Literary Translation is Just That Little Bit Special

Literary translationTranslators of literary works are special people. If you thought that translating from the German into English or vice versa of legal documents or technical manuals was difficult, then spare a thought for the translator whose special task is the German translation of a literary work.

Of course, all types of German translation services, like any language translation, require attention to detail and a thorough understanding of both the language and culture of the source language as well as the target language, but literary language demands a level of creativity which need not be present with non literary translations.

The good literary translator needs to have a subjective understanding of the context in which the work he or she is translating was written. This is partly because any literary piece of work is as much about the use of the language itself as it is about the message being conveyed. There are a number of elements in any piece of literary work that combine to give the writing its particular flavour. This includes syntax, mood, rhythm, meaning and even punctuation. The combination of these elements needs to be maintained by the literary translator if the text is to resemble the original in any real shape or form.

Some would say that there is no real way that a literary piece of work created in one cultural setting can ever be translated satisfactorily into another – there will always be something lost in translation. This is because the original text may evoke reactions, emotions and feelings that are not replicated in the culture of the people for whom the translation is made.

On a more practical level, there comes the problem faced when grammatical rules have been bent or even been created for a piece of text. How much does the translator bend or change the same set of rules in the target language? What happens when the original text contains words or names that have been created specifically for the text? In some works, for instance, even the leading characters of a novel may have names that represent a play on words which can only be understood from the text itself and cannot be readily translated into another language.

While the average German NAATI translator may find that literary translation is challenging, it remains a rich and absorbing exercise in its own right.