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Chinese Quotations in English Research Papers

I’m sometimes asked about citing Chinese sources in English research journals. So here are some tips in case you’re writing a paper in English and wish to include quotations translated from Chinese (or any character-based language) according to APA guidelines.

Let’s assume you’ve translated a passage from a Chinese journal. Your translation is considered to be a ‘paraphrase’, not a direct quotation.

Firstly, cite your translation in your text: include (i) the author, (ii) the date, and (iii) the page number.

As for including (i), the page number: APA does not require you to do so, but it’s still good practice. Most of your international readers probably can’t read Chinese. Still, they need to be capable of finding the page you translated in the original text, in case they’d like to use the same reference.

Don’t use quotation marks around the text you translated. And don’t use the words “my translation” or “translated”, something too many authors still do.

An example:

Original Mandarin passage:
“台灣南部的城市在家使用閩南語的情形仍然比在北部的城市頻繁” (Liu, 2016, p. 691).
Your translated quotation that appears in the paper:
In the urban south, Southern Min as home language is still in a stronger position than in the urban north of Taiwan (Liu, 2016, p. 691).

If the journal you cite from is a publication in Chinese or another character-based language, then:

(i) include the original citation in your paper’s reference list, and (ii) give an English translation of the original paper’s title in square brackets – without italics.

The reason your translation is considered to be a paraphrase rather than a direct quotation lies in the nature of your translation: translating is and will never be an exact science. When you’ve used Google translate, for example, then you’ll probably know that this tool can seldom capture the rhetoric, irony, sarcasm or beauty of a language.

Translation is a kind of approximation, an ‘as-close-as possible’ matching with the same word in the target language. Written character-based languages do not always match up with every word and phrase in Latin script languages.

Because we cannot measure how exact any given translation is, APA guidelines say that it would be incorrect to put quotation marks around the words you have translated.

Actually, in doing the translation yourself, you have literally changed the author’s words into your own, which corresponds to the definition of a paraphrase.

So even if you’d let Google do the translation for you (which I wouldn’t recommend), the end result remains a paraphrase. You did, after all, rely on a statistical program using multilingual corpora.

Keep in mind that citing a translation you’ve done yourself is different from citing a published translation someone has already done.

If you read a translated work and you then use a direct quotation from that translated source in your own paper, you do need to put quotation marks around the passage in question – just as for any other direct citation.

I hope this post has shed some more light on English quotations translated from character-based languages.