Grammatical Case in Foreign Names in English Writing

Ken writes:
I’ve got a question about what to do about grammatical inflexions on foreign names when writing English.

After I got my PhD, I had a couple of articles from it published in an Austrian philosophy journal called Grazer Philosophische Studien (Graz Philosophical Studies –my PhD dissertation was about an Austrian philosopher based in Graz). Now, that is what it is called in the nominative case, but the adjective ‘philosophical’ is modified when the name occurs in the dative case, such as after a preposition like ‘in’. So if I were speaking proper German, I would say ‘in Grazer Philosophischen Studien‘ (here capitalising the adjective because it is part of a name –though I should check that!). But what now of English? If I write in English, that I have publications in this journal (dative case), should I use the German dative adjectival inflexion, or just ‘cut and paste’ the nominative form of the name into the sentence, ignoring all internal structure in the name and all German niceties, on the grounds that the writing overall is in English which doesn’t inflect adjectives in this way, and as it occurs as a name, it is treated a single syntactic chunk –essentially as a black box as far as monolingual speakers of English are concerned.

What would English best practice be? Keep the nominative form because a (sophisticated) deviation from it might look like a spelling mistake to the uninitiated, or follow the grammar of the original language?


6 thoughts on “Grammatical Case in Foreign Names in English Writing

  1. ken

    I’ve just been coming round to the opposite view. I had thought about writing to the journal itself and asking them what practice they recommend, but then I thought, well ‘what should they know? It’s a question about English usage after all’.

    Is a sentence containing a foreign name a sentence constructed from two languages or is it entirely in English with a part that derives from another language? If the latter, then since we don’t inflect in English, don’t inflect. (On the other hand, I have no objection to switching code in mid-sentence per se).

    But the clincher for me is that the question only arises because of a little knowledge of German on my part. I have to content myself with straight quoting for other foreign names from languages I don’t know. For instance, Dot authoritatively informs me that Philosophia in the dative is philosophiae and Neophilologus becomes Neophilologo. And it could potentially make tracking down references difficult, if for instance a language mandated a change of initial letter (like eclipsis in Irish), then you might go looking in the wrong part of the alphabet in the library catalogue. So I don’t think I could recommend preserving the source language’s inflections in English as a general rule.

  2. Murray

    I just thought that I would abuse this thread by saying how appropriate it is that the previous thread on Unimportant Counterfactuals has attracted “0 comments”. Long may it stay that way!

  3. The main practice I’d seen – re. journal titles etc. – was to keep the original title, so it’s recognisable. That dovetails with usual translation practice, which is a mix of this pragmatic approach and grammatical correctness. Like in a post you had a while back, on some journalistic reference to “the An Taoiseach.”

    You could ask the Chartered Institute of Linguists (London) if you want a good answer – we’re always discussing this sort of thing over on the IOL forums … but we are really tedious turgid types … professional anal-retentives to a man …

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