Tag Archives: literary translation

Part II. Selection of translators for literary/non-literary translation process

5 Nov

(based on “Translation in Practice”, a symposium edited by Gill Paul, 2009)

Both types of translation require careful selection of a person who will produce the translation. Although time spent on pre-translation and/or post-translation activities is much greater in case of literary translation, that does not mean you can bring the text to an indifferent translator, which is not rarely the case with non-literary translation. On the contrary: “those who translate literary fiction require something beyond this [an ability to convert words liter­ally from one language to another] —something much more creative, involv­ing an instinctive understanding of the way that words and phrases can work together to best effect.” Once again, literary translation of any given book will most probably be read by at least hundreds of people, which makes it vitally important to allocate much more of proper resources (both time and people) to the translation process.

The next aspect to cover is the relationship between project manager/editor and translators. It should be noted that the process of literary translation in most cases requires that editors have their favorite 3-4 translators (BTW, occasionally these editors may take on new translators). When doing so, they do not base their choice on price only. This is a very distinct characteristic of commercial (for-profit) literary translation process, in contrast to commercial non-literary translation industry, where the price is quite often the only criterion for choosing a translator.

Translators of non-literary text are not required to share the enthusiasm of an editor for this or that book. They can even say no, just because not all books can or have to “strike the necessary chord”. On the contrary, non-literary translators usually don`t mind translating different texts of absolutely different nature (provided that these belong to their specialization).

The final and the most striking difference between selection procedures for two types of translation is the amount of communication between editor/PM and translators. One is often missing if automated translation mechanisms are used by translation agencies. Literary translation process vitally requires a lot of communication and can`t be automated by definition.

Part III. Author, outside reader, sample translations.


Literary vs. non-literary translation: similarities and differences. Part I

17 Oct

Today I would like to start a series of blog posts about differences and similarities between literary and non-literary translation. A lot has been said about the subject matter, and that is exactly why I have decided to put in my two cents` worth.

“Translation in Practice” (a symposium edited by Gill Paul) (2009) (available at http://www.llvs.lt/img/File/Translation_in_Practice_book.pdf) is perhaps one of the best and most comprehensive guidelines on the process of literary translation, from choosing a translator to the editing process and the translator’s role after the editing is complete. The information in this publication will be compared to the experience I have as a non-literary translator.

Let`s start with the next statement: the main difference between literary and non-literary translation is the time spent on pre-translation, translation and editing of a given document. Often it takes months to publish a best-seller, which is a very rare occasion in the realm of non-literary translation process (manuals, data sheets, etc.)

Who are the key figures in both cases? Literary translation requires involvement of the following key figures: author, translator, editor and publisher. Each of them has a certain set of functions. Exclusion of one of these key figures will inevitably result in getting a poor translation (=less readership).

Since the time allowed for the translation of non-fiction is usually much shorter, the number of people involved is reduced to an absolute minimum (translator, sometimes proofreader (who is an editor at the same time), and project manager. It is not infrequent when the text translated by a translator is sent directly to the client (no one says it is bad, because there are situations when one needs a gist translation ASAP).

In other words, those editors who process literary translations have to consider more factors and circumstances – e.g., they should feel “the vibrations and spirit of the original”, as well as considering the “balance between producing a commer­cially viable book and one that stays true to the author’s vision and literary genius.” The role of editors of non-literary translations is usually reduced to one of finding typos and ensuring that style and terms accord with the nature of document.

The role of a project manager is similar to the functions of a publisher. Both ensure that the client (=readership) receives a good translation. They both have a direct interest in ensuring high profit margins of the company they represent (wider readership in case of literary translation, or better understanding of the information in case of non-literary translation).

It is not uncommon for editors of literary translations to commission an outside reader in case the editor does not read well enough in the language of translation. An outside reader will not edit the text. The only function of this key figure is to provide an editor with a report “providing a summary of the book’s plot, and commenting on its literary merit and mak­ing a personal recommendation about whether or not it should be published in English.” This person may also be asked to look at the test translations sent by new translators. Well, it seems that the standard procedure for non-literary translation does not provide for such a position. Instead, the functions of an outside reader are evenly distributed among other key figures – the translator, editor, and (sometimes) project manager). This distribution does not help get a better translation either.

Part II: choosing your translator for literary/non-literary translation process.