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Quoting and Translating

Summary:

This resource provides information on strategies that the students can use when incorporating languages other than English in their academic texts.

Contributors: Aleksandra Swatek
Last Edited: 2016-10-24 01:08:55

Foreign Words and Phrases in an English Texts

In your research, you might find that certain key concepts important to your work do not have a direct English equivalent. In this case, keep the term in the foreign language and italicize it:

No single word in English renders all the shades of toska. At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning. In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody of something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness. At the lowest level it grades into ennui, boredom. (Nabokov XXXIV)

After introducing the key term, you can explain to your audience the meaning of the term and how it might compare and contrast with similar terms they know. Using the word without explanation (e.g. anguish instead of toska) can be seen as misrepresenting the key term, because it does not invoke the other layers of meaning.

Popular Foreign Words

There are a number of commonly used foreign words, abbreviations and phrases that are part of American English: ad hoc, cliché, concerto, genre, sic, versus. Such popular words can be found in a dictionary and are considered a part of the English language. There is no need to translate them, unless they are used by the author in an innovative and unusual ways. In such case, you can provide more context for them. 

Quotations Entirely in a Non-English Language

If you are quoting a whole sentence, you do not have to italicize the non-English words.

Wisława Szymborska once wrote, “Tyle o sobie wiemy, na ile nas sprawdzono.” (7)

Keeping the whole sentence untranslated is a strategy that you could use when you are expecting your readers to know the language to some degree, or if you decide that the readers would benefit from reading and appreciating the original text. This is also the case, when the sentence might not be recognizable as an English translation, but is very well known in the original version.

Wisława Szymborska once wrote, “Tyle o sobie wiemy, na ile nas sprawdzono.” („We know ourselves only as far as we’ve been tested.”; 7)

Some texts that you are using might already contain specific formatting in a non-English language. In the example below, part of the quotation was written in italics. Preserve that original formatting in your quotation.

Gloria Anzaldúa switches between two languages when she talks about her childhood: “En boca cerrada no entran moscas. ‘Flies don’t enter a closed mouth’ is a saying I kept hearing when I was a child.” (2947)

In this quotation, Anzaldúa provides a direct translation of the saying she heard as a child. Note that the saying she heard in Spanish is kept in original (just as she heard it and as she wrote it – in italics). She also provided a translation of the saying to make it understandable for the readers who might not understand it otherwise.

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