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Strategies for Translating Italics

Updated: Jan 5

Italics are frequently used in English for stylistic, grammatical, and emphasizing purposes. The challenge this presents in Chinese translation is that, while the word processing technology is certainly there for us to do so, it's unconventional to italicize Chinese characters.

Here are some circumventing strategies to consider.


Stylistic italics: If the author uses italics for, say, subheadings of a report to create visual differentiation, it's good practice to adopt a different color (gray), font size (smaller), or text style (bold or even underline). Remember, the whole point of translating is processing and localizing information. Translators are supposed to work with a text, changing things up whenever necessary to serve the intended purpose and audience.


Grammatical italics: When it comes to titles (book, movie, newspaper, etc.), we use the Chinese angle quotation marks《》for this job. Italicized foreign words and Latin phrases are to be treated as regular text, while ship and aircraft names can be enclosed in quotation marks (e.g., “福特” 号航母).


Emphasizing italics: This is the fun part, and we have several approaches to try.


The first is to see if we can emphasize through our wording.

E.g., The press release confirms the company is launching the much-anticipated product this year.

In this case, we can add 的确 (indeed) in our rendition without any italicization.

As another example, "They have to clean and cook after a long day" can be rephrased as "not only...but also."

If rewording doesn't work, the most canonical way to signal emphasis in Chinese is adding the emphasis mark (select text -> right-click -> font -> emphasis mark), which looks like this.


For optimal layout, the line spacing needs to be 1.5 lines and up because the dots will add some space at the bottom, widening the gap.


It needs to be noted that emphasis marks, though completely legitimate as a punctuation mark, are not in fact commonly used in Chinese publications. In my practice, I do incorporate them in my research report translation projects. However, if the dots cannot be added due to formatting restrictions or the text is less "serious," I would either have the text in bold or underlined.


Lastly, depending on what type of translation you are doing and whether reproducing the emphasizing signals enhances the reading experience or creates distractions, you may also consider explaining to your client how Chinese writing conventions differ and omit them altogether.

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