Biography translations (Italian to English)

Question to more experienced translators: Some of the biographies are written in present tense but obviously meant in past tense. This is common in many languages, however in English we mostly use past tense when writing somebody's biography. How are we supposed to translate in this case? Should we make it sound more natural in English and use past tense or keep the present tense of the original article? The question is prompted by getting downvoted on two perfectly good sentence that I kept in present tense. While I do agree with the comment on the downvotes that in English we use past tense, I am somewhat confused. If I had used past tense I could have just as easily collected downvotes because the original sentence was in present tense. This is not about the downvotes, no hard feelings there. I would simply like to know if there is some general guideline, do we go by the tense of the original text, or do we use what sounds right in English?

March 9, 2014


I would say to go with what sounds natural in English. There are guidelines here: People shouldn't be downvoting you for using the original tense, though. A simple comment that it doesn't sound natural in English would be sufficient. Personally, when I use the past tense instead of the historical present (which, as you note, is common in Italian but not in English), I always leave a comment on why I am doing so to prevent people from thinking that I just used the "wrong" tense.

March 9, 2014

Thank you! There is a lot of other useful information in there. I have just started with immersion, never seen the guidelines.

March 9, 2014

I actually think it would be useful to establish a firmer rule that it is right to translate the historic present into the past, because it is almost always more natural in English. I would never downvote anybody either way, but it would save a lot of aggravation.

When I first started on Duo a few months ago, I got downvoted quite a few times in Italian the other way- for using the past, despite my notes - although in the French section it was absolutely commonplace. Although things have improved recently there is still a lot of variation and obvious uncertainty around, and as your post shows, it is by no means obvious what you should do.

March 10, 2014
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