I am translating an academic work (MLA style) which contains a untranslated section by the author. The original work is in Portuguese and the untranslated section is in Spanish. Do I leave the Spanish section untranslated? If not what is the correct style. Note: it is not a block quote in the original text.

  • Do you translate from Portuguese into English? If the audience of your translation does not speak Spanish, you'll need to translate the Spanish text. I would keep the Spanish section in the main body of the work and provide an English translation as footnote, assuming that the untranslated section is not too long for a footnote translation.
    – imrek
    Mar 9, 2015 at 11:46
  • Ask your client. Or identify your target audience and whether or not they speak Spanish.
    – user5645
    Mar 10, 2015 at 7:57

2 Answers 2


That would depend on why the section was untranslated.

If the "quoting author" merely choose not to translate the section, say, out of laziness, assuming "the audience will understand it" or he judged some wording conveys the idea better than a translation would, or the quote was a poem and the translation would break the rhymes - essentially, if the reason is unimportant - just translate it. (in case of poem, that's not a "just...")

If the section was left because the work analyzes the language, wording or the structure of text (e.g. like the Bible Code, seeking vertical and diagonal patterns between the lines, hidden words) you must preserve the original text. And unless the text is really a meaningless Lorem Ipsum, you should also include a translation - as a translator's note. This can be done in footnote or included with the text (say, in a box on a different background). The decision how to include it depends largely on size of the quote - a single sentence is good for a footnote, a few large paragraph should probably get a Translator's Note within the main text.

  • I'm not sure about the supposition about the author being lazy. Portuguese and Spanish aren't interchangeable; so he/she must have left the text in spanish for some particular reason.
    – Liquid
    May 15, 2019 at 17:15

The MLA is an association of scholars of language and literature. It's style manual applies to academic works dealing with language and literature. We can assume that a non-Spanish text citing a Spanish text in the original Spanish is targeted at scholars of Spanish language and/or literature, and that those scholars do read Spanish.

Now we know why the citation was not translated in the Portuguese text you are translating. To decide whether or not you need to translate that citation, you need to either identify your target audience and whether or not they know Spanish – or simply ask your client (e.g. the publisher, editor, scholar, who asked you to translate that text) what they want you to do (assuming they know their audience).

If you do translate that Spanish text snippet, a common practice (in MLA) is to put the untranslated original in a footnote, and the translation in text.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.