Grammatical construction in literary texts
Thread poster: Susie Miles

Susie Miles  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:18
English to Spanish
Mar 4, 2008

I would like to ask: When you are translating (say from En > Sp) a literary text from an English author which is very well written, you can understand if perfectly, but the construction of some of the sentences is not in accordance with grammatical or punctuation rules, etc. (Something I understand is considered as "licencia literaria", in Spanish). My question is: When you translate this text into Spanish, is it correct to leave it in the same style the author used, even when maybe he constructed a sentence without a verb, for instance? Or you have to try to put it correctly, with acceptable constructed sentences in the Spanish translation? I don't know if I make myself understood. If only I could explain it in my native language....
Thank you so much,
Susie Miles


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James McVay  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 02:18
Russian to English
+ ...
Convey the style of the original Mar 5, 2008

I don't make my living doing literary translation, but I'll give my opinion anyway.

I think that in translating a work of art, the translator should adhere as closely as possible to the style and content of the original. It may not be appropriate to do that on a sentence by sentence basis, however. Each language has its own quirks that a good writer can exploit for effect, but they often (usually?) don't have exact equivalents in the target language.

Start by assuming that the if the writer makes a grammatical error, he or she is doing it for a reason, then find a way of recreating the same effect in the translation.

My opinion . . .


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Juliana Brown  Identity Verified
Israel
Local time: 02:18
Member (2007)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Literary translation should not be mistaken for literal translation Mar 5, 2008

Susie Miles wrote:

I would like to ask: When you are translating (say from En > Sp) a literary text from an English author which is very well written, you can understand if perfectly, but the construction of some of the sentences is not in accordance with grammatical or punctuation rules, etc. (Something I understand is considered as "licencia literaria", in Spanish). My question is: When you translate this text into Spanish, is it correct to leave it in the same style the author used, even when maybe he constructed a sentence without a verb, for instance? Or you have to try to put it correctly, with acceptable constructed sentences in the Spanish translation? I don't know if I make myself understood. If only I could explain it in my native language....
Thank you so much,
Susie Miles


One of the things which makes a good literary translation good (or great) is the translator's ability to create a similar sense of language, register, rhythm, etc. which goes far beyond the literal.
For example, this week I had a poem to translate, which was about how a metro was built. The language, apart from telling the story, also had to reflect the rhythmic sound of the train leaving a station, just as in the original.
Once you take a text which contains the 'literary license' you mention, and add in the missing verbs, or fix up the grammar, you have now edited out an element which made it unique.
Some editing is necessary at times for cultural reasons, or for cases where the linguistic equivalent makes no sense or confuses the text. I have worked with some authors who are happy to make such changes in the translation of their works, if there is a reason to do so, and in consultation with them.


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Kim Metzger  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 01:18
German to English
Coetzee on translation Mar 5, 2008

The entire essay was available online a few months ago, but it appears to have been taken down. It is well worth reading.

"Where my dialogue is aberrant is when it comes from the mouths of children or of characters for whom English is not a first language. In general, it is best for such speech to be translated not word for word but by speech typical of children in the language translated into (hereafter called the target language), or by the speech of a foreigner making typical foreign slips...
Would mastery of the theory of translation make one a better translator? There is a legitimate branch of aesthetics called the theory of literature. But I doubt very much that there is or can be such a thing as a theory of translation—not one, at any rate, from which practitioners of translation will have much to learn.
Translation seems to me a craft in a way that cabinet-making is a craft. There is no substantial theory of cabinet-making, and no philosophy of cabinet-making except the ideal of being a good cabinet-maker, plus a handful of precepts relating to tools and to types of wood.
For the rest, what there is to be learnt must be learnt by observation and practice. The only book on cabinet-making I can imagine that might be of use to the practitioner would be a humble handbook."

http://www.languagehat.com/archives/002266.php


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chawan  Identity Verified
Thailand
Local time: 13:18
English to French
+ ...
Stick to the level of literary licence Mar 5, 2008

By reading and rereading a poem
you get to feel its sound, rythm, tone and light
By translating the poem
we should stick to the level of literary licence used
thus respecting the mood and spirit of the author
as long as it makes sense in the target language
and reproduces the original style
May this help you
JMA


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xxxLia Fail  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 08:18
Spanish to English
+ ...
Prose and poetry Mar 5, 2008

Juliana Starkman wrote:

For example, this week I had a poem to translate, which was about how a metro was built. The language, apart from telling the story, also had to reflect the rhythmic sound of the train leaving a station, just as in the original.



Surely poetry is quite different from prose? For example, a whole novel won't usually be dedicated to rhythmic sounds. Poetry is based on metre, rhyme etc, novels usually aren't.


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xxxLia Fail  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 08:18
Spanish to English
+ ...
reflect the author's style Mar 5, 2008

Susie Miles wrote:

I would like to ask: When you are translating (say from En > Sp) a literary text from an English author which is very well written, you can understand if perfectly, but the construction of some of the sentences is not in accordance with grammatical or punctuation rules, etc. (Something I understand is considered as "licencia literaria", in Spanish). My question is: When you translate this text into Spanish, is it correct to leave it in the same style the author used, even when maybe he constructed a sentence without a verb, for instance? Or you have to try to put it correctly, with acceptable constructed sentences in the Spanish translation? I don't know if I make myself understood. If only I could explain it in my native language....
Thank you so much,
Susie Miles


The art of a clever literary translation is to reflect the author's style yet make the translation sound natural.

You should check out translations of "difficult" works (for example, off the top of my head, James Joyce and Samuel Beckett).

One translator who does a particularly good juggling act is Margaret Jull Costa, in her translation of Javier Marias' A Heart So White. His sentences are endless, and she has managed to reflect this well.

You can check the translation (not the Spanish) out in Google Books:

http://books.google.es/books?id=jkA7Y-H__NwC&printsec=frontcover&dq="heart%20so%20white"&ei=X2_OR83yGJXCzATvyJ2wBQ&hl=en&sig=DujMG9K1_bThqDczSefuKsjmtWc#PPA7,M1


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Susie Miles  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:18
English to Spanish
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you Mar 5, 2008

Thank you very much for your suggestions and advice. I will study them carefully....
Saludos,
Susie


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June Derlachter  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 23:18
Member
Dutch to English
Interesting topic! I'm in a similar situation Mar 10, 2008

I am actually in a situation that is related to this topic. I have translated a number of files for a Dutch publisher (Dutch to English), including fragments from novels, about the author, about the book, etc and have received a comment about my work today.
Apparently, when I combine sentences, change the word order, or use words that are not literally exactly what the author had selected it is unacceptable- that they feel that the meaning has been changed, etc.
I explained that if I did that, it was to put it into the best English possible (grammatically) and that I have fully respected the author.

Is there a line here? I feel that the meaning and style are intact, I wish that the publisher would let a native speaker check it.

What are your thoughts?

Thanks for your time!


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Susie Miles  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:18
English to Spanish
TOPIC STARTER
Again, thank you! Mar 10, 2008

I have read all your opinions once more and they are very helpful, indeed! I see that there is not a unique answer for this thematic. But I undertand that the most important thing is to try to maintain the author's style.

Thank you so much, let's see how I can put it into practice in the future...

Saludos!


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Grammatical construction in literary texts

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