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Public Editor Sylvia Stead responds to readers and gives a behind-the-scenes look

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Public editor: A diverse audience and the struggle with language Add to ...

With this article, titled Rio on the rise, The Globe and Mail opened its South America bureau in Rio de Janeiro. But no sooner did veteran foreign correspondent Stephanie Nolen take up her new duties than she received an email from a reader with concerns about language.

The reader was pleased to have “a real, live journalist on the ground in Brazil,” but was concerned about what he called “spelling mistakes.”

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“It would simply be unbearable and inexcusable if during next year’s intense focus on Brazil, its largest city, São Paulo, and its capital, Brasília, would continue to be misspelled in The Globe and Mail without their accent marks. Not spelling São Paulo and Brasília correctly would completely defeat the whole purpose of a having a correspondent in Brazil!”

Then in this Saturday’s Focus section, Ms. Nolen wrote a fascinating story on language and a concern among linguist purists over the rise of “Brazilian Portuguese.”

The Globe recognizes that to many readers – especially those who see their native language “misspelled” in the paper (such as with accents dropped), this is discomfiting. With an increasingly diverse audience in a diverse country, Globe editors struggle to standardize spelling with non-English languages, although that standardization does not include accents.

The one exception should be French. It is The Globe’s policy to use accents on French words, but not others, as The Globe has opted to standardize spelling for those languages.

And in fact, not a week goes by that I don’t hear from some readers who notice that French accents are missed or the proper article is not used. Several readers noted this error including one who said: “It is les féministes laïques du Québec, not les feministes laïques de Québec. Please note féminisme is masculine (the irony...); the masculine name is laïc; the feminine name is laïque; the adjective is always laïque and they all take an ‘s’ in the plural.”

It is great to hear from readers, and a special thanks to the one who welcomed Ms. Nolen to the Rio bureau. Please email me if you have any concerns about language or other issues of journalism at publiceditor@globeandmail.com

Follow on Twitter: @SylviaStead

 

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