Literal translation, direct translation, or word-for-word translation
is the rendering of text from one language to another one word at a
time (Latin: "verbum pro verbo") with or without conveying the sense
of the original whole.
In translation studies, "literal translation" denotes technical
translation of scientific, technical, technological or legal texts.
In translation theory, another term for "literal translation" is
"metaphrase"; and for phrasal ("sense") translation — "paraphrase."
When considered a bad practice of conveying word by word (lexeme to
lexeme, or morpheme to lexeme) translation of non-technical type
literal translations has the meaning of mistranslating idioms, for
example, or in the context of translating an analytic language to a
synthetic language, it renders even the grammar unintelligible.
The concept of literal translation may be viewed as an oxymoron
(contradiction in terms), given that literal denotes something
existing without interpretation, whereas a translation, by its very
nature, is an interpretation (an interpretation of the meaning of
words from one language into another).
1 The term as used in translation studies
1.3 Poetry to prose
2 As bad practice
2.2 Machine translation
3 See also
5 External links
The term as used in translation studies
The term "literal translation" often appeared in the titles of
19th-century English translations of classical,
Bible and other texts.
Literal translations ("cribs," "ponies", or "trots") are sometimes
prepared for a writer who is translating a work written in a language
he does not know. For example,
Robert Pinsky is reported to have used
a literal translation in preparing his translation of Dante's Inferno
(1994), as he does not know Italian. Similarly,
Richard Pevear worked from literal translations provided by his wife,
Larissa Volokhonsky, in their translations of several Russian
Poetry to prose
Literal translation can also denote a translation that represents the
precise meaning of the original text but does not attempt to convey
its style, beauty, or poetry. There is, however, a great deal of
difference between a literal translation of a poetic work and a prose
translation. A literal translation of poetry may be in prose rather
than verse, but also be error free. Charles Singleton's translation of
Divine Comedy (1975) is regarded as a prose translation.
As bad practice
"Literal" translation implies that it is probably full of errors,
since the translator has made no effort to convey, for example,
correct idioms or shades of meaning, but it might be also useful in
seeing how words are used to convey a meaning in the source language.
A literal English translation of the German word "Kindergarten" would
be "children garden," but in English the expression refers to the
school year between pre-school and first grade. Literal translations
in which individual components within words or compounds are
translated to create new lexical items in the target language (a
process also known as “loan translation”) are called calques,
e.g., “beer garden” from German “Biergarten.”
Literal translation of the Italian sentence, "So che questo non va
bene" ("I know that this is not good"), produces "Know(I) that this
not goes(it) well," which has English words and Italian grammar.
Early machine translations (as of 1962 at least) were notorious for
this type of translation as they simply employed a database of words
and their translations. Later attempts utilized common phrases which
resulted in better grammatical structure and capture of idioms but
with many words left in the original language. For translating
synthetic languages, a morphosyntactic analyzer and synthesizer is
The best systems today use a combination of the above technologies and
apply algorithms to correct the "natural" sound of the translation. In
the end though, professional translation firms that employ machine
translation use it as a tool to create a rough translation that is
then tweaked by a human, professional translator.
Often, first-generation immigrants create something of a literal
translation in how they speak their parents' native language. This
results in a mix of the two languages in something of a pidgin. Many
such mixes have specific names, e.g.
Spanglish or Germish. For
example, American children of German immigrants are heard using
"rockingstool" from the German word "Schaukelstuhl" instead of
Literal translation of idioms is a source of numerous translators'
jokes and apocrypha. The following famous example has often been told
both in the context of newbie translators and that of machine
translation: When the sentence "The spirit is willing, but the flesh
is weak" (дух бодр, плоть же немощна, an allusion
to Mark 14:38) was translated into Russian and then back to English,
the result was "The vodka is good, but the meat is rotten" (водка
хорошая, но мясо протухло). This is generally
believed to be simply an amusing story, and not a factual reference to
an actual machine translation error.
All your base are belong to us
Dynamic and formal equivalence
Translation (of the Bible)
^ Olive Classe, Encyclopedia of literary translation into English,
vol. 1, Taylor & Francis, 2000, ISBN 1-884964-36-2, p. viii.
^ a b c John Hutchins, "The whisky was invisible", or Persistent myths
of MT, MT News International 11 (June 1995), pp. 17-18.
What is a literal translation? from LinguaLinks Library.
Translation or Cr