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If a big publisher provides access to a paper of famous author but only in its original language and from a deprecated journal. Can I submit an English translation of such a paper to the same publisher indicating that it is a translation? If yes, why is this not done more frequently? If not, why is this not allowed?

There are still important papers in German, French and Russian that have no available translation on the web. Maybe it is because this rarely increases the citation metrics of the person translating it?

Update: I asked the publisher, they ended up saying that I can always ask them for rights to use or modify. However they showed no signs of having interest of having the paper translated and published as they we unable to point me to any of their journals.

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    Perhaps approach the journal first about providing a translation of the paper?
    – Jon Custer
    Apr 6, 2023 at 16:37
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    @JonCuster I guess I would end up doing that. That said, why is this not done more frequently? Why do we still have old important papers that are not translated? Apr 6, 2023 at 17:08
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    @AlbusDumbledore: Old important papers are not translated from German or French because most scholars are capable of slowly reading those languages well enough to understand the paper. (It wasn't that long ago that PhDs had language requirements.) Apr 6, 2023 at 17:22
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    If you are Einstein-class, somebody may well have a collection with translations already. But, often, the specifics of the paper are less relevant than the fact it was published...
    – Jon Custer
    Apr 6, 2023 at 18:25
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    @AlexanderWoo With the increasing amount of globalisation in the past decades, times are changing. Finding scholars who can read English, French, German, Russian, Japanese, Mandarin and Sanskrit is going to be increasingly challenging. While certain regions had a lingua-franca, there never was a world-wide one. Not even among scholars.
    – Mast
    Apr 8, 2023 at 7:23

4 Answers 4

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You would get permission from the publisher (or whoever holds the copyright) in order to publish a translation. Then your translation could be published anywhere, not necessarily with the original publisher. However, most journals want original research, not translations of previous research, so you may need to look carefully to find the proper place to publish.

Also (as you note), publishing such a translation will not count as "research" in your vita. Perhaps it would be counted as "public service".

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    I remember reading about the lack of translation of papers in the field of psychology some while ago, to the point that psychology researchers in one country had absolutely no idea what was done in the next country. Someone started publishing translations and it was so helpful that it was counted as research work, similar to how "survey" papers are often counted as research papers.
    – Stef
    Apr 7, 2023 at 14:45
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This is possible. It is not common. Most of the information from important papers makes it into other papers and into textbooks. Sometime this does does not happen.

There is a paper by von Neumann that some physicists feel got somewhat forgotten and misunderstood, in part because it was German. Here is an arxiv version of the paper, that was later published by a Springer; Proof of the ergodic theorem and the H-theorem in quantum mechanics

Alongside this a commentary article was published. Reading older science papers can be a challenge, as the meaning of technical words shifts a lot over the decades.

The citations to the translation add only to von Neumann's record, it seems.

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  • #IaminAgreement ... Reading older science papers can be a challenge, {but expedient}, as the meaning of technical words shifts a lot over the decades; {taking on new meaning} Apr 6, 2023 at 20:22
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This is less of an answer to the actual question and more of a reflection on the reasons why there are many important-but-not-translated articles:

There is a difference between "no translation is available" and "the material is not accessible". Let's presume that there are no translations of Einstein's papers. That doesn't matter very much, because whatever Einstein talked about in these papers has been described just as cogently -- or maybe even better -- in dozens of textbooks by now. That's pretty much true for everything that is important: Others, in other languages, have extensively written about it in their own works.

In other words, it is rare that one really needs access to the original papers. In most cases, the material is already accessible elsewhere and looking at the original paper is really just for curiosity and for seeing how a master of yore wrote about it.

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    In some instances, not all, perusing the original is expedient. This isn't applicable to many though Apr 6, 2023 at 20:17
  • I don't disagree. But it does not justify the large-scale translation of articles. Apr 7, 2023 at 2:42
  • Einstein's work is century-old. Yes, you are right that it has had time to make it into textbooks. But when you want to build on research that is more recent, textbooks don't help that much.
    – Stef
    Apr 7, 2023 at 14:47
  • @Stef True, but over the past 30 years, the vast majority of important papers -- some exceptions notwithstanding -- have been published in English. Apr 7, 2023 at 21:26
  • @WolfgangBangerth For research in hard sciences, yes. For research in social sciences or in literature, no.
    – Stef
    Apr 11, 2023 at 15:50
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You would avoid the copyright issue and also probably do the community a better service if you do not translate an old (but still important) paper, but write down the important results in your own words, add some examples and/or the relations to other more recent papers.

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