A time to clean up quotations

“You never alter a direct quote: that’s the strict editing rule,” wrote Ed Latham on his Ten Minutes Past Deadline blog on May 24, 2016. “Reported speech can be tweaked, but if it’s inside quotation marks, you don’t touch it.” That’s what I was taught, and I have always made it a point to follow that rule.

However, Latham, a sub-editor (British for “copy-editor”), has recognized a situation that may call for cleaning up quotations: when speakers have trouble communicating in English because it is not their native tongue. Latham doesn’t agree with “forcing quotes into standard English.” Sometimes speakers “may have made a conscious choice about using non-standard English; sometimes they may be talking in their natural voice. But, in many cases, they may not speak the language well enough to distinguish one register of English from another, and what they end up saying may be far from what they intended to convey.…”

“The risk of being seen to patronise interviewees by cleaning up their quotes is at least partly balanced by the risk of being seen to have ridiculed them by leaving them untouched.”

Latham gives several examples and discusses the nuances. His post “Ya Gotta Be Championship” is well worth reading in its entirety.

On June 7, Latham followed up with another column, asking, “When a player gives you this as a quote:

For the last year and this year, I not really do much for this team. The fans be angry. They be disappointed.

“What’s the correct way to proceed?

  1. Run the quote verbatim …
  2. “Clean up” the quote? …
  3. Take some the words out of direct speech? …</li
  4. Just not run the story at all?…

“After two weeks of thinking about it, I’m still not sure what I would do.”

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