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Poll: How often do you use footnotes in your translations?
Thread poster: ProZ.com Staff
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Local time: 04:49
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Feb 5, 2008

This forum topic is for the discussion of the poll question "How often do you use footnotes in your translations?".

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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:49
English to Spanish
+ ...
Translator's Notes Feb 5, 2008

I do not actually use footnotes as such, but translator's notes that I put all together on a separate page. This normally happens with paper legal documents I am translating and need to explain a certain term, abbreviation or acronym, etc.

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Diana Arbiser  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:49
English to Spanish
+ ...
Brackets, not footnotes Feb 5, 2008

I use brackets, every once in a while, to clarify something, but it's very rare.

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lillkakan
Local time: 13:49
English to Swedish
Always notes, never footnotes Feb 5, 2008

I basically never translate material where adding footnotes to a document is appropriate. I do however more often than not enclose a separate document with comments and explanations regarding things like choice of a certain term, pointing out source mistakes/spelling errors or anything else that I have come across that might affect the document, translation or source regardless.

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John Cutler  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 13:49
Spanish to English
+ ...
"Sidenotes" - Insert comments Feb 5, 2008

I tend to judiciously use the “insert comment” feature of MS Word. I like the way the comment box is linked directly to the text you want to discuss. Because the comment appears on the side of the text, it’s easier than going up and down the page following the little footnote type numbers. I suppose inserting a comment is really just a variation of the footnote - more like a “sidenote” - but personally I couldn’t work without them.

I’ve had many clients thank me for inserting comments and giving them a chance to see my point of view or express a doubt I have. It’s a way of opening a channel of communication with the agency or end client.

Typical comments I insert into the text, among others, are:

“The original is very vague here”

“Is this correct?” (When I think the original contains an error.)

“An alternative translation would be…”

Because the comments can be modified (the client can add their own comment to mine), it’s like being able to have a two-way conversation about the text in question. They also serve as sort of a warning: if there’s an agency involved, they explain any possible problems that arose in the text. They can also alert the original text author that the GIGO principle is always at work!


Some clients, of course, are happy to see the comments but have written me back frantically asking how to eliminate them from the final text! So, now I explain it to them the first time I work for them and many grow to appreciate the chance to see how the source text was treated. The comments remove some of the anonymity involved in translating and lend added value to the translation.


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Wil Hardman  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:49
Spanish to English
+ ...
Last Resort Feb 5, 2008

I've always thought of footnotes as a last resort as they make the translator visible- In my opinion a good translation is where you can't tell if it is a translation or not and footnotes leave the reader in no doubt that the text is a translation.

So far I have never had the need to use them and prefer brackets (as Diana said) but I suppose a footnote might be preferable to this in certain contexts. (e.g. Literary)


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:49
English to Spanish
+ ...
Good point, Will Feb 5, 2008

You have a good point, but of course it also depends on the type of material you are translating. When it is a legal document, for instance, it is obvious from the start that it is a translation, and moreover, even when accurately translated, it will contain numerous items and concepts that can be totally unfamiliar to the reader.

With documents of other kinds it may not be appropriate to use notes. And the best case of all would be that the translation would be so well done, it would look like an original.


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Charlie Bavington  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:49
French to English
Horses for courses, I suppose Feb 5, 2008

Personally, unless otherwise instructed, I treat my translation as if it were the final deliverable.
I always hope that someone, somewhere, will review it and get back to me if need be, but one can never be sure.
And, as Wil said, I prefer it not to be TOO obvious that the document is a translation

John Cutler wrote:

Typical comments I insert into the text, among others, are:

“The original is very vague here”

“Is this correct?” (When I think the original contains an error.)

“An alternative translation would be…”


So I would deal with stuff like that outside of the document itself. And if it's vague... well, I can do vague.
VIVO, you might say (vague in, vague out) !

But each to their own, I guess


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Pundora  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 18:19
English to Hindi
+ ...
Rarely Feb 5, 2008

Generally, I hardly find any need to add footnotes. Mostly I use brackets if I consider it necessary. I need to use footnotes mostly when source language is my native language, though I do not translate much in this direction. Mostly, certificates or when the stuff is of very simple nature and a high quality or creativity is not much important. In certificates, like birth certificates, marriage certificates, death certificates, etc, units of local self-governments, designations of officials, etc. are in Hindi, so I put them in italics and add a footnote to explain what they mean.

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John Cutler  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 13:49
Spanish to English
+ ...
Question of history Feb 5, 2008

Charlie Bavington wrote:

So I would deal with stuff like that outside of the document itself. And if it's vague... well, I can do vague.
VIVO, you might say (vague in, vague out) !

But each to their own, I guess


Thanks for the chuckle Charlie. The comment about being vague is actually one of the more diplomatic ways of stating it. My favourite comment I insert is really much more to the point: “The original doesn’t make any sense”.

These comments obviously aren’t footnotes in the classical sense of a translator trying to explain some difficult term or give supplementary information, etc at the bottom of the text. They’re more a form of dialogue with the writer or PM in a pre-publishing phase.

It’s true that all the possibilities mentioned so far depend on the translator’s personal context, style and history.

I was “born” as a translator in an in-house situation. From the beginning, I got used to asking the source text writers (workmates) for information and commenting on their work. I use that style in all my work now. It’s a system that tends to work best in a situation like mine (I have mostly direct clients who are happy to receive comments about their text before it’s published, which of course means that there’s no need for footnotes in the final text).

I definitely agree with those who say that the translator should be “invisible” in the end text in the sense that the final text should read so smoothly and well that it appears to have been written in the target language.


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Marie-Hélène Hayles  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:49
Italian to English
+ ...
Never Feb 5, 2008

Although I do occasionally use comments, like John. A recent example was where a disease was reported in a letter sent to the end client as idiomatica, where I was in no doubt whatsoever that it should have been idiopatica.

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Sandra Petch
Local time: 13:49
French to English
+ ...
Footnotes no, comments yes, in the accompanying e-mail Feb 5, 2008

John Cutler wrote:

Typical comments I insert into the text, among others, are:

“The original is very vague here”

“Is this correct?” (When I think the original contains an error.)

“An alternative translation would be…”





I sometimes make similar remarks but in the e-mail when sending the translation. Adjustments can then be made once the client has had time to consider them. A lot of the time these remarks are in fact corrections to what I am certain are errors in the source text!


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B D Finch  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 13:49
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
Comments Feb 5, 2008

John Cutler wrote:

I tend to judiciously use the “insert comment” feature of MS Word. I


I like the comments feature too. Whether the client sees the comments at the side of the text or as "footnotes" depends, however, on how they have their system set up. I always ask the client first whether they would like me to use the comments feature. Generally they do. It is easy for the client to delete the comments completely once they have looked at them, by using "reject all" and then re-saving the document.


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Steven Capsuto  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 07:49
Spanish to English
+ ...
On occasions Feb 5, 2008

For certain types of projects, I occasionally put a Translator's Note (or Back-translator's Note) at the bottom of the page.

Most often, I use it to point out probable source-text errata that affect the meaning. For instance, I translated some corporate financial documents that had been bounced back and forth between English and Spanish several times before I ever saw them. As a result, the "final" Spanish narrative text kept confusing billions (miles de millones) with trillions (billones). I translated the text as written, and added notes along the lines of:

TRANSLATOR'S NOTE: "13 trillion euros" appears to be an erratum for "13 billion euros."

I also explained the issue in the cover e-mail, and directed the client's attention to the footnotes.

I sometimes also use notes to explain cultural references if the type of document does not lend itself to glossing the concept in the body of the text.


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Miguel Miranda  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 12:49
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Often Feb 5, 2008

Where else could we learn the meaning of such things like Aufklarung and Tammany Hall affair, to name but a few?

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