The translation of a literary text

​The translation of a literary text is the most complicated of the types of written translation.Besides a perfect understanding of both languages, the gift of words, a feel for the language, the translator ought to have an artistic flair, the talent of a writer or a poet. Many literary greats began by translating the works of their predecessors from other cultures. Well-known writers of the past considered it their obligation to master several foreign languages, including dead languages, in order to read masterpieces in the original, bringing fame to their authors all around the world. With this in mind it should be understood that magnificent literary translations are not within the capabilities of every experienced translator.

A full length literary translation is the recreation of a work anew, within the framework of another language and culture, preserving the reality of the one country’s original, but making it understandable to the representatives of the other nation, all the while still respecting the pace and rhythm of the work, and not adding any extra embellishments of one’s own.

For example, the reformer Martin Luther was first of all a translator, and his fundamental reform was the production of a Bible in the plain-spoken German language of the people, to cleanse it of the complicated and archaic turns of phrase of high Latin. Among the results of this masterful literary translation were wars, revolutions, and the founding of a new confession. When just a little more than one hundred years ago an attempt was made to make a new translation of the Bible in German, preserving the pastiche of the ancient style and sentence structure, alien to the German language, difficult to read and understand, then this translation was hissed at. Literalness destroys artistry.

If we turn our attention to contemporary literary translation, we first of all understand the importance of quality in its fulfillment on the leading edge of mass culture, i.e., serials. Not soap operas, but such cult classics as “Friends”, “House”, “Lie to Me” and “The Big Bang Theory”. When a new series comes to the screen, certain companies suddenly produce literal translations of them, not even doing multi-voice dubbing, but simply a literal translation. But, somehow, the fans of the serial are prepared to wait a few days, just for the sake of not spoiling the impression of the new series by a weak translation.After all, the speech of Dr. Cal Lightman in a literal translation may seem like the ravings of someone strung out on drugs, his speech seemingly unconnected to the situation. And the famous “Bazinga!” of Sheldon Cooper, not having an analog in Russian, has become a hit in translation from the studio “Kurazh-Bombey!”. This is not the translation of separate words; it is the compilation of all the cultures of different peoples, drawing parallels and analogies. Although, this doesn’t exclude the rare luck of an author, for whom it is an individual windfall.

As a result, literary translation is the individual creation of works of art. This is especially true with respect to poetry and the translation of songs. And, whereas technical translation, the translation of documents, legal and financial texts may be the objects of mastery of an experienced, highly educated craftsman, often not without sparks of talent, literary translation stands at the fork in the road separating professional craft from art.

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