Translations and English Literature

There are perhaps few people in the world who haven't heard of Tintin and his adventures. Would it surprise you to know that the Tintin series was originally published in French? It's not just the Tintin comics, several of the world's most famous books were originally published in a different language than English.

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Translations and English Literature Translations and English Literature

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    The Adventures of Tintin (1929-1976) by the Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi under the pen name Hergé. The series first appeared in 1929 and has been translated into over 70 languages, making it one of the most popular comics of all time.

    Translation is not a one-way street. Books written in English are translated into other languages to help people who don't read English to be able to read it. In a multicultural world, translation is an essential tool for communication all over the world.

    Literary translation

    There are different types of translations, ranging from informal to academic.

    Translation is the act of converting a text written in one language into another language.

    The rise of globalisation and international commerce might be an aiding factor in the increase in translated volumes of literary books. Because of the worldwide market, translation is a way to make literature from all languages available to people everywhere.

    The phrase 'lost in translation' originates from the common mistake of misinterpreting the original text while translating. As a result, the translated text deviates from the original, sometimes by a mile!

    A literary translation is the translation of a literary text into a language other than the language it was first published in. This may include the translation of novels, short stories, plays, songs, poems, and ballads, and the translation of literary theory and critical materials on literature. Many of the classics, or the most celebrated works of literature today, are translations. This is proof that translation is very important for our literary heritage.

    The English writer Agatha Christie (1890-1976), known for her detective novels, is the most widely translated author in history!

    Importance of literature translation

    So, why does translation matter? As you might know, English has become the lingua franca of modern times, and most people prefer to use it for intercultural exchanges. Translation into English is an easy way to gain more audience and international recognition for authors who write in other languages.

    Lingua franca: the common language that acts as a bridge between people who do not share a native language.

    Due to the dominance of English in the world, translation into English ensures more visibility for works written in other languages.

    Other than recognition for individual authors, translation also helps to:

    • add to the literary repository of the world
    • learn about cultures we are not familiar with
    • read good literature from all over the world
    • keep up with the sociopolitical currents in other parts of the world

    Literature also acts as a cultural archive that mirrors and records social and cultural processes as an alternative form of history. Prestigious awards of literature such as the Nobel Prize and the Man Booker Prize recognise works in translation to be more inclusive of literature that is not written in dominant languages like English.

    Characteristics of literary translation

    Let's take a look at the main characteristics of literary translation.

    • Faithfulness to the original: While translating, it is important to express the original meaning as closely as possible. The purpose of translation is to make a text accessible to people who cannot read it in the original language of writing. A good translation should not deviate from the original, but a few differences here and there, according to the translator's discretion, are acceptable.
    • Clarity of expression: A good translator, like a good writer, would put comprehension first. Of course, there are exceptions to this notion because some experimental writers flout literary conventions. Some experimental literary styles that deliberately break the rules of language and invent word styles might prove more difficult to translate.
    • Accuracy: Staying loyal to the syntax and grammar of the second language is as important as being loyal to the original meaning.
    • Creativity: Since translation can be a negotiation between the original meanings and words and the conventions of the secondary language and culture, translators often take creative liberty with the material. That is why translation studies today deem translation as rewriting, a creative rather than a mechanical process.

    Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) by Lewis Caroll has been translated into more than 170 languages. Caroll's magical world and his use of gibberish and neologisms make it a very hard text to translate into any other language.

    Now, can you name a book that might be difficult to translate?

    Neologism: a new term or phrase coined by the user.

    Books translated into English

    Here is a list of the most translated books in history.

    The Bible

    Everyone knows about the Bible but did you know that Bible was first translated into English only in the sixteenth century? Originally, the Bible was a collection of scripture written in the languages Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. The King James Bible, a widely used version of the Bible, was commissioned to be translated into English in 1604.

    The Little Prince (1943)

    Written by the French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, this novella has been translated into over 475 languages and comes second only to the Bible in the list of the most translated books in the world.

    The Iliad and The Odyssey (c. 800BCE)

    The epic poems by Homer were originally written in Greek and are studied in translation today. These are now classics of literature and have made their way into popular culture through movies and series like Troy (2004).

    Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea (1870)

    This world-famous book by Jules Verne is now considered a classic. The tale of adventure was originally written in French and has been translated into more than 170 languages since it was published.

    Did you know that the Harry Potter series (1997-2016) by J.K. Rowling has been translated from English into over 80 different languages in the short span of two decades since it was published?

    Other examples of literature translations:

    There are too many world-renowned literary translations, but here is a short list of the translations in English.

    • Totto-chan, the Little Girl at the Window (1981) by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi, Japanese
    • The Tale of Genji (c. 1001) by Murasaki Shikibu, Japanese
    • Hour of the Star (1977) by Clarice Lispector, Portugese
    • Invisible Cities (1972) by Italo Calvino, Italian
    • My Name is Red (1998) by Orhan Pamuk, Turkish
    • Chéri (1920) by Colette, French
    • A Wild Sheep Chase (1982) by Haruki Murakami, Japanese
    • Arabian Nights (c. 1706–1721), Arabic
    • Metamorphosis and other stories by Franz Kafka (1912 – 1924), German
    • Madame Bovary (1857) by Gustave Flaubert, French

    • The Diary of a Young Girl (1947) by Anne Frank, Dutch

    • The Alchemist (1988) by Paolo Coehlo, Portugese

    • Norwegian Wood (1987) by Haruki Murakami, Japanese

    • Don Quixote (1605) by Miguel de Cervantes, Spanish

    • Fairy tales by Hans Christian Andersen, e.g., The Little Mermaid (1837) and The Ugly Duckling (1843), Danish

    • Crime and Punishment (1866) by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Russian

    Translations and English Literature - Key takeaways

    • Literary translation is the process of translating a work of literature from its original language to another language.
    • Many of the most famous works considered to be classics today are widely consumed through a translated version, mainly in English.
    • Translation helps to preserve works of literature with literary merit and make them more widely available to people outside of its immediate linguistic community.
    • Contrary to common belief, literary translation is a creative process than just an imitation of the original work.
    • More and more literary awards now recognise great works of literature through translation.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Translations and English Literature

    How does translation affect literature?

    Translation helps literature to acquire more readership. But bad translations may impact the meaning, and therefore the quality of the text.

    What are the types of translation in literature?

    Literary translation may include the translation of short stories, novellas, novels, poems, fairy tales, ballads, drama, and so on.

    Why is translation important in literature?

    Translation is important in literature because it ensures that works of great literary quality are available for all interested readers irrespective of how many languages they know. This ensures that all great works of literature are preserved in history through intercultural translation.

    What is the main purpose of translation?

    The main purpose of translation is to communicate the meaning of a text or message in another language. Literary translation allows us to read great works written in languages we do not know.

    What is English literature translation?

    The translation of literature from or into English. English literature is often translated into other languages and vice versa.

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    Team English Literature Teachers

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