Literary translation as a form of expression

What is literary translation?

Literary translation is probably one of the most well-known translation specialties. If you think about your favorite writers, you probably have several who write in a foreign language. However, it’s more likely that you have met them in your mother tongue, and that is where the literary translator comes into play. But do we know what we are talking about when we refer to this branch of professional translation?

Literary translation is encompassed within editorial translation, which includes the translation of all types of publishable documents: books on various subjects, magazines, academic articles, etc. In particular, literary translation, as its name suggests, focuses on the translation of works of literature, such as novels, short stories, poetry, theater, etc.

This specialty requires a great deal of creativity on the part of the translator. In other words, it is not sufficient to use the same procedures as in a technical or audiovisual translation. In literary translation, the translator must capture the sense and meaning of the work in question, and reformulate it with the most natural words and expressions in the target language.

Logically, a good documentation work is essential to avoid confusing the readers, since the cultural references of these works are usually multiple and varied. Conveying these touches of «color» in a convincing manner is therefore one of the keys to the success of a good translation.

literary translation

Linguistic challenges of translating literature

As we know, language styles vary significantly in literature, since a free style predominates, without the limitations and conventions that contracts, instruction manuals or medical reports may have. At the same time, this influences the translator’s approach, their aim to recreate and be «faithful» to the source text and the author’s intentions.

Although at first glance it may seem the opposite, this translation specialty is very complex and can entail many difficulties for literary translators. Here are some of them:

  • Rhetorical figures and a play on words. These are more frequent in poetry, but can occur in any type of text. Sometimes, there is simply no valid equivalence in the target language, so translators must find an alternative that best suits it.
  • Proper nouns. Sometimes the names of places or people may have meaning in the source language and thus have some relevance. If this is the case, the translator should consider whether or not to translate them.
  • Some genres, such as science fiction, can have very specific and complex terminology, which must be known perfectly to be able to understand and translate the work well.
  • Here, coherence and consistency in translation must be taken into account. In other words, the terminology already known to the fans must be respected and, to this end, the translator must also be familiar with it.
  • Information to be revealed at a later date. In other words, the terminology already known to the fans must be respected and so the translator must also be familiar with it. Translating them can be complex if you are not sure what you are talking about. So, if you have the time, it is important to read the entire work before starting to translate it.
  • The culture of the target language. Depending on the type of work, the text may include many references to the culture of the target language. Literary translators, and ultimately all translators, must be as familiar as possible with the foreign culture to understand what is being discussed and how to act in each situation.

As we can see, literary translation is not something simple to be taken lightly. Translating a book is a very complex task that should be left to professionals to ensure the best results.

Creativity, ethics and responsibility in literary translation

We know that literature can cover a wide variety of topics, which, at times, may be deeply rooted in the culture and, therefore, are likely to present concepts that readers are not familiar with or may not be fully aware of.

It’s in this context that two interesting concepts are discussed: domestication and foreignization. Approaches to the translation of cultural content, especially in literature, are addressed. Thus, foreignization would present a concept unknown to the reader by emphasizing its foreign character, while domestication would replace these concepts with other more familiar, «equivalent» concepts, which would disguise the origin of the original text.

Translation plays an essential role in the construction of the identity of the foreign culture, so there is always a certain ethic and responsibility behind everything that is translated. Likewise, what is not translated is as suggestive and influential as what is, since it contributes to the representation of a foreign culture. Thus, it can be seen that dominant cultures give less importance and publish fewer translations than non-dominant cultures, while at the same time their own social space is invaded by the media translations of dominant cultures.

At FAST.txt we offer industry-specific translation solutions. If you would like more information, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Mercedes Pajuelo

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