How to make a book with many quotations readable in translation
Thread poster: 2dwight

United States
Portuguese to English
Jan 20, 2017

For simplicity, please assume a situation that is analogous but not exactly true: that I am a graduate student in history who has been fortunate enough to have published an article in a respected journal. I have a subject area for my next article and I have concluded that as part of my research I need to translate a book. My professor is enthusiastic and encouraging about both my research and the translation. He thinks that both the research and the translation will merit publication. Especially after reading a lot of posts on this site, I will be indeed, pleasantly surprised if the translation ever gets published, but I still think I need to do it.

However, against the possibility that it might find a publisher I have a question. The book is by a respected (deceased) 20th Century historian and examines an area of late 16th Century history. Most documentary sources for this particular area were burned in the first half of the 17th Century. However, in the 20th Century an important source was rediscovered. This historian makes use of this source to closely examine and refute or verify histories written by 17th Century historians.

Now, against the possibility of publication, and considering factors such as the nature the potential audience, the frequency (or density) of the use of quotations, the fact that the language has changed a bit since the 16th and 17th centuries, and how readable the translation must be; what I think I want to do is paraphrase all (or most) of these quotations in the main body (saying, Smith says …) and then put the quotation in the footnote. This should make the text readable to monolingual English readers, while allowing the bilingual and professional historian reader to go to the footnote to see the original author’s words in all the glory of their (usually) 17th Century usage and spelling.

Are there any comments anyone would be generous enough to make about the genius, banality, or idiocy of this approach?


Tina Vonhof
Local time: 01:05
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Footnotes? Jan 22, 2017

With regard to your question about how to reference your source, I agree with your idea of using footnotes but if there will be a lot of footnotes that are going to clutter up the bottom of the page, it may be better to use end notes after each chapter. I would use a few direct quotations from the source, maybe one or two in each chapter, that are really interesting, eye opening, or particularly well said.

But I have serious reservations about your idea of translating this book while at the same time working on your degree. Here are some things to consider:

1. Don't take translating a book lightly, it may take you at least a year or more of full-time work. You will need to go through several revisions, checking the references, making up the index, etc. Then you will be working with the publisher's editor, who may want you to make changes and more changes, and then there is the correction of the galley proofs, etc. The entire process can potentially take as long as two years. Would you really want to add an extra two years onto the time it will take you to finish your degree? I would suggest that you finish your degree first and then decide if you want to translate the book. If you need parts of the book translated for inclusion in your thesis, then translate only what you need.
2. If and when it comes time to translate the book, write a book proposal with a few examples of translated pages. There is lots of material on the internet about how to write a good book proposal. Try to get a grant for writing the book and/or find a publisher before you begin.
3. It will be difficult to find a publisher and the book may never get published due to the very limited audience.
4. Instead, you might consider publishing a number of articles that follow from you thesis in peer-reviewed journals. It will not make any money but it may get you recognition, which ultimately could also turn out to benefit you.

[Edited at 2017-01-22 17:28 GMT]


Michael Wetzel  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:05
German to English
Why paraphrase? Jan 23, 2017

Why not just translate the text as is, including the quotations? Why paraphrase?

It would be commendable if you can get the publisher to include the untranslated original texts included in whatever way makes the most sense in terms of design and practicality (footnotes, endnotes, printed together in main text). This material is stupidly and problematically omitted in a lot of English-language books.


United States
Portuguese to English
So what is a quote? Jan 23, 2017

Michael Wetzel wrote:

Why not just translate the text as is....Why paraphrase?

1. If I translate a quotation from Portuguese to English, it really isn't what the person said. It is an approximation of what the Portuguese speaker said put into English.
2. If I translated Camões with any sense of period authenticity, I would expect it to sound like Shakespeare. And maybe I would think it a quote.
3. If I were to translate Camões into 20th Century English what 20th Century poet would I make him sound like? Robert Frost? e. .e. cummings? Erica Jon&? (Sorry about the ampersand, I couldn't resist).
4. When does something quoted from another language become not a translation but a corruption? That's why I consider paraphrase.


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