Notes on Literary Translation

1. The more serious the text, morally and aesthetically, the more accurately and economically it should be translated, reflecting the thought, style (idiolect rather than variety of language), emphasis (through functional sentence perspective), and as far as possible, particularly in poetry, the rhythm and sound of the original.

2. The more important the language of a text, which is on a scale from poetry (where every word and feature are important, but paradoxically, there are so many factors, that close translation is most difficult and denotatively least likely or possible) through the short story and the novel to tragedy, drama, comedy and farce, the last four being actively affected by their audiences, the more closely it should be translated.

3. A deviation from normal SL social usage, whether lexical, idiomatic, or grammatical, should usually be reflected in the translation.

4. A word, whether key-word or leit-motif repeated in the source language text, should be repeated, never replaced by a synonym, in the translation.

5. An original universal metaphor should be translated literally; an original cultural metaphor should retain as much of the original image as is possible consonant with the situational and linguistic context bringing and making the meaning clear to the second readership.

6. A standard metaphor should be translated by its standard equivalent or, failing that, comprehensibly adapted.

7. Humour and irony must be reflected in the translation, sometimes at the cost of literal or denotative meaning.

8. If the dramatist intends the audience to cry or to smile or to laugh at a certain place in a play, the translator must do likewise, sometimes, in the case of broad laughter, at the cost of a faithful linguistic translation.

9. Sound should be reflected in onomatopoeia and compensated in assonance, but may have to be sacrificed in alliteration.

10. Essentially, literature, belles-lettres, is about individuals and their actions, while non-literature, Sachbücher, is about objects and movements. The salient features of literary texts are the human qualities expressed in adjectives, adverbs and nouns of manner. These are the more sensitive components of language, readily changing in meaning in response to their situational and linguistic contexts: thus, 'cool' (branché, super) or 'streetwise' (dégourdi).

11. Sound, linguistic rhythm, speech-rhythms, colloquial language and linguistic innovations are fundamental factors in literary language from poetry through drama to fiction, and have to be recreated in the translation.

12. Literary language is basically the recording of spoken language, a dialogue between writer and reader ('Reader, I married him'), or between the first and the second person singular. Nonliterary language is basically third person singular, impersonal or passive.

Peter Newmark (1998) More Paragraphs On Translation, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, pp. 201-202.

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