Quoted text in court papers - translate or not?
Thread poster: Inge Luus

Inge Luus  Identity Verified
South Africa
Local time: 00:16
Member (2008)
German to English
+ ...
Nov 21, 2012

I have noticed that, in the source documentation I get, quoted text in court papers (judgements, complaints, replies, etc) is at times left in a foreign language and not translated. For instance, when a previous submission is quoted (text of the complaint in German and some quoted text in English (from some other submission or document)). In other words, a lawyer drafting a document is mindful of reproducing a quotation in the original language. This got me thinking about whether we should be translating these quotes as quotes or whether we should be reproducing the original quoted text in the original language and providing a translation below it (but not in quotation marks, rather in square brackets] or pointing out that the quote is a translation of a quote in another language.

My reasoning is that, as translators, a) we don't have the original document from where the quoted text comes and that we may make an error in translating due to a lack of context and b) if we translate the quote and in our translation we put the translation of that quote in quotation marks as well, we are in fact making it look like we are quoting from a text that exists, but that does not in fact exist (at least not in the language we are translating into). In my mind this is the same as translating the title of a book in a bibliography (making it impossible for someone to go and find the actual book).

To circumvent this problem I once upon a time reproduced the German quotations in the court papers and added an English version below it. Later, it was said that the German courts (who needed the translation and work on a target document word count it seems) construed this as a ploy to get more pay for the translation as it inflated the word count. I, however, feel that it is inaccurate to reproduce a quotation in another language and not point this out somehow. (e.g. if someone wanted to know what the foreign language title of a book meant, one could always write "broadly translated as" in front of a translation for a book title. In any case, some book titles are tricky and an in-depth understanding of the subject matter of the book is needed to translate it properly).

I would love to hear what other translators think (maybe I'm splitting hairs?) and what they do in such situations.


Martín Ariano  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:16
English to Spanish
Quoted text in court papers Nov 21, 2012

Hi Inge:
I think you’re raising a valid point. As you say, if you don’t have the whole context, you’re likely to make a mistake. The answer to this problem will depend on the text, there is no all-encompassing solution, but rather a case-by-case approach. What would happen if the quoted text was written in a language you don’t speak? You wouldn’t be able to translate it then. However, if the quotation is relevant to the contents of the document you’re translating and if you feel you have enough context to make an educated guess and translate it properly, I think I would go by the option of leaving the original text in quotes and add immediately after between square brackets your translation and maybe even insert a translator’s note indicating what that translated bit corresponds to. It is always important to keep the original reference in case of intertextuality. It just a thought.




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Quoted text in court papers - translate or not?

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