# How to cite sources in a way thats translateable

When I'm in a discussion with a fellow from a different language background and we both don't speak the language of our primary source, but both refer to translations to our native languages, How would we then go on to make a proper citation?

Say I speak German and English and use the German translation of a work. My fellow speaks Spanish and English and uses the Spanish translation of the work. The work itself was originally in Sanskrit and we speak English with one another.

Is there a proper way to do that in historiography, so that we can practice proper citing techniques?

For context: This is a problem that a group I correspond with has. We want to talk about a subject and the majority of the group uses one translation and some others (including me) use a different one. Now I want to encourage all of us to use a translatable citing technique.

• Note that I don't have a problem with this question being raised here, I think it's an OK fit. I would, however, suggest that Academia is also a spot on exchange for this. – CGCampbell Feb 29 '16 at 13:43
• @CGCampbell Thanks. I'll ask there if the answers here are not satisfying. – Angelo Fuchs Feb 29 '16 at 16:49

I assume you mean a citation for a publication in a scholarly journal or book.

You should always cite the actual source that you consulted. If you used a translation, then you cite the translation.

You can optionally include the publication facts of the work being translated if it is a particular book, for example:

Derrida, Jacques. Writing and Difference. Translated by Alan Bass. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978. Originally published as L'ecriture et la difference (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1967).

If the document is translated from inscriptions, or an ancient manuscript naming the work in Sanskrit may be unnecessary, you just cite your source (here is MLA style):

Luckenbill, Daniel David. Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia: Historical records of Assyria, from Sargon to the end. Greenwood Press, 1968.

If the work has a specific title, it can be included in translation (here in Chicago style):

Moussa-Mahmoud, Fatma. "A Manuscript Translation of the" Arabian Nights" in the Beckford Papers." Journal of Arabic Literature (1976): 7-23.

In most cases, the title of the translated work will itself name the manuscript in question:

Mahesh Yogi, Maharishi. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi on the Bhagavad-Gita: A new translation and commentary with Sanskrit text, Chapters 1 to 6. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1969.

Referencing Passages

In some cases, when dealing with original texts you will need to reference a particular passage or even a specific word or letter. This is not a "citation", but is a "reference" or "textual note." A citation is always to an authority. To reference a part of a text, there are several different conventions:

The main approach is to reference a line number. So, for example, for each of Homer's two books (Iliad and the Odyssey), every line or "verse" has a number. So you can refer to a particular verse by line:

meaning Book 2 (beta), line 143. Multiple lines:

Virgil is the same. Some books have multiple section, for example Horace:

Odes 3.2.1-4

Meaning book 3, poem 2, lines 1-4. See Newcastle University's guidelines for classical references for more information. If you are referring to a work that has multiple mss and no standard delineation, then you must decide on a delineation standard from a particular editor. In cases where readers may not have access to a particular edition, then the best practice is to repeat the passage.

For example, let's take an answer I made to this forum regarding a question on an inscription from the Great Colonnade. In this case the book that is needed is very rare and difficult to obtain, so the text is repeated in the reference:

Yon, Jean-Baptiste (ed). Le programme des Inscriptions grecques et latines de la Syrie XVII : Palmyre et Palmyrène (vol 1). Inscription 173, line 15, reading:

  ΛΙΟΥΠ[ΡΕ]ΙΣΚ[ΟΥ] ΤΟΥΕΞΟΧΩΤΑ

• Then how can my correspondent look the cite up? He does not have my translation, nor could he comprehend it if he had it. The page numbers are useless for him too. (In fact this is about a discussion I'm having with a group of people and we got all enraged about how to point out our cites properly in a way that we can each look into our respective books) – Angelo Fuchs Feb 29 '16 at 16:49
• I added the context of my last comment to the question. I hope its more clear now. – Angelo Fuchs Feb 29 '16 at 16:58
• Thank you, so we will have to look up the original source and reference their lines. At least it will be evenly difficult for all of us :) Good to know as well that "reference" is the proper word for what I was looking for in the first place, that will make further research into the topic easier. – Angelo Fuchs Feb 29 '16 at 17:07
• Didn't read all of this (I'm getting old and lazy), but it gets a +1 from me for the second paragraph. Bang on. – T.E.D. Feb 29 '16 at 18:52
• @AngeloFuchs classical textes almost always have one authoritative numbering that everybody and their cat use in all translations. If I reference to Hdt. 4.20.3 everybody will find in a translation to their language the same: some Alexander plotted to assassinate Persians envoys with men in women's clothes. – Trish Nov 26 '18 at 0:11

I voted up Tyler's answer due to strong agreement with the second paragraph. However, I had two really long comments, so I'm making them into an answer.

You should always cite the actual source that you consulted. If you used a translation, then you cite the translation.

You can optionally include the publication facts of the work being translated if it is a particular book

Personally, I'd prefer to see what edition of the translation you are basing your thesis on as well. That way, in the (hopefully unlikely) event you get something wrong, readers have some hope of figuring out if the error is yours, the translator's, that particular edition's, or belongs with the source material.

So then you ask (quite reasonably):

Then how can my correspondent look the cite up? He does not have my translation, nor could he comprehend it if he had it. The page numbers are useless for him too.

Well, this is where we can rely on wisdom of that gentleman-scholar, Foghorn Leghorn:

Fortunately, I keep my feathers numbered, for just such an emergency.

If its a work of scholarly interest, then said scholars should have already numbered every part of it, for exactly this purpose. To use your Sandscrit example, here's a link to a translation of Rig Veda 10.129, complete with line numbers. So to reference a couple of lines in this, you'd say something like Rig Veda 10.129:3-4 (and of course mention what standard translation you are using, which the linked web page did at the top of the text.

If that's not the case, then yes, you two have a problem. Either you find some mutually agreed-upon translation that you can both read to collaborate on, or you will have a problem no matter what scheme you come up with. I suppose if I had to make up some scheme, I'd try to give a % within each chapter, and the other guy would have to figure out the exact location from context in his own translation. But he'd still have to work with the fleeting suspicion that any disagreement you might have might be rooted in inconsistent translations.