Dashes in German Titles

Sooner or later academic writers will likely encounter a German book or article title with a dash of some sort within it, which raises the question: what is the proper way to format the title in an English-language work citing that book or article? This post illustrates the issue and suggests a preliminary answer.

Examples

In 2017 Walter Dietrich edited a volume for Kohlhammer Verlag. According to the book page on Kohlhammer’s website (see here), the book is titled Die Welt der Hebräischen Bibel: Umfeld – Inhalte – Grundthemen. WorldCat, the OCLC-maintained online library catalog, agrees with the use of hyphens, each preceded and followed by a space, between the three words of the subtitle (see here). The Library of Congress, however, replaces the hyphens with commas (see here).

To complicate matters further, a close look at the book cover implies that the dashes are not hyphens but rather en dashes (see here). Finally, in light of our experience with other similar titles, we would not be surprised to see the dashes replaced in English-language contexts with em dashes. In short, we can imagine seeing the title formatted in a variety of ways when the work is cited in English-language scholarship:

  1. Die Welt der Hebräischen Bibel: Umfeld – Inhalte – Grundthemen
  2. Die Welt der Hebräischen Bibel: Umfeld – Inhalte – Grundthemen
  3. Die Welt der Hebräischen Bibel: Umfeld, Inhalte, Grundthemen
  4. Die Welt der Hebräischen Bibel: Umfeld–Inhalte–Grundthemen
  5. Die Welt der Hebräischen Bibel: Umfeld—Inhalte—Grundthemen

Preliminary Answer

Although we are not prepared to offer a final answer as to which of these is most correct (we invite scholars and especially publishers from a German-language context to weigh in on the matter), our preliminary advice is to follow the format of number 2 above: space + en dash + space.

We prefer this option because it adheres most closely to the standard German use and formatting of en dashes. Where English prose often uses an em dash when one would expect a comma (see CMS 6.85), German prefers an en dash. Further, whereas in English the em dash is not preceded or followed by a space but is set tight against the preceding and following words, the German en dash is characteristically formatted with a space before and a space after.

Therefore, until we are informed and convinced otherwise, we recommend that writers adhere to standard German usage and format their citations of German-language titles that use dashes between words as shown in number 2 above, with an en dash preceded and followed by a space. If this recommendation should change, we will alert blog readers in a subsequent post.

 

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