Translating titles of books, films etc.: preserving source text grammar
Thread poster: decoline

Local time: 19:29
Dec 8, 2013

Hello. I am aware that there are several posts about whether or not one should translate book and film (etc.) titles into the target language, with the majority verdict being no. However, this being said, what about preserving or translating the source text's grammar? e.g.:

"Cours camarade ! Le vieux monde est derrière toi". With exclamation marks, question marks, colons and so forth, there is a space in French which looks rather disruptive to the English eye. I am inclined to format this in the target language rather than leaving it, but then again it is also changing the original. If someone looked up the original, it would look as above and not anglicised.

This question also arises with quotation marks, or guillemets. Ought these to be translated into UK quotation marks (around the French title), or is this again rather strange? e.g.:

PELLOUTIER, Fernand, « L’art et la révolte » or
PELLOUTIER, Fernand, "Art and Revolt",


David Wright  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:29
German to English
+ ...
A few points Dec 8, 2013

I've just done a job where I had the instruction to translate book titles as well (to enable the visitors to the exhibition to understand a bit more.)

Firstly, I checked whether the work didn't already have an English translation and title.

If not, it got translated pretty much word for word if that was possible, but using British punctuation (i.e. I would have left out the space before the exclamation mark and used "..." format.

It really depends on what your client wants and what the purpose of the translation is. I always put titles in "..." if they're in or ,, ...'' format and get rid of any superfluous spaces even if I don't translate the title.

None of my customers have ever objected to this approach (which is my criterion for what is right or wrong!)


Frank Foley  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:29
French to English
+ ...
Quite simple Dec 8, 2013

If it's French text, punctuate it as French. If it's English, use English punctuation. In your textual quote, you've used a mixture of French spacing for the ! and English spacing for the " ".

Also, I would never ever use chevrons to quote in English: would anyone?

As for titles, if in doubt, translate and put the original in brackets. Personally, I would always translate a title into the target language unless the book was extremely well-known. "Le Grand Meaulnes", for example, was kept "as is" for the English Penguin translation, although I believe the Americans used "The Lost Domain"...

Talking of title translations, one of the worst I ever saw was PK Dick's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep", translated into French as "Robot Blues": a lyrical, evocative, philosophical title translated from English into, er, well, crap English, actually.


Catherine Howard
United States
Local time: 13:29
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Are these titles for a list of references? Dec 20, 2013

As David said, it all depends on the purpose of the text. From the example you give, it looks as though your question refers to citation style for footnotes or the "References" section of a text. If so, the usual practice is to keep the title in the original language but to use English quotation marks and spacing for the sake of consistency. I usually add a translation of the title in brackets, since I assume readers of the target text will have no idea what the source title meant, but that is optional. Of course, if the work being cited has already been translated, you should use that translation -- and if it's a book, don't forget to add the translator's nameicon_smile.gif

If this is an academic text, you should be aware that different fields of study follow one of several different citation styles, such as Modern Languages Association, Chicago Manual of Style, American Psychological Association, etc. In this case, you need to ask the client which style they need to follow.


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Translating titles of books, films etc.: preserving source text grammar

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