I'm writing a short story (fiction) and want to include a short quote from Jorge Luis Borges in the beginning to set tone. However, the original text is in Spanish, and has been translated by a translator. Is there a guideline for translation attribution? Also, does the translator need to be attributed directly under the quote, or can they be noted in my bibliography?

3 Answers 3


Do you want to include the quote as a motto? Quoted by a character in the story? Quoted by the narrator of the story?

Attribution standards in a work of fiction are much more relaxed than for a rigorous academic work, and you may even use a quote as an allusion without explicitly attributing at all - especially if it would break the reader's immersion, and especially if the quote is well-known.

It isn't customary to include end notes in a short story; in a novel, it would be a great place for any explanatory remarks you want to provide but not push on the reader as they're enjoying the plot. You can, of course, go against custom and give end notes to your short story, too (assuming you get the editor on board with it).

If the quote is explicitly admitted to be a quote in-story, then I'd suggest a footnote. You can also use a footnote in order to state, outside of the text of the story, that this sentence is a quote, and when you're at it, mention both its author and translator.

And that's pretty much what your options boil down to if you're using a quote in the text - end note, footnote, or not mentioning it. (One other thing that's possible is introductory note, but that isn't a good match for info about a single quote's translator.) Giving the translator's name in the text body of the story would almost certainly be very awkward.

On the other hand, if it is a motto then quoting it in this way:

This is an incredibly wise and witty quote.
 - Clever Author (trans. Tran Slator)

is a very feasible option.

  • I have never seen the translator mentioned in an epigraph.
    – Lambie
    Jan 12 at 18:48

You don't say which style guide you (have to) follow, but in general terms when you quote from a translation your citation should not give the orginal work but the translated work as a source and mention the translator. For example, following the APA Manual:

In text:

The first sentence of the novel tells us the name of the protagonist: "The boy's name was Santiago." (Coelho, p. 3)

In the reference list:

  • Coelho, P. (1993). The alchemist (A. R. Clarke, Trans.). HarperOne. (Original work published 1988)

Most style guides give examples for how to cite translated works, so look in the MLA Handbook or the Chicago Manual of Style, if you follow those style guides.

For an epigraph (a short quote before the beginning of your text) you commonly wouldn't give the source in an academic style at all. For my example, you would conventionally do something like this:

The boy's name was Santiago.
                                            ~ Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

You wouldn't mention the translator or give the page number or even list the full reference in a bibliography.

  • Isn't that mistake funny? It should be The Alchemist (what a terrible book, the way)
    – Lambie
    Jan 11 at 22:50
  • @Lambie No it shouldn't. In APA style book titles are given in sentence case, that is, only the first word of the title is capitalized.
    – Ben
    Jan 12 at 5:57
  • Yes, how odd. Anyway, this is about an epigraph, not really "quoting from a translation". Even so, in a short story, you could not cite the name of the translator in the text...What you give is valid for writing academic papers.
    – Lambie
    Jan 12 at 18:27
  • @Lambie OP speaks of a "bibliography". I don't know what kind of "short story" they are writing. Maybe it is for a course at uni and they have to include academic citations. But I have added information for an epigraph as well, in case OP needs that. Thank you for pointing this out to me.
    – Ben
    Jan 12 at 18:44
  • "I'm writing a short story (fiction) and want to include a short quote from Jorge Luis Borges in the beginning to set tone." = epigraph That's pretty clear, isn't it? :)
    – Lambie
    Jan 12 at 18:46

Using a quotation at the beginning of a novel is called an epigraph.

Here are a couple I found online:

  1. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley: “Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay / To mound me Man, did I solicit thee / From darkness to promote me?” —Paradise Lost
  2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: “Lawyers, I suppose, were children once.” —Charles Lamb

Master Class

And here:

Epigraphs are treated like block quotations in that quotation marks are not used around epigraphs. Also like block quotations, epigraphs are often set in a smaller typeface and indented from the right or left, and sometimes italicized.

Oh, what a tangled web we weave, When first we practice to deceive! —Sir Walter Scott

Chicago Manual of Style

Borges almost always left epigraphs in the original according to this Argentine scholar:

Casi siempre, Borges coloca los epígrafes en su idioma original.

El epígrafe en la obra de Jorge Luis Borges

Here's an epigraph from Tolstoy, and no translator name appears:

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. —Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

The name of the translator does not appear. And I would not put one in.

essay pro

This link shows a list of epigraphs used by authors in English, taken from the work of Marcel Proust, the French author. None have the names of translators.

They are not formatted as they would be in the books but contain the full quote from the author quoted. However, if taken from an author's book in another language, include the title of the book but not the translator's name.

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