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Diacritics, or tone marks (as what they're called in my language), are symbols added to letters to change their sound. For example, diacritics for the letter a in my language can be ă, â, à, á, ả, ã, ạ, ắ, ẳ, etc.

What should I do with papers written in such language when citing them in an English context?

For example, the APA Style guide says:

Book/article titles and names written in Latin-based scripts (French, Spanish, German, etc.) can be cited with only minor adjustments.

My language (Vietnamese) uses Latin script, so logically, I should preserve the diacritics. However, I think the guideline is only aware of Western languages, which may not have so many diacritics. If I follow the guideline, the title of my work may be cited like this:

So sánh năng lượng liên kết tĩnh điện giữa các thể đột biến của protease HIV-1 khi liên kết với thuốc lopinavir (Compare the Electrostatic Energy between Mutants of HIV-1 Protease when binding to lopinavir)

Is there any problem if I keep the diacritics? I think the title will only be copy-pasted, so there is no big problem if I cite it like that. It may be hard for foreign readers to read, but I think they wouldn't care at all; there is a translation of it in the bracket anyway. A common practice is to "transliterate" it to a non-diacritic version, which can be typed in any unsupported keyboard, and that is readable to the native speakers. However, it will make a lot of adjustments, and regarding to the guideline, this should only be used for non-Latin scripts.

I choose the APA style because it is the first thing come up in my mind. I think other styles will recommend the same. Some other styles suggest that I just need to provide the translation, but that is the easy case.

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    Which typesetting system do you use? Word? InDesign? LaTeX/XeLaTeX/LuaLaTeX? If it's LaTeX and friends, do you use BibTeX or biblatex to manage the process of generating the citation call-outs and formatted bibliographic entries? – Mico Apr 20 '15 at 1:12
  • I use Word/Scribus and LaTeX. I use Zotero to manage citations. – Ooker Apr 20 '15 at 6:51
  • I have modified the title to include "Vietnamese" explicitly. Feel free to revert the edit if you disagree, but I think that in this case being specific helps the reader to understand better the situation, since few other languages have the same amount of diacritics. – Federico Poloni Mar 26 '17 at 9:58
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    I think it's easier to understand what you mean with the title in its current form, but that's just my personal judgment and I could well be wrong. Many Europeans will think French or a Slavic language when they read "many diacritics", but Vietnamese has truly many more, and as far as I know it is the only language with that many (and Latin script); so it is in a rather unique position. Also, it is a more explicit keyword that may appear in a search. – Federico Poloni Mar 26 '17 at 21:08
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    I find the word "excessive" in the title rather... weird? – user9646 Apr 12 '17 at 14:09
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Nowadays, every sufficiently recent typesetting system is able to deal with diacritics. When submitting to journals, the real problem are the publishers' typesetters, who are -- at least in my experience -- frequently careless in copying letters with diacritics.

So, my advice is: keep the diacritics, as the style guides and common sense suggest, but check carefully the proofs received from the publisher.

  • will this advice work for names too? – Ooker Apr 19 '15 at 20:07
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    @Ooker: Yes: I collaborated with authors whose names contain diacritical marks (e.g. ù, ò or ä) and papers were published with the proper marks. Also affiliations in my language can have diacritics (università for university). However, we had to correct the marks many times (typically the accent was in the wrong direction, e.g. é instead of è). It is worth noticing that many journals (e.g. those from IEEE) now support the publication of author names in the authors' native language (e.g. Chinese, Japanese, etc.) alongside their English versions. – Massimo Ortolano Apr 19 '15 at 20:37
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    And places too? For example most people only know Vietnam, not Việt Nam, or Ho Chi Minh City, not Hồ Chí Minh City. And what if I write a paper about pho, our traditional food? Should I use pho as everybody knows or use phở as its correct form? I think that once the word is known by many people, it starts losing its correct form regardless of modern typesetting. The word becomes an English word, and as long as we are writing in English context, we should use it as an English word. – Ooker Apr 19 '15 at 21:29
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    @Ooker: With place names, things might change to some extent, as there are sometimes English (w.l.o.g.) translations of those place names. Likewise, some food or other local items are translated (e.g. one would write "spring rolls" in an English text rather than "春卷"), and sometimes, that "translation" is merely an anglicized version of the original word. Whether to use the anglicized version or the original spelling depends mainly on whether the anglicized version is sufficiently wide-spread and well-known as a "native" English word, rather than swiftly made up by the author to avoid accents. – O. R. Mapper Apr 20 '15 at 11:11
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    @Ooker: The answer might be found in submission guidelines (though more often than not, no such details are covered in my experience), otherwise this is heading toward a new question of its own. Generally, WP may serve as a rough guideline, and as there isn't always a clear-cut answer in this topic, anyway, no absolute precision or reliability can or should be expected. Nonetheless, checking other sources, such as dictionaries, is a good idea. – O. R. Mapper Apr 20 '15 at 13:35

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