling of Numbers

If orthotypography affects the spacing that gives form to a text, number expressions are not an exception. Letters and numbers seem to be clearly antagonistic. However, nothing escapes the orthotypographical control. The most frequent questions refer to the writing of numbers of four or more digits.

9.999 noches y 10.000 días después, sigo sin saber escribir cifras. (English: 9.999 nights and 10.000 days later, I still don't know how to write numbers.)

9999 noches y 10 000 días después, he aprendido a escribir cifras. (English: 9999 nights and 10 000 days later, I’ve learned how to write numbers.)

10. Punctuation of Dialogues

Punctuation of dialogues is an art that allows you to mix the speech of the narrator and the characters with astonishing versatility. Unfortunately, the rules that govern this type of texts can also seem seriously astonishing at first. The key is to be able to differentiate between declarative and non-declarative verbs, the use of dashes (—) and the mandatory blank spaces between or after them.

- Los verbos declarativos y no declarativos - sugirió convencido - no se diferencian en nada. (English: - There’s no difference - he suggested with certainty - between declarative and non-declarative verbs.)

—Los verbos declarativos y no declarativos —sugirió convencido— se diferencian en el tipo de puntuación que implican. (English: —There’s a difference in the punctuation to be used —he suggested with certainty— with declarative and non-declarative verbs.)

—Los verbos declarativos llevan el punto tras el habla del narrador —añadió su hermano—. Luego, puedes seguir charlando. (English: —Declarative verbs have a full stop after the narrator speaks —added his brother—. Then you can keep talking.)

—Los verbos no declarativos, por el contrario, llevan el punto antes. —Tragó saliva y volvió a la carga—. ¿Lo dejamos aquí? (English: —Non-declarative verbs, on the contrary, have the full stop before. —He gulped and tried again—. Shall we leave it there?)

*Translator’s note: The translations provided for the examples of good and bad practices are meant to be mere back-translations to show an exact reproduction of the Spanish sentences. Hence, they contain elements that are foreign to the English language, such as question/interrogation opening marks or dialogue dashes that don’t apply under the rules for English.

Writer: Maite Madinabeitia
Translator: Elisabet Pina