Literary Translation and Cultural Challenges

Literary translation involves the translation of the dramatic and creative poetry and prose of ancient and modern authors from different cultures. This assures that more people worldwide are able to enjoy the literary creations in their own language.

Literary translation has been going on for thousands of years, so it difficult to discuss it in one go. There are five volumes of the Oxford History of Literary Translation in English, which testifies to the complexity and depth of this topic.

Many literary translators have come and gone. The works of 6th century Roman philosopher, consul and Senator Anicius Manlius Severinus Boëthius, or just Boethius, was translated by Geoffrey Chaucer and King Alfred the Great.

Throughout the years, the Holy Bible is the most translated work. Among the classics, The Little Prince (French) is the most translated, followed by Pinocchio (Italian), Dao De Jing (Chinese), Pilgrim’s Progress (English) and Alice in Wonderland (English).

Among the modern works, some of the most translated are Harry Potter (English), Sleep Tight, Little Wolf (German), Seven Brief Lessons on Physics (Italian), Before I Go to Sleep (English) and The Book of Mirrors (English).

Another complication is the need to retain the true intent of the original text while the content is not literally translated. The translator has to be concerned about recreating the ambience of the novel despite avoiding word for word translation. It is also made even harder by the implications shown by the plotlines, play on words, and irony and humor that need transposition without resulting to giving explanations.

Another thing that complicates the translation of novels is the reader’s knowledge. You cannot pick and categorize the people who would be reading the translated novel.

There are readers who are fans of a particular author, while others like to read best-sellers. Others are attracted to a particular genre. Some prefer fiction while others go for true-to-life stories.

But novels are written by authors who come from different cultural backgrounds. Therefore, their references to traditions, practices and customs may be understood by readers who speak the same language as the author or have the same ethnic background.

The job of the translator is to deliver that kind of inherent knowledge to the reader speaking another language and may not be familiar with the cultural oddities of the original language.

In translating literature, the style of the author and the story’s atmosphere should be preserved. You may have missed the point that you are enjoying a book originally written in another language due to the skills and creativity of the translator.

Translators of literary works do not care for literal translation. The job requires the translation of idioms and local sayings. It requires that the translator have a specialized dictionary and a large personal vocabulary.

Literary translation deals with humor and play on words that must be transposed into the target language. The translation not only complies with the style used by the author but should also comply with the specific eras, cultures and settings of the literary work.

 

Why is literary translation difficult?

Literary translation is significantly different from any other kind of translation. Just the volume of the texts sets this translation endeavor apart. Tackling a piece that runs in the region of hundreds of thousands of words is not an easy task, nor is attempting to recreate poetry in another language without losing the magnificence of the source text.

One of the biggest challenges in this arena of literary translation is the balance to remain true to the original work while creating an entirely unique piece that evokes the same responses as the original piece. Ask any literary translator, and they’re sure to tell you that even a single word can be a bother. The author has chosen a particular word for a particular reason, so it’s up to the translator to ensure it’s rightfully delivered in the target language. But, what happens there is no direct translation or even several options with different meanings?

Importance of literary translation

The importance of literary translation is immeasurable. It enables people to understand the world. Students are able to understand philosophy, politics and history through the translated works of Sophocles and Homer. Many more readers are able to enjoy new insights into the different ways of life through contemporary translations. More people are able to enjoy the creative, fertile and highly imaginative minds of foreign authors.

Without the translation of literature, people would not be able to read the vast majority of literary works that are available in archives and libraries around the world. You would not be able to enjoy the ways ancient authors view the many facets of life and how they express their myriad emotions. You would not be able to understand how people back then think, compared to people who live in the modern era. Translation allows you to travel back in time and relive such moments. You are likewise given the chance to compare how things are done in the past and see some of the similarities as well as the changes that occur in the modern world.

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