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I am learning Breton (le breton) and capitalization is clearly different in French (le français) and English (l'anglais).

I wanted to buy a book so I went to https://www.pourlesnuls.fr/. There I could buy

L'Histoie de la guerre pour les nuls

Les Grandes Théories économiques pour les nuls

La Physique quantique pour les nuls

All the capitalization seemed to agree with the standard rules for French titles as I understand them:

the first noun is capitalized

any preceding adjective is capitalized

everything else follows standard French rules

so why are languages not capitalized when they are the first noun of the title?

Le français sans faute pour les nuls

L'anglais pour les nuls

Le breton pour les nuls

  • 2
    I search the exact rule on the internet, and you're almost right. The first noun and preceding adjectives are capitalized only if the the first word is the article of the said word. In this case, "le français" is apparently an exception, because "Français" capitalized is the name of the nationality, so it is not capitalized in order to not mix up. – Lyzvaleska Mar 3 at 20:10
  • Thank you, @Lyzvaleska, I was nearly right. But that still suggests that it should be Le Breton! – David Robinson Mar 3 at 20:15
2

The capitalization of the first noun is not mandatory. It is capitalized when using the traditional conventions but publishers can choose to use simplified ones where only the first word is required to be capitalized (here Le).

Note that this non capitalization can be found elsewhere, for example in this book:

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Sometimes the rules are broken and fully lowercase titles are used:

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One reason the lowercase variant might has been selected in the Pour les nuls collection is that it removes a possible ambiguity, le Français sans faute pour les nuls can be understood by a careless reader as The Frenchman without misconduct for dummies.

Same with The Englishman for dummies

  • Your second point seems really sensible and plausible. But as for the first point: even if there are two conventions, it is strange that one publisher uses different conventions for different books. Incidentally, style guides usually say there is one rule for English titles, one for French titles, and no special rules for other languages, which is, you say, the new rule for French. This is not quite true, as minority languages in French-speaking countries (e.g. Breton) usually use French rules and minority languages in English-speaking countries (e.g. Welsh, Gaelic) usually use English rules. – David Robinson Mar 3 at 20:30
  • As you wrote, it is a convention, not a rule. Not following a convention is not the same as breaking a rule. All the books use lowercase for language names so they decided to be consistent. I don't get what you mean with minority languages. The book title is in French, not Brezhoneg, and regional languages are free to use the conventions and rules they like. – jlliagre Mar 3 at 21:04
  • My point, @jlliagre, was simply that style guides are usually wrong because they leave out minority languages when they say that French and English are the only languages that have special rules for titles. – David Robinson Mar 3 at 21:11
  • Ah, Okay. I misunderstood that part then. There are likely capitalization conventions in all languages, or at least those using alphabets with a distinction between uppercase and lowercase letters. Latin had not that issue ;-) – jlliagre Mar 3 at 21:20

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