Literary translation involves the translation of the dramatic and creative poetry and prose of ancient and modern authors from different cultures. This assures that more people worldwide are able to enjoy the literary creations in their own language.
Importance of literary translation
The importance of literary translation is immeasurable. It enables people to understand the world. Students are able to understand philosophy, politics and history through the translated works of Sophocles and Homer. Many more readers are able to enjoy new insights into the different ways of life through contemporary translations. More people are able to enjoy the creative, fertile and highly imaginative minds of foreign authors.
Without the translation of literature, people would not be able to read the vast majority of literary works that are available in archives and libraries around the world. You would not be able to enjoy the ways ancient authors view the many facets of life and how they express their myriad emotions. You would not be able to understand how people back then think, compared to people who live in the modern era. Translation allows you to travel back in time and relive such moments. You are likewise given the chance to compare how things are done in the past and see some of the similarities as well as the changes that occur in the modern world.
The beginning of literary translation
Literary translation has been going on for thousands of years, so it difficult to discuss it in one go. There are five volumes of the Oxford History of Literary Translation in English, which testifies to the complexity and depth of this topic.
Many literary translators have come and gone. The works of 6th century Roman philosopher, consul and senator Anicius Manlius Severinus Boëthius, or just Boethius, was translated by Geoffrey Chaucer and King Alfred the Great. Throughout the years, the Holy Bible is the most translated work. Among the classics, The Little Prince (French) is the most translated, followed by Pinocchio (Italian), Dao De Jing (Chinese), Pilgrim’s Progress (English) and Alice in Wonderland (English). Among the modern works, some of the most translated are Harry Potter (English), Sleep Tight, Little Wolf (German), Seven Brief Lessons on Physics (Italian), Before I Go to Sleep (English) and The Book of Mirrors (English).
Difficulty in doing literary translations
The variety of literary works being translated shows the demand for different genres. While we cannot deny the importance of translating literature, the process of translation is difficult and involves a different process than regular content translation. It is one of the toughest among the types of translation works.
One of the most obvious is the number of words, because most works contain hundreds of pages. Another category that is very challenging for literary translators is poetry. It demands a high level of creativity and fluency in the source and target language because the translator has to maintain the essence and beauty of the original.
Translators involved in literary translations, especially poetry translation are very much challenged. There is the need to keep a balance to remain faithful to the original source with the requirement to create a work that is distinctive and unique, which will elicit the same feelings and reactions as the original work.
Any translator who has done literary translation will confirm that even one word can be exceedingly troublesome for them. This is because the author carefully chooses the words they use for a particular reason. It is therefore critical for the translator to fully understand the entire story and the actual intent of the author in order to ensure that the true message of the author is delivered faithfully in another language.
The more challenging time for a translator is when there is no direct translation of a specific word or phrase or when several options are available and each one has a slight variance in nuances. Literary translators have different approaches when they do translation work. Some focus on retaining the ambience of the local culture as reflected in the content instead of the language.
When it comes to translating novels, the complexity and the challenge could be even on a higher level than translating poetry.
Best-selling author of The Kingfisher Chronicles series, Patrick Rothfuss, says that it is not only the length of the content that proves problematic in literary translation but also the names, which are mostly made up by the authors. The names may sound like actual names in English, but these could give translators a more difficult time when translating the novel into another language.
Another complication is the need to retain the true intent of the original text while the content is not literally translated. The translator has to be concerned about recreating the ambience of the novel despite avoiding word for word translation. It is also made even harder by the implications shown by the plotlines, play on words, irony and humor that need transposition without resulting to giving explanations.
Another thing that complicates the translation of novels is the reader’s knowledge. You cannot pick and categorize the people who would be reading the translated novel. There are readers who are fans of a particular author, while others like to read best-sellers. Others are attracted to a particular genre. Some prefer fiction while others go for true-to-life stories.
But novels are written by authors who come from different cultural backgrounds. Therefore, their references to traditions, practices and customs may be understood by readers who speak the same language as the author or have the same ethnic background. The job of the translator is to deliver that kind of inherent knowledge to the reader speaking another language and may not be familiar with the cultural oddities of the original language.
In translating literature, the style of the author and the story’s atmosphere should be preserved. You may have missed the point that you are enjoying a book originally written in another language due to the skills and creativity of the translator.
Translators of literary works do not care for literal translation. The job requires the translation of idioms and local sayings. It requires that the translator have a specialized dictionary and a large personal vocabulary. Literary translation deals with humor and play on words that must be transposed into the target language.
The translation not only complies with the style used by the author but should also comply with the specific eras, cultures and settings of the literary work.
Required skills of a literary translator
A more specific skillset is required when a translator translates literature. The task is more creative that other translation works. In technical translation for example, the focus is on delivering text that is a literal interpretation of the original source. When it comes to prose and poetry, creative writing goes hand in hand with linguistic fluency.
The translator should also have the confidence in his or her ability to do the job. One of the most important things is the ability to make the right choice when bogged down with words or sentences and move forward to tackle the rest of the content.
Likewise, the translator should be capable of delivering continuity, especially when translating novels that are exceedingly long. The translator should be able to remember the facts, especially those that were used in the early pages of the novel that reappear in the middle or latter part of the literary work.
State of the industry
In 2015, the Literature Across Frontiers said fewer books translated into English were published in the United States. However, the agency also said the translation of literary works into English is showing an increase. Many of the works being translated into English are written in Japanese, Arabic, Norwegian, Dutch and Swedish.
There seems to be a dearth of literary works in the minor languages, with the European Council of Literary Translators’ Associations noting that the majority of translated literature works available in smaller countries were originally written in English. Right now there is a large gap in literature translation from one minor language to another.
What is noticeable today is that organizations and companies are diversifying. Some that were not involved in translating literature and were formerly publishing and selling books and other stuff are also undertaking translation of literary works.
This goes to prove that there is money in the translation of literature and it takes a visionary leader to take the initiative to take the literary translation industry a step further.
Expand your knowledge and appreciation of a variety of literary works from different nations. There are thousands upon thousands of ancient and modern works that remain unknown to audiences worldwide because they are only available in single languages. Day Translations, Inc. offers accurate literary translation services in more than 100 language pairs. They are professional translators with years of experience behind them. We have native-speaking literary translators living around the world. They are available whenever you need document or book translation. Day Translations offers language services 24 hours a day, every day of the year. You can easily get in touch with us by calling us at 1-800-969-6853 or by sending us an email at Contact us.
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