Parallel columns in Pages or other word-processing software?
August 6, 2018 7:42 PM   Subscribe

I am translating an opera libretto from Italian to English. I would like to do a parallel-text version with the Italian on the left and the English on the right. I'm on a Mac; how do I get Pages to do this? Or, what software would you recommend instead for this specific purpose?

Pages will do columns easily, but they're newspaper columns (where the text carries over from the bottom of one column to the top of the next on the same page). I can't see an obvious way to alter this. If this were a 5-page job, I'd kludge it together, but for an 80-page libretto that won't do. I need parallel columns where the text continues vertically in each.

Various online forums said "Just use a table!" That doesn't seem to work in this case. What happens is:

- I click "Add table" and create a table with 2 columns

- I copy/paste Act I of the Italian text into one of the columns

- The screen is instantly a horrible mess because Pages just auto-created a table with 6 columns. I try to reduce the number of columns. It won't go below 4.

I also tried to use TextEdit for this, creating a table of 2 columns, each with a single row. (Judging from the lag, the software was horrified.) I spent all night formatting the text so it matched, then clicked "Export to PDF". The PDF looked nothing like what I had formatted. Altering the text size and re-exporting didn't work. I found a site saying you could fix it by clicking "Wrap to Page." I did that, and got a 2-page document with a single column and most of the text gone.

I am at my wits' end with this. This shouldn't be a difficult thing to ask of a word processing program. Is there a simple solution that I'm missing? Any solution at all would be good. I'd prefer not to have to pay for ultra-expensive new software, but I'd pay a reasonable amount if Pages truly can't do this and there were another program that easily could.

Translators and other parallel-text writers of MeFi, I'd very much appreciate your thoughts and methods.
posted by Pallas Athena to Computers & Internet (9 answers total)
My answer for practically every text-formatting question is to use LaTeX simply because it's my text-producer of choice; it has a kinda steep learning curve but has a lot of prebuilt solutions for a lot of specific uses. There are several good parallel-text formatters for it; one of the more up-to-date and friendly ones is paracol.
posted by jackbishop at 8:13 PM on August 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

This advice is generic, but in case no one comes along with a more granular solution: You can get a month's free trial on Office 365 to see if the tabling works better there. You can also get a free trial of Scrivener, which is more directly geared towards preparing a text for publication.

It sounds to me like there may be something odd about your source file that is freaking out the processor on cut and paste. Where are you cutting and pasting from? You may need to strip all out the formatting first.
posted by praemunire at 9:51 PM on August 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

This should be relatively easy to do in a page layout program. I'm familiar with InDesign, not Pages, though. In InDesign, you can let text auto flow or you can do it manually. In this case, you may want to do it manually. It's 80 pages, but it will go fast.

If I were doing this in InDesign, I'd set up one column of text on the master page first. Flow in just that one version of the text, in one 3" column on the page.

Then go back to your mster page and set up the column where your English text will go. Flow in that text and let it fill to all the pages.

After all the text is in the document, now you can adjust so they line up.

Memail me if I can help further. It's hard to explain.
posted by hydra77 at 10:25 PM on August 6, 2018

I’ve done parallel-text with tables in Microsoft Word. It’s admittedly clunky but it works. Basically one table row per paragraph for what I was doing, so that I could line up paragraphs, but this might not work for a libretto. You might want to think a bit about what actually needs to be aligned—paragraphs, sentences, I dunno, never done translation—before you decide on what software to use.
posted by Logophiliac at 2:20 AM on August 7, 2018

I’ve typeset a lot of facing translations throughout my career. Professional page layout software’s ability to create multiple independently-flowing stories (either in columns on the same page or facing pages) is the way we do it. All of the left-side text frames are linked together (set up using master pages if i was using InDesign) for the first language and the same process for the right-side frames. The text in both should be set to strictly use the same leading and the template frames should have the exact same top and bottom measurements so the baselines of your text are always the same on both sides.

I love working in InDesign but Adobe’s current extortionary-feeling subscription rates are too much for anyone who isn’t getting paid to do publications. I’ve never used it, but the free, open source Scribus should be able to do what you need. Their online documentation has info about linking and working with text frames and i’m sure they have similar documentation about how to set up and use master pages.
posted by D.C. at 2:22 AM on August 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

If you want each line to match, I would start with Numbers, the Apple spreadsheet program. Even if you just want to align the paragraphs, a spreadsheet will keep everything aligned.
posted by soelo at 9:07 AM on August 7, 2018

I would strenuously avoid doing this as a table or a spreadsheet. I agree with hydra77 and D.C.'s suggestion to use a proper page-layout program.

But you can do this in Pages if you're stubborn. Create a new blank document, select View >> Show Layout, then in the Format sidebar, click Edit Master Page. On the master page, create two parallel text boxes, and click Done once you're done. Now start entering text into the text boxes. When you've got more text than can be displayed in a box, click Add Page (you'll need to do this manually for every page, yes). Now you need to link your text boxes. There's a small dot at the top of each text box on page 1. Click one; it'll change color. Then click the dot at the top of the box you want to contain the overflow; it'll pop up a menu giving you the option to link to the first. Repeat for second column. Repeat for every page. AFAICT, there's no way to auto-flow this the way there is in InDesign.
posted by adamrice at 9:25 AM on August 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

Thank you all for taking the time to answer.

I looked at LaTEX, but I don't think I could learn it before the deadline. It seems to require a lot of coding, and I'm not a coder.

Downloaded Scribus and tried it out. But it's a layout program, not a word processing program, and I couldn't figure out how to auto-link the text boxes, or get the text to flow to the next page, or get the next page to exist at all.

Downloaded the trial of Final Draft; I had hopes for its dual-column dialogue format. Unfortunately, none of its "industry standard" templates are friendly to opera libretti or to copy/paste. Dialogue would have to be retyped by hand, which, NOPE. In any case, it refuses to put stage directions in dual columns.

Did some searching on LibreOffice, but it seems they only do newspaper-style columns.

Tried adamrice's Pages suggestion. Opened a new Pages document, created two text boxes and tried to save it as a template (the option to create a master page remained greyed out and inaccessible).

Unfortunately, every time I did this, Pages auto-created a second blank page; I think because my text boxes had filled the first one. I thought: fine, I'll set up the same frames and link them together. But then it auto-created another blank page. The blank pages are undeleteable; deleting them deletes the entire document. So I can't save my text-framed page or pages as a template, because the blank page screws up the formatting.

I remain convinced that this shouldn't be this difficult! I remember doing these sorts of columns in WordPerfect and other, older word processing programs. Parallel text isn't uncommon, and I cannot understand why no software will do it.
posted by Pallas Athena at 2:19 PM on August 8, 2018

Sorry, I missed a step. Before "view layout" select File >> Convert to Page Layout.
posted by adamrice at 5:52 PM on August 8, 2018

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