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The Correct Use of Italics bY Translation Services Japan

In this article, we will go back to style basics and look at when you should use italics in your writing and translation. 

Japanese Translator

One point that should be made at the outset is that although italics may be used in the source language and there may be similarities in their usage, the translator should avoid simply mirroring the style of the source language when translating, as the job of a Japanese translator is to express the meaning of the source text in the clearest possible way in the target language, and that includes using style in the most appropriate way in the target language. 

The usages of italics can be broadly classified into: 

  1. Emphasis, 
  2. Titles of works, 
  3. Foreign/unfamiliar words/technical terms, and 
  4. Proper names of vehicles.

We will look at these in turn.

The most common way that italics are used is to emphasize the importance of a certain word in a sentence. For example, “He received maximum marks in his assessment”. Although useful, the writer should take care not to overuse this as the more items that are emphasized the less pronounced the emphasis will be.

The second use is for titles of works (books, movies etc.). For example, “My favorite Shakespeare play is Hamlet”. Religious books, such as the Bible, would not be italicized.

Italics are also used with special terms, such as foreign words, unfamiliar words, and technical terms. We might say, for example, “The Japanese word for monkey is saru”. This would only be used when the term is unlikely to be unfamiliar to the reader. Foreign words that are already entrenched in English (such as “rendezvous”) would not be italicized. The same rule applies to technical terms. Technical terms that are unfamiliar to the user may be italicized, but those that have become part of the everyday vocabulary would not. So, although the term “Internet” may have been italicized in the 1980s, it certainly would not be now. 

Another usage of italics is to refer to the proper name of a specific vehicle, such as “He was a cook on the Titanic”.

Like many rules in the English language, rules vary. The above should simply be considered guidelines. Underlining can often be substituted for italics, but the recent trend for anything displayed online is to shy away from underlining as it can be mistaken for a link. The most important thing is to be consistent in your usage and to use italics appropriately without overusing them.

About the Author
Simon Way is a contributing author to SAECULII YK, the owner of Translation Services Japan Visit SAECULII for the latest professional case studies, articles and news on Japanese Translation Services

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