Literary translation is an art involving transposing and interpreting of creative works such as novels, short prose, poetry, drama, comic strips, and film scripts from one language and culture into another. It can also involve intellectual and academic works like psychology publications, philosophy and physics papers, art and literary criticism, and works of classical and ancient literature. Without literary translation, human thought and art would be devoid of the souls of great minds and books, spanning The Bible to Don Quixote to Freud and Einstein to Naguib Mahfouz and Orhan Pamuk. If translating literature and academia interests you, learning how to translate can be incredibly rewarding.
Become an avid and intimate reader in each of your languages. Translating creative works requires the ability to read between the lines. You have to love reading in the genre(s) you’re translating and be both intimate with the writer and the nuances of language, culture, thought, and message.
Most literary translators, with very few exceptions, translate exclusively into their mother tongue, the language within best they express themselves and are most at home in. To translate a book, you have to write a book; to translate a play, you need to know how to write a play. The only way you can do this is to write as much as possible in your language and continuously hone that skill. Most established translators are also published writers.
Academic institutions worldwide are one of the strongest sources and supporters of literary and academic translation. Consider getting at least one degree in comparative literature, linguistics, languages, or translation to give you a head start. Literary translation specifically is often offered through creative writing programs. Receiving academic training will also give you access to literary lectures, mentorships with professors who translate, and libraries with well-established and worldly collections.
A writer’s work is a piece of him/herself. In order to interpret what you’re reading, you have to know everything about the person behind the words. Ask yourself: When and where was the work written? Where was the writer from? What surrounded the writer at the time the work was written? Does the work draw reference from other literary pieces? What else has the writer written? And so forth.
The translation of a particular work can cost both the writer and translator their lives depending on the statement of the work. The translation of books has sparked revolutions and wars. Know your audience.
The minute you begin to render your first sentence, the original is already lost in translation. It is your job not to find an equivalent but rather reconstruct the original as though it was written in the target language. Cultural concepts, shades of colour, shades of meaning, and even history can and will be lost. Don’t be afraid of that but instead embrace it. You can always use footnotes /endnotes if necessary. Who is your audience?
Find a publisher. Literary translations are largely contracted through publishing houses. Approach them, research them, provide writing/translation samples, and negotiate.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF TRANSLATION SERVICES
The world of translation is a vast and varied one. There are different translation techniques, diverse theories about translation and eight different translation services types, including technical translation, judicial translation and certified translation.
1. TECHNICAL TRANSLATION
The term “technical translation” can be understood in two ways:
- In its broadest sense, it is about translating user manuals, instructions leaflets, internal notes, medical translation, financial reports, minutes of proceedings, administrative terms in general, and so forth. These documents share the distinction of being for a specific and limited target audience and usually have a limited shelf-life.
- In its most limited sense, technical translation refers to “technical” documentation such as engineering, IT, electronics, mechanics, and industrial texts in general. Technical translation requires a knowledge of the specialized terminology used in the sector originating the text.
2. SCIENTIFIC TRANSLATION
As a sub-group of technical translation, as its name indicates, scientific translation deals with documents in the domain of science: articles, theses, papers, congress booklets, presentations, study reports, etc.
3. FINANCIAL TRANSLATION
Financial or economic translation, of course, deals with documentation relating to the likes of financial, banking, and stock exchange activity. This includes company annual reports, financial statements, financial contracts, financing packages, and so forth.
4. LEGAL TRANSLATION
Legal translation covers a wide range of very different documents. These may include legal documents such as summons and warrants; administrative texts such as registration certificates; corporate statutes and remittance drafts, technical documents such as expert opinions and texts for judicial purposes; and a number of other texts in addition to reports and minutes of court proceedings.
5. JUDICIAL TRANSLATION
Judicial translations, not to be confused with legal or certified translation, refers to the task of translation undertaken in a court setting. Judicial translators specialize in translating documents such as letters rogatory, minutes of proceedings, judgments, expert opinions, deposition, minutes of interrogation sessions etc.
6. JURIDICAL TRANSLATION
Juridical translation refers to legally-binding documentation. For example, this could be the translation of documents such as laws; regulations and decrees; general sales and purchase conditions; legally binding contracts such as labor; license and commercial contracts; partnership agreements, accords; protocols and conventions; internal regulations; insurance policies; and bail assurance, among others. The juridical translator must have a solid legal background in addition to their linguistic training.
7. CERTIFIED TRANSLATION
A certified translator may use their signature to authenticate official translations. These are usually documents which require legal validation and are thus referred to as “certified”. Certified translators often work in courtrooms as juridical translators, or act in the capacity of a legal expert, as well as providing translations of civil status documentation, marital agreements, divorce settlements, deceases, and wills, for example.
8. LITERARY TRANSLATION
This is probably the hardest of all the different kinds of translation, as obviously, the translator must first try to render the semantic content of the original text (as should be the case for the translation of any kind of text), and then in addition deal with a number of other difficulties, such as:
- Polysemic word play specific to literary texts, as behind a word or a phrase, there lie a number of connotations which the writer has tried to transmit or hint at subtly and which the translator must attempt to render;
- The author’s own particular literary style; the translator must try to transmit the unique way in which the writer has couched their ideas;
- Rhythm, meter and the innate balance of the phrase; this is particularly important in poetry but equally present in prose, where the translator must work out the best way to resolve the delicate task of rendering the music inherent to the text — assonance, alliteration and asyndetons.