My understanding is that all quotes must be delimited by double quotes, and that a quote must be exactly what was said. This raises the problem of how to handle quotes made in a foreign language.

My assumption is that a translated quote is never placed inside double quotes. All translations are interpretations, not what was actually written / spoken. So, is this a big deal? yes. When translating into one's native language, you can easily spin a translation to make it seem like it has meaning that is not really there. And then, by delimiting it with double quotes, you can make it look like that poisoned quote is exactly what a non-native speaker said. Readers don't stop to think about the possible agenda of the translator.

These days, I've started reading the news. And, I am seeing a lot of quotes in doubles quotes assigned to people who I assume cannot speak English at an advanced level.

When I read an article in The Economist, The New York Times, etc. and I see a quote, in double quotes, attributed to a foreign leader, was the leader speaking English, or is that double quoted quote really a translation? In my own translation work, might it actually be better to use double quotes to delimit translated quotes because that is the expected standard?

  • 3
    The fetish for exactness is novel; until well into the twentieth century, transcribed speech (as opposed to translated) quotations would routinely be tidied up even in "hard news". One needs to make significant adjustments before it becomes paraphrasing. Accuracy does not imply honesty; clever quote mining can put just about anything into anyone's mouth.
    – bye
    Jun 24, 2014 at 16:37
  • @bye I strongly disagree. "Clever quote mining can put just about anything into anyone's mouth" sounds quite analogous to "since no one stops me from drinking 5 shots of vodka every night before driving home, why bother having any drunk driving laws"... Trying to at least some restraint on translators seems appropriate.
    – user312440
    Jun 24, 2014 at 17:41
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    @user312440, I believe what 'bye' was referring to is the somewhat common practice of sound bites (or in this case text bites) that are used to claim that a person said exactly one thing, when in fact the context of that quote is entirely different even if the exactness of the quote is correct. This is easily targeted at anything someone said sarcastically since sarcasm does not show through in text. In such a case (as 'bye' wrote) "accuracy does not imply honesty".
    – KnightHawk
    Jun 24, 2014 at 18:42

1 Answer 1


There are different formats for different mediums. The Associated Press (look under "quotations") indicates that quotations can be translated and put in quotes. If appropriate, the origin language should be noted.

However, in many other formats (here's one from the Chicago Manual of Style), it is necessary to put the name of the translator.

In general, there is a required honesty in translating. The translated quotation is still put in quotes, because it is something they said, despite being in a different language. That being said, in AP print media, other guidelines prohibit skewing the meaning of a translated quote:

We do not alter quotations, even to correct grammatical errors or word usage. If a quotation is flawed because of grammar or lack of clarity, the writer must be able to paraphrase in a way that is completely true to the original quote.

  • I can only hope that the translation of direct quotes in AP articles is peer reviewed (but I seriously doubt it). Thanks for finding that information I should have found myself.
    – user312440
    Jun 24, 2014 at 20:06

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