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    Features and difficulties of literary translation

    Юлия Венцковская
    CEO MK:TRANSLATIONS 23.05.2021
    Features and difficulties of literary translation

    Jane Austen once said: “If a book is well written, I always find it too short.”

    It’s hard to argue with that. We can only add:

    In addition to be well written, it should also be well translated.

    Any inaccuracy or mistake can not only spoil the pleasure of reading, but also distort the meaning of separate episodes or the entire plot as a whole.

    Today we will talk about the features of translation of a literary text.

    Features of translation of fictional prose and poetry

    • This is the most creative type of translation characterized by freedom and liberty of presentation.
    • Literary translation does not require literalism, but it is obligatory to preserve the form, structure, content and mood of the original text.
    • A translator should often deal with phraseological units, set phrases, play on words, which lose the meaning laid down by the author in case of literally translation or are not translated at all. Therefore, it is necessary to look for analogues in another language, to select expressions that are similar in meaning in order to preserve the emotional and semantic message.

    One of the features of fiction translation  is the presence of phraseological units and wordplay in the texts.

    • The quality of literary translation directly depends on the creative abilities of the translator. In other words, it depends on whether the translator’s writing skills are sufficient to make a new text as good as the original. After all, you need to preserve emotions, mood, impression after reading, and not everyone can do that.
    • Another feature of translation of literary texts is the need for mandatory compliance with the style and cultural characteristics of the period the work belongs to. The translator needs to know the culture, everyday details and the way of life of those times, to be imbued with the text. Only this way he or she will be able to convey the atmosphere and meaning of the work as accurately as possible.

    Mistakes caused by peculiarities of literary translation

    Unfortunately, mistakes in the translation of books are quite common. Remember the numerous bloopers in the Russian version of the books about Harry Potter by the ROSMAN Publishing House — a strange interpretation of names, distortion of events and dialogues.

    You needn’t look hard to find examples of the translators’ mistakes, since one of them each of us had encountered as far back as in our childhood when we were reading the tale about Cinderella. Do you still think she had crystal (or glass) shoes?

    In the French version of this tale, Cinderella’s shoes were made of gray squirrel fur — “vair”, which was used to decorate the shoes of rich people that time. In the Russian version, Cinderella loses a crystal shoe, and glass is “verre” in the French version. According to one of the versions of linguists, the translator confused similar words and thereby misled several generations.

    Common mistakes the translators make when dealing with literary texts

    1. Unwillingness or fear to ask questions

    Even an experienced translator may not know something or have difficulties in work. If something raises doubts, it is better to clarify the meaning of the word in several sources or to consult with the customer. The professional asks, not guesses.

    1. Lack of fact checking

    References to historical events or public figures are often found in literary texts. A qualified translator always checks the generally accepted translation of events, titles, names in open sources, studies the context and historical facts in order to correctly understand and translate the text.

    1. Preservation of foreign language syntax

    If the text is inconvenient to read, the tongue “stumbles” over angular structures and the meaning is hard to grasp, then the translator has retained the original syntax. The construction of the text should comply with the standards of the target language.

    Quality literary translation:

    • It is read as if it is the original.
    • It has the same style and contains the meaning and mood conceived by the author from the first to the last word. Free presentation does not mean distortion of the structure, form and content of the original text.
    • Does not contain grammatical, syntactic, punctuation mistakes and has been proofread by an editor.

    Read more about the service of  literary translation by MK:translations on our website.

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