I'm not a native English speaker. I would like to cite a book originally written in German for a writing sample to be sent for admission purposes to a graduate school in the UK (MA programme).

There are at least two translations of said work: Romanian and English. I have read the Romanian translation, not the English one, because it was far more convenient to do so. Naturally I translated the Romanian passages to English and cited them appropriately, but the citations are based on the Romanian translation (e. g. I have cited a passage to be found on page 52 of the Romanian translation).

Is it a problem that instead of citing the English version of the book, I have cited and translated the Romanian version? I'm afraid so, because the reviewers probably don't speak Romanian, therefore they can't check whether the cited passage is REALLY there in the Romanian translation or I just made up the whole thing. Plus they might think I'm lazy.

If this is indeed a problem, I have to find all of these passages - which I have originally read in Romanian - in the English translation and rewrite all footnotes, bibliography etc. (e.g. the passage which is located on page 52 in the Romanian translation might be located in a different place, say page 63 in the English translation).


There are two things to address here. First, relax. The exact sources you are citing in a writing sample for an MA program are NOT what the admissions decision will be based on. It is unlikely anyone is going to check up on your citations and even if they do, they are not going to care.

The second thing is, it is generally best to use the original, untranslated source. When the original source is not in a language you are proficient in, using a translation is reasonable. If you are writing in English and need to use a translation, then using the English translation is best, unless there is a compelling reason not to. In the future, you may want to work with English translations, but again for a writing sample, no one is going to care.

  • 3
    +1 The "compelling reason" could be, for instance, that while B is a translation of A, the contents of A and B differ significantly. – yo' Feb 1 '15 at 18:41
  • I often see papers written in English citing some old papers written in German. I think it would much better if the author were to cite both the original paper and its tranlation that they used. – Our Jul 1 '20 at 13:43

There are two issues here: what the ethical requirements are, and what will annoy readers.

Ethically, you have to make your citations clear and correct. If your information and page numbers come from the Romanian translation, then you need to indicate this explicitly. (The page numbers and even the details of the content could vary between translations.) As long as you do that, using the Romanian translation would be eccentric but not unethical.

On the other hand, it will almost certainly annoy your readers, given that you aren't writing for an audience you expect to have a special interest in the Romanian translation. You are making it much more painful for readers to learn anything from your citations, which can give a bad impression (like you don't care about your readers or don't expect anyone to ever want to look up these references).

Updating the references sounds like a pain, but it is worth doing if you can. If you can't do this before submitting your writing sample, then I would append a brief explanation/excuse. For example, you could explain that you wrote this paper for a Romanian audience and don't have the English translation available to update the references. This wouldn't give a great impression, but at least it makes it clear that you realize this is unusual and would fix it if you could.


If I correctly understand your question, you are including, in your writing sample, your own English translations of the Romanian translation of the original German book. As far as I know, that's fine, provided you make it clear that this is what you've done. For example, cite the original German book and its Romanian translation, and add that your translation is based on the latter.

Anonymous Mathematician said that this will make it much more painful for your readers to learn anything from your citations, and that's probably true, but I don't think the purpose of these citations is for the readers to learn anything. They will learn from your English translations. The purpose of the citations is to give proper credit to the author and the translator, and also to insulate you from blame if the Romanian translation that you used turns out to be inaccurate.


There are two general answers that are quite good.

I want to add a more specialized answer. In philosophy done in English, there is often a standard academic translation that is used. For instance, the academic version of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit was up until very recently AV Miller.

If you are trying to publish a paper or publish with a legitimate press in philosophy in English, you would generally cite the most common translation and its pagination. For things with an academic edition in their original language (like Kant), you cite that pagination. In either case, you can amend the translation if you can do it better or to highlight something you argue for ...

That being said, this would not matter at the point of applying to an MA program and would probably not matter much in courses in MA programs or PhD programs even in philosophy in the US.


If you are basing your argument on having read a translation from langauge O into language X, which you then translated into language Y, you should cite the translation into language X (and the original publication into language O), notwithstanding the fact that a published translation into language Y exists. This is because there will be differences between your translation from O to Y via X and the published translation from O to Y. The point of citation is to show transparently your basis for arriving at a given argument/conclusion.

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