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Translation Punctuation

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Above: Asurian. Below: English. Notice a difference?
"Attack!" a new voice bit out. "All Corellian forces, attack at will!"
Han [Solo] gaped at the speaker. What in the blazes was the Corellian doing?
And then the scan locked on to another frequency. "Attack!" a guttural Mon Calamari voice rumbled. "All Mon Cal ships, attack."
[Attack,] a Diamalan voice called calmly in their own language on another frequency.
{Attack,} came the snarling Ishori reply on yet another.
Star Wars: The Hand of Thrawn — Vision of the Future

In textual or partly textual works where characters speak other languages, the author may render them in the work's language so that the reader can understand them. However, when multiple languages are spoken thus, how do you tell which is which?

Some authors address this by using punctuation other than quote marks to indicate that characters are speaking a different language that is being dubbed as English. The various types of brackets are a frequent choice here (angle quotes ‹ ›, angle brackets ⟨ ⟩, or inequality marks < > are particularly commonnote ). Other options include using unusual formatting or all lowercase letters. It should be noted that many real-world languages use angled brackets and hook brackets rather than the English single or double quotes around dialogue in written works.

A word of caution to editors of this page: Be careful with your own formatting as some forms may be interpreted by TV Tropes as wiki markup rather than text. To be on the safe side, you may want to wrap quotations in the [= =] markup to prevent this.

A form of Painting the Medium. Compare with Foreign-Looking Font and (in non-textual works) Just a Stupid Accent.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Azumanga Daioh: Because the manga focuses on a group of classmates in an ESL class, Gratuitous English is fairly common. While some translations opt to Keep It Foreign, the Yen Press translation instead uses angled brackets to distinguish when the Japanese cast is speaking in English.
  • Banana Fish is mainly set in New York City, and as such most characters speak English. The English translation of the manga puts any dialogue spoken in other languages (like when Eiji or Ibe speak Japanese to each other) in angle brackets.
  • Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind sometimes uses angle quotes to indicate that a "foreign" language is being translated. Sometimes text is left untranslated, and is drawn as a vaguely pictographic script.
  • 3×3 Eyes uses this technique (at least in foreign translations) when Chinese characters speaks their native language rather than Japanese. Surprisingly, this applies even to the non-human demon Ryo Ko, who speaks both Chinese (surrounded by angle quotes) and normal Japanese at Yakumo's request.

    Comic Books 
  • The Funny Animals in the Curtis/Husted Katmandu world use no marks when speaking in their native tongue. Square brackets indicate Plains, a lingua franca common to many Indian tribes. Angle brackets denote Trade, which is usually reserved for conversing with non-Indian settlers.
  • Angle brackets were used in some of the later ElfQuest comics to indicate the use of a language other than elvish. Earlier comics used different shaped word balloons instead.
  • Averted for one word in an issue of The Incredible Hulk which is focusing on the villains of the story, who are all Soviet agents. The standard < > is in use except for one Establishing Shot of the capital city, which is captioned "Moscova" along with a Note from Ed. saying (paraphrased), "I know we're doing the Translation Convention thing, but it's their capital."
  • In New Super-Man, Manderin is written as English and English is written as English but in blue. When Kenan guests in someone else's book, this is reversed.
  • In Red Robin Russian, French, Spanish and Cantonese are all written in English and bracketed by the standard < > with an asterisk denoting the language being spoken.
  • The Star Wars Legends comic Ewoks Shadows Of Endor cleverly uses these only on the dialogue of newly arrived imperial troopers and Leia during the beginning of her first meeting with Wicket in Return of the Jedi, to show that these outsiders are speaking a different language than the Ewoks.

    Fan Works 
  • In A Voice Among the Strangers, after the protagonist Jessica begins learning Equestrian, words and phrases she picks up are punctuated with tilde symbols. The same is done in the P.O.V. Sequel, with English words that the Equestrians pick up, such as Ebony (Jessica's nickname for the Changeling she befriends in the first chapters).
  • In their Grand Tour of Howondaland in the Discworld fic Gap Year Adventures by A.A. Pessimal, two girl Assassins pick up Red Indian warrior names which are rendered in the text as {{Ginger-with-Freckles}} and {{Prickly Pear Girl}}.note 
    • Elsewhere, Ankh-Morpork is rendered variably in the isiZulu language of Howondaland, usually in the form of <Stone Kraal Built Around Filthy River On Stagnant Swamp, Stinks Of The Offal And Leavings Of Large Ruminant Animals>.
  • Averted in The Mountain Andthe Wolf: The Wolf either speaks Westerosi (rendered as English), "Norscan" (Icelandic), and as he's an omniglot, it's actually stated that he can (choose to) make himself understood in multiple languages simultaneously, such as a Rousing Speech given in Westerosi, Dothraki and Valyrian.

  • Animorphs renders thought-speak using angle brackets in place of quote marks. Leeran thought-speak is rendered in italicized and underlined text.
  • Timothy Zahn's Star Wars Legends novels use every bracket in the English language. Vision of the Future has a passage where the various fleets of alien warships over Bothawui are given fraudulent orders to {Attack!}, [Attack!], and <Attack!>
  • Zahn also uses it when dubbing Troftish as English in The Cobra Trilogy, rendering it with square brackets instead of quote marks.
  • Piers Anthony's Cluster series features many alien races with different forms of speech (not only different languages, but also different modalities, such as flashing light instead of sound). Human speech is represented with ordinary quotation marks, and each type of alien speech uses a different punctuation symbol as a quotation mark. By the end of the series, pretty much every symbol on the keyboard has been pressed into service.
  • Thursday Next:
    • In the literary world of this book, different fonts are considered different languages. They do not 'represent' different languages, the fonts are languages. The literary police force have interpreters on hand to deal with characters who speak Courier.
    • However, this trope is played straight when St Svlkx, a hermit who speaks (presumably) Old English, appears in the 20th Century, and the language difference is shown with a Blackletter font.
  • There was a novel about a young Mexican woman who immigrates to the US (and has a guardian angel or something that speaks to her). The English dialogue was in quotation marks, while the Spanish dialogue was in guillemets (« »), punctuation marks used for quotations in many European languages, including Spanish.
  • In the Terra Trilogy, the Fnrrn language is represented as English in italics, with a dash at the start.
  • In Terra Ignota, when the narrator Mycroft is translating something from another language to English, it's written with the punctuation of the original language. For example, Spanish uses ¿ and ¡, Japanese encloses dialogue 「between brackets」, and German capitalizes the nouns. Polylingual characters occasionally speak sentences in a mixture of languages, which mashes together all the different punctuation involved.
  • In The Curse of Chalion, dialogue that is spoken in Roknari is bracketed with tildes instead of quotation marks:
    ~Blessings of the Holy Ones be upon you this day, Umegat.~
  • Kris Longknife: Kris's computer Nelly talks through her Brain/Computer Interface in Small Caps through the end of the "original" KL series in Bold. Mike Shepherd left his publisher after concluding that series, and due to Amazon limiting formatting available to self-published books, changed to ALL CAPS in later novels.
  • Aeon 14 renders Electronic Telepathy with angle brackets in place of quote marks, while also italicizing the quotation.

    Video Games 
  • Escape Velocity Nova renders Vell-os telepathy using angle brackets, all lowercase letters, and no other punctuation.
  • The Japanese version of Splatoon uses something similar to denote when a character is speaking the Octarian language. Rather than using punctuation, Octarian dialogue is rendered in katakana, which is normally used for writing loanwords and foreign names in Japanese text. For example, DJ Octavio, the Octarian leader, speaks entirely in katakana, while Marina's dialogue is only partially rendered in katakana to indicate that she speaks with an accent. Likewise, the official lyrics for Splatoon 2's soundtrack render Marina's parts in katakana and Pearl's in the standard hiragana, indicating a Multilingual Song.

    Visual Novels 
  • Umineko: When They Cry: Depending on the language. The characters' native language is Japanese, and when a character is speaking in English or another language, the dialogue will be written inside square brackets or angle brackets. This is used more in the author-endorsed fan patch by Witch Hunt than the original Japanese to avoid confusion about the dialogue.

    Web Comics 
  • Megatokyo encases Japanese speech in angle brackets.
  • As seen in the page image, Terra uses angle brackets when characters speak the Azatoth language, and no quote marks when the characters speak English.
  • Unsounded uses angle brackets when translating Tainish to Continental. However, lines spoken in Tainish are occasionally left untranslated. Translations to these lines can be found in the series' wiki. For a ~50 page arc entirely in Tainish, rather than using brackets the entire time, they appear only on the first page and gradually fade out to imply that everything afterward is translated.
  • Drowtales is a bit inconsistent on this due to it having more than just one artist. For example, the main story uses angle brackets and a slightly different font when translating Halme to the language of the Drows, whereas the side story following Vaelia's journey uses a vaguely Japanese-looking font when translating from Emberi.
  • The Fox Sister inverts this a bit. While the comic is written in English, all the unbracketed dialogue indicates the characters are speaking Korean while the bracketed dialogue indicates that the characters are speaking English.
  • The webcomic TwoKinds uses one form of brackets for Keridian and another for Bastian, although there was a phase where the artist didn't do the translation punctuation despite character(s) not knowing English (or the equivalent thereof).
  • El Goonish Shive uses angle brackets when translating from Japanese and Uryuomoco.
  • Paradigm Shift nearly went with this for a few pages where two characters are speaking exclusively in Cantonese, but the author was able to find someone who spoke and wrote it well enough to help him with the lettering.
  • Stand Still, Stay Silent: As none of the characters are speaking English, and most of them are not speaking the same language as each other, small flags denoting the country of origin of the language being spoken are placed in the speech bubbles whenever the characters are misunderstanding each other or have issues relating to language barriers.
  • Inverted in Kill Six Billion Demons: Universal Metaconstant is portrayed as ordinary dialogue thanks to Translator Microbes, but, after the main character leaves Earth, English dialogue is shown in angle brackets while other characters look on in disapproval at the "horrible mess of a language".
  • Erma uses angle brackets whenever someone is speaking Japanese.