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Literary translations: meaning and types

literary translation

Literary translators translate literary texts (prose or verse). This is a tricky type of translation because, although it is not always technical, it must faithfully convey the source text's meaning, figures of speech, rhythm, and style.

Let’s take a closer look at the different types and characteristics of literary translation and the difficulties associated with the process.

What do we mean by ‘literary translation’?

As mentioned above, literary translators translate literary texts such as novels, fiction, prose, poetry, books, plays, and scripts. Literary translators have the ambitious task of conveying the emotions, nuances, messages, and writing style of the author in the target language. The process essentially involves constant mediation between the translator and the author.

Literary translation generally leaves ample room for interpretation compared to other types of translation (such as technical texts). Therefore, translators have more freedom to modify sentence structure to convey the idea at the heart of the source text as faithfully as possible.

The difficulties that come with literary translation

The main difficulties literary translators face involve finding a balance between respecting and recreating the original text.

Professional literary translators know that target texts can differ from the original work but should not deviate to the extent that they become unrecognisable or ‘betray’ the source text.

To produce these types of translations, literary translators train for many years and possess advanced writing skills.

Types of literary translation

The main types of literary translation include:

  • Poems
  • Prose
  • Plays and scripts

When translating poems, translators need to pay close attention to the value and meaning of the original text. Translations can deviate significantly from the source text to convey the original meaning.

It is common to come across translated prose in the literary world as it is the most popular form of literature.

When it comes to translating plays, however, translators need to be aware of the historical and social context of the original work and the era in which it was written.  In addition, they also need to be familiar with other works written by the same playwright and their cultural references.

How to go about the process of literary translation

Creating a literary translation is a highly delicate task. It is probably one of the biggest challenges a translator can face. To produce a quality translation, translators need to develop their aesthetic sensitivities, pick up on the shades of meaning, and convey the expressive and communicative power of the original work.

Knowledge of an author's previous works undoubtedly facilitates translators as it allows them to make reference to other works or recurring themes.

Are you looking to have your poems, prose, or plays professionally translated? Check out our services. At Eurotrad, we have produced specialised translations for over twenty-five years in collaboration with our mother-tongue translators. Get in touch to submit your project, and we will provide you with a free quote.

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March 6, 2023

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