Translating translated quotations: English->French->English
Thread poster: pbrown

pbrown
United States
Local time: 01:31
Member (2017)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Nov 20, 2017

I have a (French->English) project which includes a lot quotations (many different sources) that had been translated from English into French. Most of them are very famous people and so it has been easy enough to find the original quotes. I could lose a lot of time looking for rest of them, though. I am trying, in the contract, to get the publisher to take responsibility for these original quotations but his response is only that he will be happy to accept my version of the translations back into English, which make me very uncomfortable. I definitely don't want to be blamed for misquoting someone. How is this typically handled? I am somewhat experienced in literary translation, but this is my first commercial job. Thank you!

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Catherine Howard
United States
Local time: 01:31
Portuguese to English
+ ...
is this a book publisher? Nov 21, 2017

Usually digging up the original quotes in the original language are the responsibility of the translator--but it should always be addressed in the contract. It's a sad fact that searching for these quotes in the original can be time-consuming, sometimes extremely so. That's why you need to prepare for such a possibility before signing a contract or even when you look over the manuscript the first time. One possible solution I've used is including a clause in the contract that says I will charge an hourly rate for research tasks like this.

You speak of a publisher: is it an established publishing house or is this a self-publishing venture? A reputable publisher will want the original quotes whenever possible. I've simply never worked with a publisher who said I could use my own back translations.

I would contact someone who knows something about copyright law; I don't know if there's a legal risk in misquoting someone through a back translation.

As an alternative, will the publisher agree to your changing direct quotes into indirect ones? As long as you still cite the source of the indirect quote, you'll be on firm ground this way. No one would question your translation of an indirect quote in the same way that they might if you misquoted the source through a back translation. This would be the ideal solution out of all the possibilities.

Another idea: if it turns out that the publisher insists on the direct quotations AND it turns out it is safe in legal terms to back translate direct quotations, put a proviso in a "Translator's Note" at the beginning of the text explaining how you dealt with these quotations. This is more important for your sake as a literary translator than for the publisher. However, you said that you were able to find some of the original quotations easily, in other words, the English quotations in the text will be a mix of original quotes and back translations. You might have to indicate the difference in some way for each quotation, such as adding a parenthetical note after them like (original quote) versus (our translation) or something along those lines.

If it turns out you DO have to chase down the original direct quotations for legal or reputational reasons, then (a) try and see if the publisher will be understanding and agree to pay you an hourly rate for the research; (b) beef up your research skills, especially with internet resources (there are a few very useful webinars here in Proz about how to do better internet searches); (c) or hire someone to do the research for you while you concentrate on the translation. But if you're not getting paid enough to do the last option and you can't renegotiate payment for research, then you may just have to chalk this up to experience. You'll know next time what to look for when asked to translate something similar and you'll write a contract that covers such issues.

Good luck and let us know what you worked out.


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neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 07:31
Spanish to English
+ ...
Just do it Nov 21, 2017

According to the saying, "the customer is always right" - and yours has told you that they will be happy with however you choose to render it, so my advice is to stop worrying and get on with the job. If you have confidence in your abilities as a translator, there should be no problem.

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Lindsay Spratt  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 07:31
Member (2011)
Portuguese to English
+ ...
agree with neilmac Nov 21, 2017

I've been in the same position working from Spanish to English and came across lots of quotes attributed to English speakers that I couldn't even track down in the original. Quite frustrating! But if you have raised the concern with the client and they've confirmed they'll accept your translation, then I would just do as asked. But I understand your discomfort, I felt the same.

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Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 07:31
Member (Apr 2018)
French to English
translator's note Nov 21, 2017

You could always add a note to specify whether it is the original quote or not.
Is your contact the author of the text? Because the actual author presumably knows where they got their quotes from and could perhaps help you trace or even supply you with the originals.


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Michael Wetzel  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 07:31
German to English
How is this typically handled? Nov 21, 2017

If this is a non-fiction book project, you really can't go around misquoting people. I would try very hard to make my client understand and accept that. If it's fiction or a much more informal context, then it may not be a big deal and I might be more prepared to defer to my partner's (possibly misguided) judgement.

Your description makes it sound like you are being paid full price for the quotations, so I would invest a significant amount of time in finding anything that can be found with reasonable effort. Spurious quotations are not rare and some comments, etc. may only ever have been published in translated form (= original statement in English, but only ever published in French). Some quotations also simply cannot be found without investing a clearly disproportionate amount of time.

Converting quotations into indirect speech can also be a simple and productive solution in some cases.

In situations like this, I try to do everything I can and I keep my client well-informed regarding what I have been unable to do. On the other hand, truly exceptional cases call for exceptional solutions, so it's hard to give a general answer.


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pbrown
United States
Local time: 01:31
Member (2017)
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Translating translated quotations: English->French->English Nov 21, 2017

Thank you all very much for your suggestions. They are very helpful.

Peter


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pbrown
United States
Local time: 01:31
Member (2017)
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Translating translated quotations: English->French->English Nov 21, 2017

At this point, my plan is to:

1) make an inventory of all the quotations for which I have not found the original in English;
2) send this inventory to the author and ask him to either provide the original English quote or let me know what his source was for the quote in French;
3) make a reasonable effort to chase down the quotations in English, based on what I learn about the French source;
4) convert whatever remains to indirect speech.

Thank you!

Peter


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Michael Wetzel  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 07:31
German to English
Apologies and sounds like a good strategy Nov 22, 2017

I just wanted to apologize for repeating what other people had already said before me: I could only see neilmac and Lindsay's comments when I made mine. Normally, I would edit my original comment to add this apology as a postscript, but that seems to often condemn comments to Limbo for a very long time or even forever. ProZ works in mysterious ways.

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pbrown
United States
Local time: 01:31
Member (2017)
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Translating translated quotations: English->French->English Nov 22, 2017

To be honest, I am overwhelmed by the generosity of everyone on this thread. I just joined ProZ a few days ago. What a great community!

Anyway, yes this is a self-publishing venture. The author is a physicist and expert in innovation who has not only written a series of books about innovation but established his only publishing house for the sake of doing so. Like me, though, he is learning the ropes. I hope to do more books with him. If I do, thanks to all of you, I'll have a much better idea as to how to write the contract.

I've decided to bite the bullet and do the work of finding the originals; I have made good progress. There are a few I might not be able to find. In those cases, I'll use indirect quotes.

Thanks again for the invaluable guidance.

Peter


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Kevin Fulton  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 01:31
German to English
Large number of quotation sites Nov 23, 2017

There are a number of "famous quotations" sites on the Internet, especially for well-known authors, scientists, politicians, etc. Some are even devoted to single topics or persons.

Here are a few:
http://www.famous-quotations.com/
http://www.quotationspage.com/
http://en.proverbia.net/


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