Translating literary quotes
Thread poster: Jeffress
Local time: 06:01
Jan 8, 2014

Do I need to use the best (most recent) translation (French to English) of a text or can I translate the quote myself?

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The Misha
Local time: 00:01
Russian to English
+ ...
It all depends Jan 8, 2014

on what you are translating, for what purpose, and who for. No one knows that better than you. If this is for a customer, why don't you start by asking them?

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Texte Style
Local time: 06:01
French to English
what is official? Jan 8, 2014

If you have a quote from a work which has already been translated and you can get hold of it, you should use that translation, others may already know of it.

If you can't get hold of it, then you should tell the client.

Why would you want to translate it yourself? Is there a mistake? Again you should tell the client, perhaps include a translator's note.

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gmazza  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 00:01
Member (2011)
Italian to English
+ ...
Best to look for translation Jan 9, 2014

Hi Jeffress,

I think it depends on the text. If it is a quote from an established, well-known work, then by all means do use the exact same phrasing. In general, I would always try to look for the official translation and quote it from there. If the work you are quoting from is quite obscure and the translation doesn't exist or is very hard to find, then you can attempt at translating it yourself.

I hope this helps!


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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:01
Chinese to English
Potential for contradiction Jan 10, 2014

Like Misha says, it all depends on the point of the translation.

One issue I've had is that I'll find a writer wants to make a particular point with a quote, but the published translation doesn't support that reading (perhaps more common in poetry and philosophy than prose, but could happen anywhere). Then you pretty much have to retranslate, perhaps putting in a footnote. If it's an academic/critical piece, footnotes are more acceptable, obviously.

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Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:01
English to Polish
+ ...
... Jan 26, 2014

Published translations generally result from a publisher who has the copyrights or a licence from the author getting in touch with a chosen translator and all. Hence, they have some shade of officiality or rightfulness to them, which one probably should respect.

On the other hand, it's a pain when you have to translate an article into the language from which the author had translated when quoting. If it were any other language... but you can't really back-translate a quotation into its original language.

There is one solution, though, if you're close enough with the client to propose something like this: drop the direct quotation, use reported speech. You don't need to preserve the exact wording in reported speech.

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Romeo Mlinar  Identity Verified
Local time: 05:01
Member (2009)
English to Serbian
+ ...
"Official" translation Jan 27, 2014

The practice is to use the official translation of some work. Or, ask the people familiar with the area which translation is taken as "canonical" (if several translations exist).

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Translating literary quotes

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