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38 - How footnotes and endnotes are made

"First at one piece, to gain an overall impression, but then a second time, piece by piece, with a pencil in hand to take a critical position on the details and report to me about them"1.

We already saw in a previous unit of this part of the course the potential role of the translator's notes in translation strategy on the whole. In this unit we are going to examine in details how to concretely prepare these notes to comply to the existing international norms.

Notes to the text have the aim of giving supplementary information that, if inserted within the main text, would render it convoluted or complicated to read. Notes represent the aspiration of a linear text to be hypertextual. Actually, a hypertext can be considered a linear text endowed with many references, many notes which, instead of ending in the cul de sac of the bottom of the page, go on developing with other texts and other references and links to other parts of the text.

If, on one hand, the recommendation to prepare short concise and essential notes is understandable, on the other one can also think of such recommendation as something dated, when the type of cross-reading allowed by hypertexts appeared as transgressive and negative, while today, when we have encounters every day with the hypertext par excellence that is the internet, it seems to us a natural mode of fruition.

Notes are divided in two great categories: bibliographic and explicative notes. Starting from bibliographic notes, the ISO 2384 norm on translation contains a paragraph on translation notes, in which it is stated:

The titles of the works and articles cited in notes, footnotes and bibliographical references or in translator's notes may be translated, in which case it is recommended that the citation in the original language should follow in brackets. (Iso 2384: 3)

Therefore, as far as bibliographical notes are concerned, the ISO recommendation relates to the preservation of data in the original language. Translation is given just as a possibility, not necessity, recommending however to preserve in any case the data of the original. This is fundamental because, if bibliographical data were translated, the target reader would not be able to understand what work is referred to2.

Beyond the updating of bibliographical data, a translator can and in some cases must intervene with her own notes of an explicative rather than bibliographical character. Let us see what the ISO norm says on the subject:

Translator's comments may either be given at the foot of the page or be appended at the end of the translation. They should be preceded by the words "Translator's note" or a corresponding phrase in the language of the translation. (Iso 2384: 3)

It is important to maintain the distinction between the translator's notes and the notes made by the author or, anyway, of the original edition. To this end, it is always necessary to specify that they are translator's notes. This is included in the recommendation concerning the modifications to the text: any addition or omission by the translator must be indicated, and in the copyright page there must be a statement about the complete or partial translation.

With many word processing programs it is possible to create footnotes and endnotes for the same document in an independent way. This allows the numbering of footnotes in a way, an in a parallel way without any interferences in such a numbering, numbering the endnotes. Such a tool is very useful to translators. In fact, authors seldom use the footnote tool for explicative notes. If the author must explain anything, she can build it into the main text. More frequently, the author puts in endnotes supplementary arguments or secondary information not for the common reader, but only for the reader particularly interested in focusing on a given subject.

In this case I think it advisable leaving the numbering of the original notes unaltered and creating a new numbering system for the translator's footnotes.

Actually, the bottom of the page is the ideal place for translator's notes: if they are placed there, this means that they are indispensable to proceed with the reading; it would make no sense to force the reader to seek information necessary for following the thread of the argumentation at the end of the text. Moreover, if the translator wants to insert notes in the metatext that are more than the strict necessary to go on reading, she can insert them in a different part of the apparatus, in the postface for example.

Such interpretation on conciseness and essentiality of footnotes is confirmed by U.S. standards as well. (These, differently from the ISO international norms, are distributed for free on the internet, an act of great civility and intelligence: In fact, in such a situation in many fields standards are constantly disregarded. How can the ISO demand an agency or a person take the trouble to comply by them if, as a first obstacle, one must buy them at a very dear price?)

Footnotes and endnotes are included in a report only to clarify information in the text and are as brief as possible. To avoid preparing footnotes or endnotes, an author may incorporate material into the text by enclosing it in parentheses or by placing it in a separate paragraph. (ANSI/NISO 1995: 21)

Numbers in the text referring to footnotes are in a smaller font and in superscript position. As to quotations, the numbers in the text referring to the footnote must be placed immediately after the quotes (if it is a short quotation) or right after the last word of the long quotation in a smaller font and justification.

Translator's notes are one of the few instances of visibility for this second author of the text. Consequently, all translation strategies that provide (or maybe I should say "provided", since hopefully it is a phenomenon to be allocated only to the past) for the translator's invisibility - presenting the translated text as if it were an original - have no translator's notes. For this reason sometimes translator's notes are perceived as a moment of affirmation of a role that is no longer confined in the publishers' closet, or behind the curtains of the offices and apartments where translation are being made, at every time in the day or the night, in silence, inconspicuously.


Bibliographical references

ANSI/NISO Z39.18-1995 Scientific and Technical reports - Elements, organization, and design. Bethesda, Maryland, Niso Press, 1995, ISSN 1041-5653.

CANETTI ELIAS Die gerettete Zunge. - Die Fackel im Ohr. - Das Augenspiel, München, Carl Hanser Verlag, 1995, ISBN 3-446-18062-1.

CANETTI ELIAS The Tongue Set Free. Remembrance of a European Childhood, translated by Joachim Neugroschel, in The Memoirs of Elias Canetti, New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999, ISBN 0-374-19950-7, p. 1-286.


1 Canetti 1999: 211.
2 A different case of course concerns the updating of bibliog-raphy with the data about the text translated into the receiving culture. In this case, there is no title translation, but their sub-stitution with the titles with which such works are marketed in the language in which the translation is being made.