I'm working on my undergraduate thesis in German Studies (I'm in the US), and the paper is written in German using MLA. There's a quote that I would like to use that was originally in German, but I am only able to get a hold of an English translation of it, meaning that it will have gone from German to English to German. I'll be citing the English source in my works cited, but am unsure of how it should appear in the text. As I understand it, if one is translating from one language to another (outside of a proper, full, stand alone translation of a text), it should be rendered as a paraphrase instead of a quote, but I am unsure of what to do on account of the added layer.

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    And going back to the source language adds some complexity too, I imagine -- you have to be careful to avoid giving the impression that you're quoting the actual original. Good question! Welcome to the site. Apr 12, 2019 at 23:36
  • I will not be answering because I do not know the formatting standards you abide by in the US - in Brazil we use ABNT. ABNT says that you should quote like a normal text, even if it is a translation. But use the actual author's name. If I was quoting Macbeth, for example, I'd quote: ( SHAKESPEARE, 2011b, Ato I, Cena V, p. 29 ). And then at the end, the full source: SHAKESPEARE, William. Macbeth. Trad. Barbara Heliodora. ed. especial. Rio de Janeiro: Nova Fronteira, 2011b. 114 p. Trad. Barbara is the translator, though that is not mandatory. Check how similar texts are quoted in EN.
    – Cesar M
    Apr 13, 2019 at 2:59
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    What is the source? Maybe the Germans here can find the original for you...
    – user37826
    Apr 13, 2019 at 18:36
  • This is a rather artificial set-up (addressing native speakers of English in German), so the answer may be different from more usual situations. Apr 20, 2019 at 8:20
  • The translation aspect is not central here. At bottom, this is a case of having no access to the primary source, only to secondary ones. Apr 20, 2019 at 8:25

1 Answer 1


Whether it's a translation or the original, if you are quoting someone else, you should quote them exactly, put the text in quotes, and give a proper footnote. Using someone else's exact words without enclosing them in quotes and giving a citation opens you up to charges of plagiarism.

If you are translating someone else's words -- if your source is in English (regardless of the original language of the material) and you are translating to German, then give your translation and give a footnote saying that this is your translation of, and give the original source.

The part about finding an English translation of an originally German text which you are now translating back to German is problematic, of course. The probability that your translation is exactly the same as the original is very low. But if you can't find the original, that's just how it is. Scholars struggle with problems like this all the time.

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