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How are literary works translated?


literary works

One type of translation activity is the translation of a text. It is distinguished from technical translations by the properties of the original itself. A literary work can describe objective reality, but different techniques are used for this, which should also be taken into account when adapting a text, translating it into foreign languages. It is not just the translation of a text, it is a full-fledged literary activity. In this case, the translator in a sense becomes the co-author of the writer.

Distinguishing characteristics of a fiction translation

A scientific text requires precision. For a literary text, it is also important. But it is not literal accuracy, but the ability to convey the nuances of meaning. A literary translation requires:

  • accuracy – sometimes literal, but more often semantic;
  • clarity that leaves no room for ambiguity;
  • conciseness – there is a certain correlation of words between languages, the structure cannot be exactly the same, but if the original text does not contain lengthy arguments, the finished text should not have them either;
  • transferring not only the meaning, but also a certain rhythm of the text (if poetry is involved).

All this requires a high level of skill of the translator. It is no coincidence that many of the classics have been translated by professional translators. For instance, the famous poet Boris Pasternak translated Shakespeare’s works. The English playwright’s sonnets are familiar to Russian-speaking readers through translations by Samuel Marshak. Not surprisingly, in many countries, copyright law extends to the work of the translator, as he or she partly becomes a co-author.

What problems do literary translators face?

Literary translation is one of the most difficult industries. It can be even more difficult than writing because of its severe restrictions. After all, a translator is not free to choose words but must find an analogue that accurately conveys the meaning. That is why literary translation is often viewed from a literary perspective.

Very often, literary translation involves locating realities that the translator may not be familiar with. A prime example is the Soviet translators who could not find an analogue for the word ‘hamburger’. They simply did not know what it was. Even in the era of globalisation, when there is no longer an iron curtain separating us from other countries, not all details of everyday life can be known to the author of a literary adaptation.

Another example is the translation of anagrams, puzzles and other unusual elements. A classic example is the translation of the Harry Potter books. As you know, the name of one of the characters, Tom Marvolo Riddle, is an anagram of the phrase “I am Lord Voldemort”, and this is a key point of the book. Most translators, especially in non-alphabetic Eastern languages, had to make explanations and leave the original name unchanged. But in some countries translators have transformed the name according to the peculiarities of the mother tongue. For example, in the French translation the name sounds like Tom Elvis Jedusor, which is not only an anagram of “Je suis Voldemort”, but also a reference to “Jeu du sort” (translated as “fatal enigma”). And there are many such examples, although books that could equal Joanne Rowling’s cycle in popularity are rare.

Translation of the book’s title is another problem. Often the translator has to choose a variant that is far from the original, but which appeals to readers.

Artistic translation is a real art. It requires the translator to be highly skilled, erudite, aware of many cultural realities.


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