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    Why literary translation cannot be a literal copy of the original

    Julia Ventskovska
    SEO MK:TRANSLATIONS 03.03.2023
    Why literary translation cannot be a literal copy of the original

    Literary translations play a major role in popularizing cultures and languages of different cultures, as they make it possible for the readers to move to a different world, get new impressions and experience, expand their cultural horizons.

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    Literary translations contribute to the preservation and popularization of the cultural heritage and intercultural understanding because they allow you to enjoy works that otherwise would simply be inaccessible.

    Moreover, literary translations are of great importance for language equivalence and common understanding between cultures. They make it possible for translators to convey the mood, style and emotions of the original work, which is extremely important for preserving the works’ authenticity and value.

    What is literary translation

    Literary translation is a process of literary work transferred from one language into another while preserving its stylistic and artistic value. The main goal of such a translation is the integrity of the author’s style, the emotional richness and artistic expression of the original text during translation.

    Literary translation is used for texts of different genres, such as novels, stories, narratives, poetry, dramatic works etc. Usually, these materials have high artistic value and style, which is difficult to express in another language without losing the meaning and emotional richness.

    Literary translation may include both literary classics, like “Testament” by T.H. Shevchenko, “Don Quixote” by M. de Cervantes, “Romeo and Juliet” by W. Shakespeare, and modern bestsellers like, for example, “Game of Thrones” series by G. R. R. Martin or “Harry Potter” by J. K. Rowling.

    What is the literary translation goal

    The literary translation goal is to transfer not only the original content, but its artistic value and aesthetic quality. That is, the major task is to preserve the text artistry, convey its author’s style, tone, and emotions, to consider the cultural and historical contexts as well.

    A specific literary translation goal may vary depending on the context and the customer’s requirements. For instance, literary work is translated to inspire new readers, popularize the literature and culture of another country, enrich literary heritage etc.

    As for the cinema and TV, literary translation can be used to provide a film understanding by the audience who does not speak the original language.

    Types of literary translations

    Literary translation can be divided into several types depending on different factors, such as the text type, its genre, language pair, translation goal etc.

    Here are some major types of literary translation:

    1. Literary translation is fiction translation, such as poetry, prose, drama etc.
    2. Film translation is the translation of subtitles and film voice acting. This type of translation involves using different techniques, such as localization, transcription, name translation, dialogue adaptation etc.
    3. Musical translation is applied to songs and other musical works. In this case, it is important not only to convey the song’s meaning, but the melody and rhythm.
    4. Humorous translation is the translation of humorous stories, which aims to convey the original humor and comic effect. This type of translation can be quite difficult, as the humor is often based on the cultural and language features.
    5. Translation for children is applied to literary works and other texts for children. In this case, it is important to consider the readers’ age and use a comprehensible and clear language style.

    What is the specificity of literary translation

    Literary translation is a complex process requiring not only a high level of language knowledge but deep insights into cultural and historical contexts where the original text was created. Thus, these translations are usually performed by translators with experience and the ability to convey the works’ artistic value in another language. They can be experts with a degree in translation or writers and literary critics with a deep insight into literary works or necessary skills.

    Here are some features of literary translation:

    • Contextuality

    To convey an accurate work’s meaning, the translator should consider the context and cultural differences.

    • Creativity

    Literary translation is a creative process; the translator should sometimes choose between the compliance with the original and the translation beauty.

    • Idioms and metaphors

    Since idioms and metaphors can have different meanings in different cultures, the translator should understand the language and culture well to convey its meaning.

    • Rhythm and style

    To make the translation natural and clear, the original rhythm and style should be considered.

    • Emotions

    Literary translation should convey the emotions, mood and feelings of the author, which can be a very difficult task.

    Often, usage of words with multiple meanings is one of the literary translation challenges, so the translator should determine which meaning the author used. Moreover, the dialects, archaisms, neologisms requiring special attention during translation are sometimes used in literary works.

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    Ukrainian masters of literary translation

    Literary translations are a professional field where a lot of translators, literature critics and writers from all over the world work.

    Here are some famous Ukrainian representatives in this industry:

    • Oleksandr Oles was a Ukrainian writer, literature critic and translator, who translated Shakespeare, Goethe, Huxley and other world literature classics into Ukrainian.
    • Lesia Ukrainka was a famous Ukrainian poetess and translator, who translated the works of Shakespeare, Goethe, Dante and other literary masters.
    • Mykola Lukash worked on the works of Shakespeare, Dickens, Melville, Faulkner and other authors.
    • Yuri Andrukhovych is a patriarch of modern Ukrainian literature, translating Mark Twain, Hermann Hesse, Milan Kundera and other authors.
    • Andrii Kokotiukha is a writer, screenwriter and translator from Polish and English.
    • Natalka Sniadanko is a writer, translator, and journalist, translating Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Julio Cortázar, Jorge Luis Borges and other authors into Ukrainian.
    • Dmytro Lazutkin is a Ukrainian poet, journalist, and translator from German and English.

    Of course, this is not an exhaustive list, as there are a lot of other professionals who do important work – the translation of literary works from different languages into Ukrainian and vice versa.

    These are three reasons why literary translation cannot be a literal copy of the original

    First of all, each language has its own expressions and grammatical structures. For instance, some languages have no words with gender forms or such concepts as singular and plural. Ukrainian and English have different word orders in the sentences, thus, the direct translation will be unclear. Moreover, English has a lot of idioms with their unique meaning, but their literal translation may seem ridiculous.

    Secondly, different nations’ cultures and worldviews may differ. Thus, ordinary things for some people can be misunderstood by representatives of other cultures. For instance, a gesture can be a symbol of respect in one culture and an insult in the other one. When translating literary works, these cultural and worldview differences should be considered, and the relevant expressions should be chosen to convey the original meaning and emotions.

    Thirdly, literary translation requires creativity, which is not only conveying the meaning, but depicting the emotions and moods of the original. This means that the translator should not only know the language well, but have the talent, sense of style and great cultural erudition to convey the author’s ideas accurately.

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