Thank you to Vedrana Vojkvić for suggesting this topic to me via Twitter. She asked me for my input on a question she was discussing: what do we do if we are following UK spelling conventions and there’s a direct quotation that follows US spelling conventions? She also introduced the idea of [sic], asking to clarify that that is used only for actual errors in quotations, not just to highlight use of a different variety of English.
How do I include quotations in American English in my British English document?
This, of course, works both ways. If you are following US spelling and grammar conventions in your document and you need to quote something from a British English source, or you’re writing UK English and want to quote from an American source, should you change the spelling in your quotation to match the standard you are using in your main text?
Short answer: no.
Quotations are quotations from the original text. They should be quoted as they are, in the original.
When can I change a quotation?
There are a few occasions when you can and should change a quotation.
Note: every change you make to a quotation should be placed in [square brackets] to make sure it is clear that you have made the change.
- To make the grammar match the sentence in which the quotation is included. For example, you might write this: “Smith (2013) instructs the runner to ‘[go] with the flow, not setting off too fast’ (33), which is good advice,” where the original quotation ran, “A good runner goes with the flow, not setting off too fast”.
- When you need to explain something: “Smith (2013: 43) further states, ‘Those people [the running club members] can be very supportive’ in her seminal work.”
- When you need to cut text from the original quotation: “In this long passage, Smith (2012: 33) tells us to, ‘Watch out for your own over-excitement […] you must rein things in’.”
- If the quotations are in very archaic English and you have updated them into modern English OR the person you are quoting had a very individual use of punctuation or spelling and you have regularised it – in this case, you MUST state that you have done this in your introduction or a “Note about the quotations” at the beginning of your document. I would prefer to add modern English versions after the original in the first example and leave the quotations in the original in the second example.
- If you have translated the quotations out of their original language yourself – in this case, make sure to make a note of this in your introduction or a “Note about the quotations,” and if you have only translated some of the quotations, put a note [translated by the researcher] after those you have translated.
If you choose to emphasise something in the quotation that was not emphasised in the original, you must say that you have done this: “Smith says, ‘Everyone can run at their own speed and should not be pushed too far’ [emphasis added by the researcher].” (If the emphasis appears in the original, it’s good practice to add [emphasis in the original] after the quotation instead, to make that clear.)
When can I use [sic] in a quotation?
Almost never! I think that’s one for another article … However, to answer the original question, you would not need to use [sic] when quoting in one language (variety) in a text that is in another language (variety).
The golden rule of including quotations in your text
Always, always, always reference them fully so the reader can go and find them in the original!
This article has discussed how to insert quotations into a text, including what to do if they are in a different variety of English, whether you should change the spellings of quotations and when it is acceptable to change a quotation.
If you have enjoyed this article and/or found it useful, please do add a comment and/or share using the buttons below. Thank you!