One of the main doubts English to Spanish translators have is deciding how to choose from the capitalization options the Spanish language has to offer depending on the specific flavor we are working with. One such example is Spanish U.S., where most prefer to follow the English capitalization rule in which every word of a title or header is capitalized. According to the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language (RAE), Spanish capitalization should only have the first letter of the first word capitalized for headers, secondary titles, and such. Whereas in English we can find a title such as the one from this post written as: “Capital Mistakes,” the Spanish version would be “Errores mayúsculos.” According to the RAE, only the first word of the title of any creative work such as books, films, paintings, sculptures, musical compositions, etc., should be written in upper case, unless the others are proper nouns.
It might be a good idea to start by saying that Spanish U.S. was born not that much due to the Spanish colonization of the southern part of today’s United States, but mostly out of the massive Spanish-speaker migration to the U.S. that ensued. The latter reflects in itself a somewhat odd flavor of the language, combining mostly Mexican and Central American flavors (which should follow RAE rules). So, why not fully follow RAE rules in all grammatical matters? Moreover, many people today also ask themselves what the power would be for such a large population (even greater in millions to the one in Spain) to influence the course of progress experienced by any modern “living language.”
Spanish U.S., as it is known, contains a mixture of Spanish and English grammatical rules as well as formats. We tend to follow the English format for dates (Month/Day/Year), we separate thousands with a comma and decimals with a period, we place final stops and commas before quotation marks etc. Regarding strict grammar rules, we respect the Spanish format, with one little exception: capitalization.
One difference, regarding capitalization in Spanish U.S. is seen when we write the names of months. In English, the first letter is capitalized (January) whereas in Spanish (U.S.) we write it in lower case (enero), unless it is at the beginning of a sentence. The same goes for nationalities and languages. So, Spanish U.S. cannot even agree on a defined norm on this matter, capitalizing titles and headers, but not months or nationalities for example. The debate may be focused on why, if we allow English date and punctuation formats to remain as unchangeable rules for Spanish U.S., then what is the deal with capitalization?
Well, we don’t know, but what most translators tend to agree on is that it makes headings look odd, and unappealing to the reader. An English source content writer might argue that relevance is undermined (especially when talking about marketing content). To follow RAE rules strictly may come from the purists, who as far as capitalization is concerned, even if we are translating into Spanish-U.S., advocate we must (more than should) follow Spanish rules, especially when referring to months, days of the week, seasons, etc.. In Spanish, these nouns are written in lower case, they are only capitalized when they refer to historical dates, festivities or proper nouns – i.e. “Primero de Mayo” (May 1st), “Viernes Santo” (Good Friday), etc.; otherwise it is written as “lunes,” “mayo,” etc.
Some people will also defend RAE by saying there are certain rules that help avoiding an excessive use of the uppercase. For instance, if relevance is our goal, publications must be inserted with only upper case for the first word but with the full name in italics.
The bottom line is we’re not here to say that capitalization in Spanish U.S. is wrong, but many agree that it is not so visually pleasing, and both formats are accepted. This post is not intended to be a master class on Spanish grammar, nor it is meant as an exemplification of purism in terms of the use of the Spanish language, it is simply meant to revisit some aspects of it which tend to cause debate and confusion among translators. So, if you have any hesitations regarding these topics, just go to the RAE or Fundéu BBVA sites to clear up your doubts.