I want to include a philosopher's quote in an essay (APA). Is it okay to do so? If yes, how should this be formatted? Should the quote be in italics followed by an English translation in square brackets [ ] ?

  • What is the point of including the original quote (in foreign language)? It might look cool, but does it increase the value of your work? If Yes, what aspect? Jun 8, 2015 at 11:33
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    @AleksandrBlekh Translations are always imperfect, some readers may prefer to see the original text.
    – Calchas
    Jun 8, 2015 at 12:28
  • @Calchas: Thank you for clarification. It makes sense, even though this approach would be beneficial to a limited audience. Jun 8, 2015 at 12:37
  • @AleksandrBlekh: True, but this approach is what would likely be expected in humanities papers.
    – aeismail
    Jun 8, 2015 at 14:09
  • @aeismail: I don't mind. I'm just trying to understand the rationale behind the guidelines. And, considering O. R. Mapper's comments to my answer below, the APA guidelines not always make perfect sense. Jun 8, 2015 at 15:20

3 Answers 3


Reasons why you might want to include the original:

  1. There are issues related to the precise wording and terms used in the original, which you pick up and elaborate on.

  2. There is no reliable translation available, i.e. no published article contains the quote you would like to refer to. In this case, I would translate the quote myself and add a footnote along the lines of "original text" [source] (translated by this article's author).

  3. Understanding the language the original is in is expected from the reader, e.g. in an article about the particular language. No need to include the translation in that case.

In any other case, I would stick to the translated version solely (and attribute it to its source as usual).

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    Please take this answer with a large grain of salt, as I am not very experienced. If this is wrong, feel free to downvote and/or correct.
    – mafu
    Jun 8, 2015 at 11:51

If memory serves, then I have not read a quote yet which was not in the original language with a translation appended at the end.

If you want to include a quotation (even if it is just to make the text visually more appealing) then you should use the original formulation with a translation appended at the end.


In addition to my comment above, I want to mention that, if you will decide to go ahead and include both the original quote and translation, them, as far as I know, at least per this APA Style blog post and comments, you should not only, as you said, place English translation in square brackets after the original, but also present the original quote italicized (as you mentioned) and transliterated into the Latin alphabet, if the original language's alphabet is different from Latin.

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    I agree with your comment above that translations are imperfect and the original quote will be helpful to convey the exact wording at least to those who speak the other language. However, the guideline to transliterate the original quote seems counterproductive in this respect. Imagine it the other way round: A Chinese text indicates the Chinese translation of an English quotation, but also the English original to make the original nuances clear to readers who know English. However, rather than writing the original English quote in Latin characters, a Chinese by-sound transliteration is ... Jun 8, 2015 at 12:50
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    ... used. I don't think this procedure makes much sense, nor that it should in any way be encouraged. Note that the document you link to seems to refer primarily to citing titles of documents rather than arbitrary texts in the middle of a document. Citing titles has more to do with establishing pointers to information that can be found again, rather than conveying the maximum degree of information. Also, cited titles are sometimes processed by digital libraries that are based on outdated technology incapable of properly handling Unicode and the like. Jun 8, 2015 at 12:53
  • @O.R.Mapper: You make some good points. And I don't have a strong opinion on the subject, so I'm open to alternatives. However, the APA people suggest the same approach not only for "internationalizing" titles, but also for short citations (see one of the comments on Bulgarian quote). Jun 8, 2015 at 12:58
  • A downvote? Really? What for? For basing my answer on a solid APA-based source? Just curious... Jun 8, 2015 at 13:01
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    You're right, I hadn't seen that comment. And frankly, I see advice such as For example, “When asked for her response to the question, Participant A wrote, ‘short quote from transcript, transliterated’ [translation of short quote].” as fundamentally misguided. The transliterated transcript is not well readable for speakers of Bulgarian (because it's not using the usual script), nor for non-speakers (because they don't know the words). If anything, it serves for getting an impression what the answer sounded like, without knowing its contents. (Anyway, FYI, I wasn't the downvoter.) Jun 8, 2015 at 13:08

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