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.