Home Translation What is a Literary Translation?

What is a Literary Translation?

Literary Translation

In the 20th century, translation became an independent research subject. At the same time, a large number of theoretical research schools emerged in the western countries, including literary and art schools, descriptive schools, and linguistic schools, which presented a trend of development of “different schools of thought”. With the continuous expansion of the scope and scale of translation, we should explore the established and existing principles, in order to reflect the aesthetic values in literary translation.

What is a Literary Translation?

Mao Ronggui, the author of the “A Topical Bibliography of Translation and Interpretation: Chinese-English” believes that semiotics, symbolic aesthetics, acceptance principle or formal psychology are the products of the development of linguistics and literary theory to a certain stage, and there is a complementary relationship between them. As a Literary Translator, we should learn from interdisciplinary theories, such as aesthetic theory, translation theory, linguistic theory, etc., and at the same time, accept it critically, grab the essence, & apply it to our language.

In this process, it is not only necessary to accept the aesthetic values, but also to explore the relationship between the original language and the translated language, such as the cultural background between the original and the translation, the cultural identity between the original author and the end reader and the reader’s ability to accept the translated words. From the perspectives of language, society, and culture, it is important that literary translation must not only reproduce the humanistic spirit and aesthetic value of the original text, but also be accepted by the readers of the translated language.

Aesthetic values of Literary translation

In order for the reader to enjoy the translation, the translator needs to convey the aesthetic function of the language through a well-constructed language. According to the theory of receiving aesthetics, literary translations are destined to be created for readers. Therefore, the re-creation of the translation should also serve the readers. In the process of translation, how should the translator choose the basis and standard of translation? As we all know, the translation serves the readers of the translated language. Therefore, the reader’s ability to appreciate, accept and judge is the basis and standard of translation. Therefore, the special features of prose determine that the translator’s translation should have a strategy of goal orientation. In other words, the translator must not only faithfully convey the original intention, but also focus on the effect of the translation on readers, considering the expectation of reader’s horizon, aesthetic values, and acceptance.

Translators generally believe that the highest level aesthetic in literary translation is to make the readers immersive as if they can be placed in the scene depicted by the author. Mr. Jin Di said, “The artistry in translation requires the translator to have a comprehensive and subtle understanding and feeling of the original form from the form to the content, and truly communicate with the original author. Then mobilize the most appropriate means of translating the language, and use the appropriate translation to give the reader the same comprehensive and meticulous understanding and feeling.” If the translator can express the original author’s tone as Mr. Jin has said, the translator will be able to perfectly reflect the original beauty.

The following points should be considered in order to preserve the aesthetic values in Literary Translation.

1. Pay attention to the beauty of the choice of words. Different from the scientific articles that strive for rigor, the selection of words in literary translation pays attention to poetry and painting, that is, a word that reflects “beauty” or beauty of the image, or the beauty of color. In addition to embodying beauty, these choices should be closely related to the author’s ideas. Therefore, in literary translation, the choice of words should not be unremarkable and excessively arbitrary, otherwise, even if the translation is rich with emotions and profound content, it will be under the shadow in front of the readers with no any aesthetic value. It can be said that the fascination in literary translation lies in the choice of words up to a considerable extent.

2. Focus on the beauty of the phonology. There are a large number of idioms in literary translation which creates beautiful phonology. A good translation should have a harmonious and pleasant phonological beauty. In order to achieve the equivalent rhythm in literary translation, we can use rhymes & idioms while avoiding the use of English words containing unsuitable phonemes.

3. Pay attention to the artistic conception. The subject matter and thoughts and feelings in prose works are often expressed secretly through the description of characters, narration & setting. This is what we often say. In literary translation, we must pay attention to the re-expressing the concept of the author. Different from other languages, the English language is relatively simple, and the language difference between English and Chinese increases the difficulty in conveying the beauty of the artistic conception in the translation process. But we can express the beautiful poetry of the article through specific methods.

Read Also: How to avoid copyright infringement & plagiarism in translation


As a translator, passing the beauty of literary translation is a task worth exploring. But we should also know that it is impossible to completely convey the artistic conception and the implicit emotions expressed by the original author to the readers. We can only do our best to restore the original appearance and maximize the acceptance of the readers. The cultural connotation, linguistic features and aesthetic value of the original text. In this process, the translator should learn to choose. At the same time, the most important thing is to use the appropriate way to make up for the missing meanings that cannot be fully translated. In short, in the process of literary translation, efforts to convey the original artistic conception, so that readers can enjoy the beauty and inspiration, is the goal that our translators need to struggle for life.


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