Dealing with quotes
Thread poster: Damian Harrison

Damian Harrison
Local time: 22:30
German to English
Jun 5, 2007

I am currently wading my way through a batch of academic texts, many of which include quotes from other works. In some cases I have managed to find the original English versions (Paul Feyerabend) or translations (Barthes) on the net, but not always. Obviously that can be quite time-consuming.

How do other translators deal with this?

Should I require my clients to provide the research or reference material for this?


Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:30
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Does this do it for you? Jun 5, 2007

Damian Harrison wrote:
I am currently wading my way through a batch of academic texts, many of which include quotes from other works.


Jim Tucker (X)  Identity Verified
United States
Hungarian to English
+ ...
many possible scenarios Jun 5, 2007

If these are really hardball academic texts, you can leave all quotes in major European languages in the original (French, German, and English for sure; Italian is a borderline case though accepted in my field of Classical Philology).

Otherwise, if you can't find a citation translated into English, you can just translate it yourself. (It's probably more interesting than the rest of your text anyway! Not quoted for nothing.)

The only real problem is when you have a translation of a text from English - then you absolutely need to get the English, and a research library is the answer. Maybe you could wangle some department somewhere to get students to do a search for you.


Tim Drayton  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:30
Turkish to English
+ ...
I know the problem Jun 5, 2007

This is a problem which I have encountered, and I agree that it is a very difficult area, especially if your translation is going to be published.
I recently translated an academic book containing many quotes, and am currently dealing with an academic article which also uses a lot of quotations. A number of issues arise in dealing with these quotes. In my case I was translating from Turkish into English, and a lot of quotes were originally in English and were either translated into Turkish by the author or taken from published Turkish translations. Clearly, you cannot simply back translate these in the hope of re-inventing the original - the quotation has to be found in the original English text and reproduced verbatim. Then there were quotes which were translated into Turkish from languages other than English. The question arises as to whether there exists a reliable English translation of the work in question, in which case it might be better to quote from this. Otherwise, in an ideal world each of these would be translated by a professional translator working from the original text and specialising in that pair. In the real world, this is hardly practical. Finally, there were quotes from academic works that were originally written in Turkish. What if there exist published translations of some of these? Should these be used in preference to my own translation, even if I don't think they are very good?
There are no obvious answers to all of these questions and I think they are points that need to be thrashed out with the author (or person commissioning the translation) at the time you accept the work. The understanding I have reached with the authors whose work I have translated is that if the original quote is in English I leave it and it is their job to find the original, and if the original quote is in any other language I translate it. It is then up to them to track down published translations, if they exist, and replace my version with the received translation, should they so desire.
Good luck.


Alan R King
Local time: 22:30
Basque to English
+ ...
I have the same problem Jun 5, 2007

Sounds like Jim Tucker is talking about a different problem from the one I thought Damian was asking about...

I have also faced this same kind of problem at times. I can't say I'm very sure what the best answer is - it probably depends on the situation. It can also get more complicated when there are more languages involved.

For instance: I think it's quite wrong and unprofessional for a quote from an English writer (for example) in a translation from French into English not to repeat the original words by the English writer but give a re-translation into English of a French translation provided by the customer. Yet I have had to spend unpaid time explaining to such a customer why that is a problem until they finally saw the point. I asked them to provide the original quotes if they could but in most cases they couldn't, so I had to do the research. If you can find it quickly fine, but what if not? Do you spend still more unpaid time doing whatever it takes to get hold of the original? Do you ask the customer to pay you more? Or do you just translate what you were given back into English?

Some customers, if pressed here, will just tell you to "do whatever you like" (gee, thanks) or else to translate it and not worry about it (compromising your professionality). How important is it? In principle, I think it's very important. In practice, there may be cases where it's too much trouble or where you simply can't afford to put so much of your own time into trying to "do the right thing" professionally. Yes, I HAVE been in that position too.


United Kingdom
Local time: 21:30
English to German
+ ...
What I do Jun 5, 2007

If there is a quote, originally written in my target language, translated into the the source language and I can't find the original I use reported speech: "He/She/The author said that ..." or "According to ..."


Damian Harrison
Local time: 22:30
German to English
Two examples: Jun 5, 2007

Ok, here are two examples of problems I have faced:

1- Citation of passages from a German edition of a book by Paul Feyerabend (English original). In this case I could access the English original through a local university library. Obviously this is only an option if you are living in a big city.

2 - Quotes from an UNNAMED essay by Roland Barthes - no references, no page numbers ... no hay nada!
Here I managed to find the quote by googling a three word combination from the quote + "Roland Barthes".

Given that all that kind of stuff is time-consuming, sometimes costly and not always an option, I´d be glad to hear from anyone else how they deal with these problems and what agreements are made with clients regarding these sticky matters... After the Barthes-problem I have decided that I will have to talk to my client about the details of future texts...


Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 14:30
English to Spanish
+ ...
Good Thinking Jun 5, 2007

"I have decided that I will have to talk to my client about the details of future texts."

That´s good thinking, all right!

[Editado a las 2007-06-05 17:51]


Greg Hunt  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:30
Spanish to English
+ ...
The agency doesn't want to know Jan 10, 2011

I encountered this problem myself over the weekend and so I thought I'd pick up on this old thread.

I've got a stable relationship with a particular agency, who in turn have a close relationship with an organization who publish texts about art. This provides me with a fair amount of regular work.

In the articles I've been translating recently, there've been quite a lot of quotes from poets and philosophers, with the quotes being Spanish translations of the English, German and French originals. Very often, by means of the wonders of the internet, I'm able to track down the original, or in the case of French or German writers, find an English translation of it, which I give a reference to. It's usually the case that the article writers use famous quotes or excerpts from poems which are relatively well known.

Unsurprisingly, however, there's the odd time where this isn't the case. For example, this quote from James Hillman:

Si hemos desatendido la belleza y la respuesta estética a la manifestación de las cosas, sin duda hemos tenido, a partir de Nietzsche, un ojo patologizante, dedicado a escrutar incesantemente lo deforme, lo enfermo y horrible.

Now, I had a go at translating this and came up with this:

If we have disregarded beauty and the aesthetic response to the manifestation of things, we have certainly, from Nietzsche onwards, had a pathologizing eye, devoted to incessantly scrutinising the deformed, the infirm and the horrible.

As it happens, I persevered with my search for this quote and found it:

If we have neglected beauty and the aesthetic response to the manifestation of things, we have, ever since Nietzsche, surely had a pathologizing eye, minutely scrutinising the deformed, diseased and horrid.

Now, I don't think my translation's too bad, even if I do say so myself, but there are clear differences with the original and I am well aware that the original quote is what is needed. The quality of any such translation will obviously be conditioned by the standard of the first one anyway.

Unfortunately, there is an extended quote in the text I have at the moment from the historian Simon Schama (from his book Landscape and Memory, I think - there's no footnote) which has defeated my best efforts to find it over the internet. There's no time and no money to order the book and the local university library doesn't have it.

The thing is, when this problem has arisen on previous occasions, I've tried to get the agency to make the client aware of this problem, either to get the client to sort it out themselves, or to give me the resources, or even just the time, to try and find the original quote. But often the end-client doesn't want to know (the contact is never the person who wrote the article) or the agency decides not to pass on my concerns. I think I'm viewed as very professional but also as un poco pesado - a bit of a pain in the neck, removed from the nitty-gritty of client relations.

This time I haven't made too much of a song and dance about it (I've let them know though) because it's regular work and I don't want to put this at risk - too many sermons and the work will dry up.

What experiences have other people had in this respect?


Gene Brode (X)
United States
Local time: 16:30
Spanish to English
speaking of sermons Jan 11, 2011

I have been listening to sermons and articles by a Dominican preacher who quotes a lot from various translations of the Bible in Spanish as well as other English-speaking preachers from the 16th century on, but he doesn't tell which version/works he's quoting from. I'm trying to work on sample translations for my profile and was wondering the same thing. Luck would have it that I could probably find and sift through some of the English sermons or texts to find the translated quote, and from what others have said it seems I should at least do that for my profile if I want to do a good job.

I'm doing it for pleasure and not for pay, per se, but I could see where this could become an issue for us when translating for clients. I want to produce good work, but I'm not going to give up a week of work for free just to go above and beyond if a client doesn't care much or if the job isn't a published one. But then I haven't been in that situation yet. I suppose I would take it on a case by case basis--is the client lax about it? is it going to be published? is there flexibility with the deadline? do I have other work that is waiting for me to be freed up? I tend to go the extra mile if possible and have a streak of perfectionism in me...I would want to find the originals if at all possible.


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