Monday, March 28, 2011


One of the issues that’s often raised in terms of literary translation is the role of footnotes. I personally don’t like footnotes or endnotes in translated literature, because I feel it takes the reader out of the story. On the other hand, sometimes you have to explain something that you can’t get across otherwise in the text. So my own view is that they are best avoided unless there’s no other choice. How do you feel, as readers and/or translators?


Müge said...

For some foreign words, places or phrases, using footnotes is unfortunately inevitable. In this case, you need to know your target audience in the target language. Only in this way you can predict their needs. Considering their level of knowledge, you can decide whether to give footnotes or not.

Lonur said...

As a reader, I really appreciate footnotes that clarify contextual information that the Target language fails to convey (things to do with culture, geography, historical time, etc.). For instance, one of the reasons I enjoy Pevear and Volokhonsky's translations of Dostoevsky is their endnotes.

Mago said...

Like Lonur, I appreciate footnotes as a reader, for the same reason. But as Müge says, it depends on the target readership. For example, footnotes would likely not be appropriate in a book for young children.

There is a big difference between footnotes and endnotes in the reading experience. Endnotes are annoying because they require paging back and forth, and keeping two bookmarks. Footnotes are much more reader-friendly.

Lois Thorpe said...

I agree that footnotes/endnotes are distracting and can take the reader out of the story. But if there is something vital to the story that would not be understood by the average reader, those notes can be incredibly helpful.

For example, recently I picked up a copy of Sherlock Holmes stories here in Ukraine. There were endnotes all over the place, which I occasionally found helpful when I took the time to look them up. While my American-ness only separates me 100 years and a country from the author, that gap, despite the common language, is enough. Mind you, I still understand the stories just fine without those notes, but they clarified some things I had never quite understood before.

B.J. Epstein said...

All those comments are really interesting. I generally have been in the anti-footnote camp as a translator but pro-footnote as a reader! And yet as a translator, I assume I'm different (i.e. nerdier) than most readers. Perhaps that was an erroneous assumption!

Best wishes,

Anonymous said...

I don't mind not knowing all the cultural references in a text, and conversely when there are footnotes/endnotes I often feel obliged to look them up rather than go with the flow of the story. I think footnotes/endnotes can make you a worried reader - am I getting it? - and I like to be challenged to just dive in head first. Often things that are footnoted become obvious as you read the text as a whole, or are relatively minor details. As a result, I sometimes feel that many of the editions of the Russian classics that I have read have been over-endnoted.