Literal vs. literary translation, which is better?
Thread poster: Pedro Godfroid

Pedro Godfroid
Local time: 21:14
English to French
+ ...
Mar 26, 2012

I guess the title sums it up but I'll give a concrete example of a translation from English to Spanish.

The original text:

On the other hand, C++, VB, Perl, and other languages like Smalltalk had some of their design efforts focused on the issue of complexity and as a result are remarkably successful in solving certain types of problems.

The literal translation is, I think, very understandable but a bit awkward:

Por otra parte, C++, VB, Perl y otros lenguajes como Smalltalk tenían algunos de sus esfuerzos de diseño enfocados a la cuestión de la complejidad y como resultado son notablemente exitosos resolviendo ciertos tipos de problemas.

A less awkward and more "literary", but less literal, translation could be:

Por otra parte, algunos de los esfuerzos de diseño de C++, VB, Perl y otros lenguajes como Smalltalk estaban enfocados hacia el problema de la complejidad y, como resultado, tienen un éxito notable en la resolución de cierto tipo de problemas.

Although with a very long and wide professional and life experience, I'm a n00b a a translator and I want to get certified but I want to take the right approach from the start and that's the first dilemma I encountered.

So what's the opinion of professional translators?

Do you prefer to stick closer to the original text although it may be a bit awkward or clumsy or do you prefer to get a bit away from the original text (conserving the core meaning of course) to make it easier and pleasant to read?

And, more important, what do customers and graders think?


--
Pedro Godfroid Goffin


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Lori Cirefice  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 21:14
French to English
the eternal dilemma Mar 26, 2012

Sometimes a literal translation is fine, but you definitely need to steer away from anything that sounds awkward and clumsy, in those cases you need to get away from the original and make sure it sounds natural. I am not capable of judging your Spanish, but I can say that most of my customers prefer a natural-sounding translation.

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Madeleine MacRae Klintebo  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:14
Swedish to English
+ ...
Not an issue of "literal vs. literary" Mar 26, 2012

Although my Spanish is limited, your first example looks very much like word replacement. I.e. substituting a Spanish word for an English one. I suggest you leave that kind of "translation" to Google.

As you might be aware, different languages have different grammatical and stylistic structures. Just stick with whichever structures are acceptable in Spanish. Forget about graders, your client's customers would probably like to read something that resembles Spanish rather than Spanglish.


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Pedro Godfroid
Local time: 21:14
English to French
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Tx Mar 26, 2012

Thanks for your answers. I will follow your advice.

I'm^H^H was a coder and I have a tendency to overdo it because with code at some point it's obvious you cannot better and know where to stop. With prose it's not the same, as I've realized.

--
Pedro Godfroid Goffin


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 13:14
English to Spanish
+ ...
Depends Mar 27, 2012

A lot depends on the type of work you are doing. In technical and legal translations you worry about precision and content, not style. In a literary translation style can be very important. But a good translator does not have to sacrifice anything to arrive at a translation that is both precise and natural. However, it takes a lot of practice to get to that point.

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Pedro Godfroid
Local time: 21:14
English to French
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Re: Mar 27, 2012

Henry Hinds wrote:

A lot depends on the type of work you are doing. In technical and legal translations you worry about precision and content, not style. In a literary translation style can be very important. But a good translator does not have to sacrifice anything to arrive at a translation that is both precise and natural. However, it takes a lot of practice to get to that point.


Yes, that's my problem and what I'm trying to sort out.

The thing is, there are many ways to express the same content and the original text does not always does it in the more elegant or clear way. Even in the original language and often a construction, an image or a figure of style does not have the same "feeling" in different languages. This can happen even when striving for precision in the meaning. The form can vary a lot. Can that form vary a lot from the original? Can a form that is awkward even in the original and the original language, be changed for a better understanding or style?

For instance in my example, after a bit of reflection, I think a better and correct form to express the original is:

Por otra parte, se enfocaron hacia la cuestión de la complejidad algunos de los esfuerzos de diseño de C++, VB, Perl y otros lenguajes como Smalltalk que, como resultado, tienen un notable éxito en la resolución de ciertos tipos de problemas.


As I see Spanish is one of your working languages, what's your take? Is it too far from the original? Is it too modified? Is it all right?


--
Pedro Godfroid Goffin


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 21:14
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
The second one is the literal translation Mar 27, 2012

Pedro Godfroid wrote:

Por otra parte, C++, VB, Perl y otros lenguajes como Smalltalk tenían algunos de sus esfuerzos de diseño enfocados a la cuestión de la complejidad y como resultado son notablemente exitosos resolviendo ciertos tipos de problemas.

A less awkward and more "literary", but less literal, translation could be:

Por otra parte, algunos de los esfuerzos de diseño de C++, VB, Perl y otros lenguajes como Smalltalk estaban enfocados hacia el problema de la complejidad y, como resultado, tienen un éxito notable en la resolución de cierto tipo de problemas.

I think it is important not to confuse the idea of a literal translation with that of a word-per-word translation. A literal translation is one that conveys the exact meaning, tone, and feelings as the original, and in order to achieve that goal you may position the words in the order that will reflect that exact meaning.

In this sense, it appears to me that the second translation --the one you call "literary"-- is closer to a literal translation.

May I just suggest that, if you wish to be successful in an exam situation, you become accustomed to avoiding false friends/cognates? I mean things like "focus" translated as "enfocar", when you actually wanted to say "concentrar" or "centrar". You should also try to avoid unnecessary verbosity in the translation and find the target-language expression that more naturally reflects the meaning.

This is just my opinion as a former software developer and translator about these matters for 16 years, but I would say that something like the following is the literal translation:

Por otra parte, en el caso de C++, VB, Perl y otros lenguajes, [como es el caso de Smalltalk/por ejemplo Smalltalk], parte del esfuerzo de diseño se centró en la cuestión de la complejidad y en consecuencia se trata de lenguajes que resuelven con notable éxito determinados tipos de problemas.


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neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 21:14
Spanish to English
+ ...
Je préfère Mar 27, 2012

I'm not a native Spanish speaker, but at a cursory glance, although it's not perfect, I'd say the 2nd version is less jarring than the first.

Apart from that, I agree with the points raised by Henry, Madeleine and Tomás.


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Rolf Keller
Germany
Local time: 21:14
English to German
Translating vs. transcribing Mar 27, 2012

Henry Hinds wrote:

But a good translator does not have to sacrifice anything to arrive at a translation that is both precise and natural. However, it takes a lot of practice to get to that point.


"But any translator does ..." Otherwise he or she does not translate but transcribe.


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Suzan Hamer  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 21:14
English
+ ...
Food for thought: Mar 27, 2012

"Translation is like a woman. If it is beautiful, it is not faithful.
If it is faithful, it is most certainly not beautiful."
(Yevgeny Yevtushenko)



"Woe to the makers of literal translations, who by rendering
every word weaken the meaning! It is indeed by so doing
that we can say the letter kills and the spirit gives life."
(Voltaire)


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Pedro Godfroid
Local time: 21:14
English to French
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
re: Mar 27, 2012

Suzan Hamer wrote:

"Translation is like a woman. If it is beautiful, it is not faithful.
If it is faithful, it is most certainly not beautiful."
(Yevgeny Yevtushenko)



"Woe to the makers of literal translations, who by rendering
every word weaken the meaning! It is indeed by so doing
that we can say the letter kills and the spirit gives life."
(Voltaire)


Dank U!

And it's funny seeing Voltaire quote the Bible


--
Pedro Godfroid Goffin


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Pedro Godfroid
Local time: 21:14
English to French
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
re: Mar 27, 2012

Tomás Cano Binder, CT wrote:

Pedro Godfroid wrote:

Por otra parte, C++, VB, Perl y otros lenguajes como Smalltalk tenían algunos de sus esfuerzos de diseño enfocados a la cuestión de la complejidad y como resultado son notablemente exitosos resolviendo ciertos tipos de problemas.

A less awkward and more "literary", but less literal, translation could be:

Por otra parte, algunos de los esfuerzos de diseño de C++, VB, Perl y otros lenguajes como Smalltalk estaban enfocados hacia el problema de la complejidad y, como resultado, tienen un éxito notable en la resolución de cierto tipo de problemas.

I think it is important not to confuse the idea of a literal translation with that of a word-per-word translation. A literal translation is one that conveys the exact meaning, tone, and feelings as the original, and in order to achieve that goal you may position the words in the order that will reflect that exact meaning.

In this sense, it appears to me that the second translation --the one you call "literary"-- is closer to a literal translation.

May I just suggest that, if you wish to be successful in an exam situation, you become accustomed to avoiding false friends/cognates? I mean things like "focus" translated as "enfocar", when you actually wanted to say "concentrar" or "centrar". You should also try to avoid unnecessary verbosity in the translation and find the target-language expression that more naturally reflects the meaning.

Precisely your suggestion illustrates quite well why I have these doubts. Because to use "focus" in this case is a figure of style which is, I think, as valid in Spanish as is English. And, when translating this phrase, I did indeed thought about substituting it with a more direct way of expressing it, as you do in your translation, but at the end did not do do it to try to be more truthful to the original as the author did used this figure of style. So you think it's thus all right to do something like this to try to make the translation simpler although a bit farther from the original in style. that's the kind of answer I was looking for because, as a coder, rigor has always been more important to me than style.

This is just my opinion as a former software developer and translator about these matters for 16 years, but I would say that something like the following is the literal translation:

Por otra parte, en el caso de C++, VB, Perl y otros lenguajes, [como es el caso de Smalltalk/por ejemplo Smalltalk], parte del esfuerzo de diseño se centró en la cuestión de la complejidad y en consecuencia se trata de lenguajes que resuelven con notable éxito determinados tipos de problemas.


Thanks for your input.

BTW, it's significative how many former IT people I meet who have recycled as translator. Or try as I do because it's still as hopeless as IT for me until now.... La informática no es un país para viejos


--
Pedro Godfroid Goffin


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 21:14
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Natural to the target audience Mar 27, 2012

Pedro Godfroid wrote:
Precisely your suggestion illustrates quite well why I have these doubts. Because to use "focus" in this case is a figure of style which is, I think, as valid in Spanish as is English. And, when translating this phrase, I did indeed thought about substituting it with a more direct way of expressing it, as you do in your translation, but at the end did not do do it to try to be more truthful to the original as the author did used this figure of style. So you think it's thus all right to do something like this to try to make the translation simpler although a bit farther from the original in style.

Actually in my opinion the translation is more true to the original if you use "centrar" / "concentrar" in this case than if you use "enfocar". I do not necessarily agree that a more true translation is one that uses the same words or verbs as the source, since there is a big risk of cognates or an unnatural target text.

Saying "to center their efforts" in English would sound a bit odd -- although not incorrect, I would say --, but in Spain it sounds horrible to say "enfocar sus esfuerzos" when you have the perfectly clear "centrar sus esfuerzos".

It is critical to convey the message with expressions and words that feel natural to the target audience.


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Pedro Godfroid
Local time: 21:14
English to French
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
re: Mar 27, 2012

Tomás Cano Binder, CT wrote:

Pedro Godfroid wrote:
Precisely your suggestion illustrates quite well why I have these doubts. Because to use "focus" in this case is a figure of style which is, I think, as valid in Spanish as is English. And, when translating this phrase, I did indeed thought about substituting it with a more direct way of expressing it, as you do in your translation, but at the end did not do do it to try to be more truthful to the original as the author did used this figure of style. So you think it's thus all right to do something like this to try to make the translation simpler although a bit farther from the original in style.

Actually in my opinion the translation is more true to the original if you use "centrar" / "concentrar" in this case than if you use "enfocar". I do not necessarily agree that a more true translation is one that uses the same words or verbs as the source, since there is a big risk of cognates or an unnatural target text.

Saying "to center their efforts" in English would sound a bit odd -- although not incorrect, I would say --, but in Spain it sounds horrible to say "enfocar sus esfuerzos" when you have the perfectly clear "centrar sus esfuerzos".

It is critical to convey the message with expressions and words that feel natural to the target audience.


That's what I was writing about. To you it sounds horrible and to me not so much, although we're both Spaniards. But we're from different backgrounds and regions. I got this both in Spanish, where my strong Andalusian character colours quite a bit my prose, and in French where my equally strong "Lîdjwê" Walloon herency does the same. So it seems that some conformism to the Madrid (although it should be Valladolid) and Paris (although it should be Tours) standard is in order. That's going to be hard for me :-/ . But hell, both Andalusians and Walloons are known for being "tièstou" or "muy suyos".

Thanks again for the input. This is really what I need, different points of view to widen my own.


--
Pedro Godfroid Goffin


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