The Importance of Literary Translation

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Literary translation is partly responsible for globalization. That might sound like an exaggeration but it’s not: The translation of great works of literature has connected cultures, countries, and regions in a way that would be otherwise impossible. It has allowed information to flow across borders, opening windows into other cultures. This, in turn, has deepened our insight into and proximity to fellow human beings worldwide, leading to a more globalized understanding of our world. After all, the concepts, emotions, and lessons that reside within the vault of celebrated literary works are universal, even if the languages they’re written in aren’t.

From the ancient Greeks to emerging contemporary writers, literary translation gives us access to global stories we would otherwise not have a chance to read, and it’s definitely a growing market. People all over the world hunger for great stories, so in case you’ve got one, why not give the people what they want? If you’ve been thinking about having your book translated into another language, check out our literary translation services

Literature as cultural exchange

Literature is defined as written works, especially those considered of superior or lasting artistic merit; they are the books that have changed the way we see the world, that allow us to explore cultures beyond our own and transport us to another time and era, offering a glimpse into the lives of others and the challenges they overcome. In a sense, these works allow us to live additional lives and contemplate aspects of being in a way that we may never have considered.

Since literature is so inextricably linked to a writer’s culture and era, only an experienced, professional translator can be entrusted with rendering the work into another language. A literary translation can’t be literal: It has to capture the author’s spirit, style, and voice through techniques that focus on effectively getting the meaning across rather than creating a replica of the words in another language. In every sense, literary translation is an art, not a science, and it demands a level of care and creativity that most forms of translation simply don’t.

Whether dealing with poetry or prose, a literary translator must be fluent not only in the source and target languages but also in the cultural inflections associated with each. Certain cultural references may not be translatable into another language; such elements may require additional explanations or adaptations to the local culture, or they may be omitted entirely if not integral to the storyline. 

A literary translator must also be familiar with the author’s voice and style so that the translated work is still recognizably theirs. From symbolism to wordplay, a literary translator will transmit the feeling of the original story in a creative and authentic way, allowing it to transport readers from all sorts of backgrounds to the same place. Sometimes this necessitates a degree of deviation from the original text, but that’s okay if it retains the overall message and atmosphere of the story. 

Gaps in global translation

Memorable, defining works of literature have been translated into nearly every language, but English-speaking countries, particularly the United States, are notorious for their scant number of works translated from other languages. With a few exceptions (mostly literature from Western Europe and Russia), the U.S. doesn’t publish as many translated books as other comparable nations, which is a shame when you consider the masterpieces we could be missing out on simply because of the language barrier. 

This creates a gap in knowledge and cultural exchange between America and countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, preventing U.S. citizens from learning more about these regions and their people. As a leading player on a globalized stage, the United States is in desperate need of literature presenting different points of view; similarly, more books originally written in English should be distributed worldwide, increasing global awareness on both ends. Only when we all have access to literature from around the world can we become more enlightened and empathetic and understand each other better through storytelling. 

If you have written a book that you want translated into or from English, check out our end-to-end literary translation services to expand your market and your audience’s worldview.

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