Which Standards Apply?

One of the most confounding issues for translators, editors and proof-readers is not knowing which standards to use when working on a particular document. To highlight this quandary, we can make use of the simple, yet irksome problem of monetary units in various countries. Let us take, for example, the British pound, American dollar, Japanese yen, European euro and, last but not least, the Polish złoty.

To begin with, the use of the word ‘Polish’ before the word ‘złoty’ often provokes linguistic unrest. In most economic texts, we speak of the ‘dollar’, ‘pound’, ‘euro’ or ‘yen’ However, ‘Polish’ often precedes the word ‘złoty’ to make clear the country of origin of this currency. However, for consistency’s sake, one could argue that it should not be used.

This is only the start of our problems. The second concerns the Polish diacritic ‘ł’. Often, the word ‘złoty’ loses the diacritic, becoming ‘zloty’ for legibility’s sake so that non-Polish speakers will not be confused by the spelling. In an increasingly multi-cultural world, however, this is a needless orthographic change.

Our next problem concerns the abbreviation of the word ‘złoty’. Several forms currently exit: zł (or zl) and PLN. The pound, dollar, euro and yen are all fortunate enough to have their own symbols, respectively, £, $, € and ¥. Different institutions and publishing houses use different standards for the Polish currency giving us, for example:
zł100 (preceding with diacritic, no space)
zl. 100 (preceding with full stop, space and without diacritic)
100zł (succeeding with diacritic, no space)
100 zl (succeeding with space and without diacritic)
PLN 100 (preceding)
100 PLN (succeeding).

All of the above can be seen in magazines and newspapers throughout Poland on a daily basis. If we assume that zł/zl/PLN is the Polish equivalent of the symbol used for the pound (£), dollar ($), euro (€) and yen (¥) then for consistency’s sake the symbol, i.e. zł/zl/PLN, should precede the number at all times. Interestingly, according to official sources (ISO 4217) the code for the Polish złoty is PLN; however, the symbol, used internally in Poland, is zł.

Knowledge of these ‘official’ standards still does not prevent the linguistic cacophony which is the reality faced by most editors and proof-readers. Institutions and publishing houses have their own ‘internal’ standards which often have little regard to what is official or what is used by the majority. It helps when standards in translation (compare the above-mentioned problem) are nurtured and protected, if only to help us in this oft-complicated process.

12 Responses to “Which Standards Apply?”

  1. Michael Says:

    It probably would increase translation efficiency if there were an agreed-upon standard, but as with so many things connected to language, different people use different solutions for different purposes. Personally, I never liked to use currency symbols. They introduce an additional typographical challenge and they have a bias toward the well-known first-world currencies (am I talking about Yen or Yuan Renminbi when I write ¥; is $ a US dollar or a Colombian Peso; what is a ₫). But it all depends who the target readership and what the purpose of of the translated document is.

    In your example, if the document talked about złoty only, wouldn’t it be acceptable to follow, let’s say the editorial policies of a large newspaper or a large bank? If you had a document with a multitude of currencies that needed to be distinguished, like an annual report of a big corporation, wouldn’t it make sense to strictly use the ISO codes? What I am trying to say is, it all depends on the purpose of the document. The ISO code PLN would look strange in the former, currency symbols would make a mess of the latter.

    Addressing such questions decreases translation output, but for me it makes translation interesting.

    • transubstantiation Says:

      Michael, interesting points. As you may know, when translating (or proofing) editorial policy must always be followed. Most corporations that discuss a variety of currencies us, as you mentioned, the ISO codes.

  2. Jim Says:

    Also; in English the word ‘zloty’ seems to be considered as both a singular and plural (in the manner of ‘sheep’), perhaps because the final Y makes the word seems vaguely like a plural. The tri-letter currency abbreviations are in common use in other European languages (such as RON for the Romanian new leu), but not in English, a fact I have to remind my translation students about.

  3. Andres Heuberger Says:

    Thank you for the good post! We linked to it from the Medical Translation blog.

  4. Henry Grodsk Says:

    That’s only the half of it. Can anyone tell me why every publication in the world has decided that the plural of “zloty” is “zlotys”? The rule I remember from school is that you add an “s” to nouns ending in “y” only if the “y” is preceded by a vowel:

    boy > boys
    monkey > monkeys

    but

    city > cities
    country > countries
    conditionality > conditionalities

    Why does MS Word keep changing “zloties” to “zlotys”? It’s an abomination.

    • Agata Jedynak Says:

      I don’t think there should be any zloties nor zlotys
      in Polish if we want the currency in the plural form we make “złotych”
      changing it into zloties is horrible!!!

      live it “PLN” and there won’t be any problems with understanding which currency is considered!

  5. transubstantiation Says:

    Interesting point. Perhaps, no using any plural is a possibility, e.g. 1 zloty, 5 zloty etc.

  6. Jakub Fulara swps Says:

    What is interesting about this ISO code that it has always 3 letters: first two are for the country (like often in the Internet domains) like pl, ru etc. and the third one usually for the first letter of a currency. Thus, złoty used to be PLZ, but after denomination in 1995 it became PLN, where N is, I think, for ‘Nowy’ złoty (new złoty).
    This ISO code unification I think was introduced for technical reasons: e.g for computer systems purposes, breakdown of prices, exchange rates etc. Thus, in my opinion PLN should be used in such ‘technical’ things like charts, tables, lists of currencies,etc. while in a ‘normal’ text we should use złoty.


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