Is There Room for Translation in Literature?

Learning LiteratureLiterature has been in existence since ancient times. In various forms, such as poetry and prose, literature captivates its readers through the use of beautifully arranged words. From Latin to Chinese, French, and English, Japanese and Afrikaans, literary works are written, published, and read in various languages. Each language and every word can convey an image, evoke a certain emotion, and create an experience. To appreciate a literary work, one must first know how to read and understand a specific language.

On Literary Translation

Translation serves to bridge the barrier between a reader and a literary work. But more than providing meaning, translation has a niche of its own in the literary world.

The College of Liberal Arts & Sciences at the University of Iowa, for instance, offers an MFA in Literary Translation. The Division of World Languages, Literatures and Cultures is home to the art of translation. The program provides its students with workshops and seminars on ideas of literariness, cultural history, and cultural politics, among the many facets of translation and literature. Their alumni have gone on to receive awards for translation, work in the publishing industry, freelance as translators, release their own works, and pursue doctorate degrees in related disciplines.

Apart from the aforementioned, another avenue that translators can enter is transcription work. This kind of work involves listening to video and audio files and converting it into a text file. The digital age has brought forth this opportunity – the translation and computerization of speech into text. This innovation can open up creativity in the field of literature and performance art. Imagine the nuances in translation and how the oral element of performance can invoke other specificities such as culture and language.

The Fidelity and Creativity in Translation

Language and translation are remarkably beautiful for their self-reflexive nature. A word can mean something else in another tongue, but at the same time, there is an amount of distinction – it cannot be a hundred percent possible to capture the meaning of a word. Daniel Hahn, the director of the British Centre for Literary Translation, says that “good translation” is the combination of faithfulness and transformative quality of a translation. “It should have just the same pulse as the original did,” he says.

The interpretation of a translator is a creative process in itself – the taking and conversion of a language. The choice of words, syntax, and construction is all his or hers. Transcription works the same way, and in today’s increasingly digital world, creativity and innovation in literary translation aren’t too far behind from truly arriving.