A Question of Grammar

By way of introduction: Dagy serves on the national board of directors of the Austrian equivalent of the American Translators Association (ATA), and is running into an interesting problem in the naming of the organization.
The Austrian Translators' and Interpreters' Association, formerly known as Österreichischer Übersetzer- und Dolmetscherverband UNIVERSITAS, is being renamed Universitas Austria – Berufsverband für Dolmetschen und Übersetzen – Interpreters' and Translators' Association (yes, all that; it's quite a mouthful).
While I won't get into the choice our members voted for, I do want to discuss a question of grammar. The Association's new name is to include an English translation (see above). While I think the use of the apostrophe is grammatically correct because we're dealing with a genitive plural, some associations in English-speaking countries do not use the apostrophe, first and foremost the American Translators Association. Then there are others who do, such as the Irish Translators' and Interpreters' Association. Judy is also a new member of another organization without an apostrophe: NITA (Nevada Interpreters and Translators Association).
So now we both wonder: which one is the correct version? What is the grammatical explanation for omitting the apostrophe? Is there one? Does it just look better? Please join the discussion by posting your comments below. We would love to hear fellow translators' and language professionals' opinions (please note our nice use of the apostrophe here) on both sides of the Atlantic.


Anonymous said...


Saw your post on the (ATA) GLD list, so I thought I'd comment before I disappear on holiday for a few days. I firmly believe that the ATA style, without apostrophes, is correct (I'm British, by the way). For me, it's the "association of Austrian/American translators/ interpreters", and thus not a genetive/possessive plural, and not the "association belonging to the Austrian/American translators/interpreters" (in which case it would warrant apostrophes.

I'm sure others will disagree :-)

Beste Grüße aus Mainz,

Anonymous said...

Curses. I wrote "genetive" instead of "genitive". Just goes to show what happens when translators work through the night so they can go on holiday...

Anonymous said...

The North Carolina Writers' Network uses an apostrophe. Back around 1990 when ATA was working on revising the Bylaws, one of our members strongly urged us to add an apostrophe, because he felt that omitting it reflected poorly on an association of language experts. His plea largely fell on deaf ears. As a linguistic conservative, I would probably opt for the apostrophe. But the New York Public Library Writer's Guide (i.e. guide for writers) to Style and Usage, p. 271, says "Although an apostrophe is not incorrect in terms like the following, increasingly it is omitted when the sense of the term is descriptive rather than possessive — that is, when for is meant rather than of."
Examples include teachers college, Merchants bank, users manual, travelers checks.

Anonymous said...

I love (i.e. hate) how people say things like "I firmly believe X" when talking about usage without citing any authoritative references. Usage is not the same as grammar, and neither usage nor grammar is a religion.

I have railed against translators who are unaware of style guides. I'm glad to hear mention of the New York Public Library Writer's Guide, though I'm baffled why this secondary work is so popular among translators.

People: buy a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style if you do not have one already, and read it. Front to back. The CMS is the most widely used style guide for English usage in the United States, and it is very long, detailed, and complete. It is the style guide of record of most publishing houses (that don't have their own in-house guides), and the AP and other style guides are largely consistent with it as well.

I happen to be using the 14th edition, and this apostrophe problem is addressed in Paragraph 6.23 on p. 200. And I quote:

"Among some circles there is a penchant for omitting the apostrophe from what are sometimes regarded as possessive constructions. Some business establishments and factories, for example, refer to the cafeteria for their employees as the 'employees cafeteria,' and some organizations and departments have such names as:

Diners Club
Actors Equity
Department of Veterans Affairs

"Actually, this might just as properly be said to constitute an attributive rather than possessive use of nouns.


"There seems little justification for restricting the attributive function to the singular noun, and such forms as the following ought also to be allowed:

carpenters union
taxpayers meeting
consumers group
environmentalists association

"As in so many other matters of style, consistency is to be encouraged. Care should be taken, however, to guard against an ambiguous use of an attributive noun..."

Like the NYPLWG, the CMS is saying that omitting the apostrophe is perfectly fine--but what the CMS does better is state WHY, actually and grammatically, it is perfectly correct and acceptable usage (i.e. the attributive noun thing).

Anonymous said...

The Chicago Manual of Style was originally developed for the University of Chicago Press. A style guide, while it may acknowledge that there is more than one correct way, states this is how WE want OUR writers to do it (for the sake of consistency). Many publishers have found it expedient to follow Chicago rather than to develop their own guide; or they have a smaller guide that lists only cases where they deviate from Chicago.
On the other hand, the NYPL guide was not developed for a particular publisher. It was intended for general use by writers and translators who simply want to know what is commonly acceptable when the publisher or client does not specify a style (remember, style is a matter of preference, not of right and wrong). On many questions, NYPL acknowledges more than one "correct" style, and the ATA certification graders use it for that very reason.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on October 1, 2008 at 5:57 PM said...

Thanks for everyone's comments! We are compiling the blog/e-mail/offline answers and Dagy will share them with the association of Austrian translators (see how we got around using the apostrophe here?) during the next board meeting. We really appreciate your thoughtful input.

Join the conversation! Commenting is a great way to become part of the translation and interpretation community. Your comments don’t have to be overly academic to get published. We usually publish all comments that aren't spam, self-promotional or offensive to others. Agreeing or not agreeing with the issue at hand and stating why is a good way to start. Social media is all about interaction, so don’t limit yourself to reading and start commenting! We very much look forward to your comments and insight. Let's learn from each other and continue these important conversations.

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