Literal translation free translation

Literal translation is the translation that reproduces communicatively irrelevant elements of the source text, This usually happens when the translator copies the source language form on this or that level of the language.

According to the language level, there exist various types of literal translation:

1) on the sound level: this type of literal translation results in the so called “translator’s false friends”, that is words similar in sounds but different in meaning: conductor – not кондуктор, but дирижер;.

2) on the syntactic level: copying the structure of the source language. Sometimes an inexperienced translator is hypnotized by the source language, and, to translate “accurately”, he tries to render the meaning word for word, thus breaking combination rules of his/her own language. As an example, We often heard his name mentioned. – *Мы часто слышали его имя упомянутым.

3) on the semantic level: giving the primary meaning of the word or its part, whereas a semantic transformation is required: But outside it kept on raining. - *Но снаружи шел дождь, which is incorrect. Or подполковник - *subcolonel, the word not existing in English.

4) etymological errors: disregarding language changes. Words acquire new meanings over time and use: There, there, don’t cry. - *Там, там, не плачь.

5) following the style of the source text: different registers require different language means. Thus, to use the example by V. Komissarov32, to a Russian, who got accustomed to brief and abrupt structures in the weather forecast, an English weatherman’s sentence can sound like a poem line: Mist covered a calm sea in the Strait of Dover last night. – Туман покрывал спокойное море в Па-де-Кале прошлой ночью. Therefore, to produce the same impact upon the receptor as does the original, the translator has to partition the English sentence and make it more adaptable to a Russian: Прошлой ночью в проливе Па-де-Кале стоял туман. Море было спокойно.

We can see that very often literal translation is not necessarily a word-for-word translation, although it is often associated with a rather negative evaluation of the translation.

Literal translation is sometimes referred to as formal, or grammar translation, though it is not the same.

However, sometimes literal translation on this or that level is a must. The translator cannot do without it when rendering proper and geographical names (Khabarov, Nakhodka); some borrowings (Red Guards – хунвэйбины is a literal translation (on a semantic level), into English of the Chinese hong (Red) wei bing (Guard), while the Russian word is a literal reproduction of the Chinese word on a sound level.

In some works, literal translation is called ‘faithful’ translation – this term does not necessarily imply the negative connotation of slavish literalism.


Free translation is the reproduction of the source form and content in a loose way. This concept means adding extra elements of information or losing some essential ones.

Of course, it is not very accomplished of a translator to add details not described by the author, as was often done by a well-known (sometimes notorious) Russian translator I. Vvedenski. Neither is it proficient to contract the source text like A. Houdar de la Motte who reduced the twenty-four books of the Iliad to twelve in his translation, leaving out all the “anatomical details of wounds” and some other information.34 Scholars of translation usually take a negative view of this type of free translation, known as adaptation in history of translation.35

Nevertheless, free translation is appropriate in some cases: poetry translations are done with a certain degree of freedom. A translator is also free to modernize a classic text in order to subvert established target-language reader-response. Free translation is also admitted in the titles of novels, movies, etc. For instance, the outstanding Russian novel by Ilf and Petrov «Двенадцать стульев» is known in the United States as “Diamonds to Sit On”, which is accounted for by the bookselling advertising policies. The British movie “Square Peg” was translated into Russian as «Мистер Питкин в тылу врага», since the film translators did not find the adequate Russian idiom to convey the meaning “a person unsuitable for the place in which he works or lives” expressed by the English phrase “a square peg in a round hole”.

Recently translation theorists have begun to relate free translation to communicative translation, depending on the purpose of the translation, and literal translation to the so-called semantic translation. Communicative translation tends to undertranslate, i.e. to use more generic, catch-all terms in difficult passages. A semantic translation tends to overtranslate, i.e. to be more detailed, more direct, and more awkward.36 P. Newmark, however, distinguishes semantic translation - as the attempt to render as closely as possible the semantic and syntactic structures of the target language, from literal translation, when the primary senses of the lexical words of the original are translated as though out of context. He defines communicative translation as that which produces on its receptors an effect similar to that on the receptors of the original.376


This type of transformations concerns both the lexical (semantic) and grammatical level, i.e. it touches upon structure and meaning. The following techniques can be associated with lexical and grammatical transformations:

1.Explicatory translation, that is, rewording the meaning into another structure so that the receptor will have a better understanding of the phrase. Sometimes this transformation is named as explicitation, defined as the technique of making explicit in the target text information that is imlicit in the source text.51 This transformation is often accompanied by the extension of the structure, the addition of new elements: I have a nine-to-five job. –Я работаю с 9 утра до 5 вечера. Leslie Mill’s play, which was also included in the FORUM, was taken up with children from grades 1-5. – Пьеса Лесли Милла, которая также была опубликована в журнале «Форум», была поставлена детьми 1-5 классов. The reason for which this transformation is made is that the target text receptor has different background knowledge. Sometimes this transformation is required because of the dissimilarity between the language structures, with the source language structure being incomplete for the target language, like gun licence is удостоверение на право ношения оружия.52

2.Reduction (omission, implicitation) is giving up redundant and communicatively irrelevant words: Elvis Presley denied being lewd and obscene. – Элвис Пресли отрицал свою непристойность. The reduction is a must if a source language expresses the notion by a phrase and the target language compresses the idea in one word: сторонники охраны окружающей среды – conservationists. There is a general tendency of the English language to laconic and compressed expressions as compared with Russian: внебюджетные источники финансирования – nonbudget sources; контроль за ходом проекта – the Project control.

3.Integral transformation is the replacement of a set phrase with another clichéd structure that has the same speech function: How do you do! – Здравствуйте!; Wet paint. – Осторожно, окрашено. Help yourself. – Угощайтесь.

4.Antonymic translation is describing the situation by the target language from the contrary angle.

It can be done through antonyms: the inferiority of friendly troops – превосходство сил противника. The reason for this transformation is the lack of a one-word translation equivalent to the word inferiority.

This transformation can also take place when we change the negation modality of the sentence: She is not unworthy of your attention. – Она вполне достойна вашего внимания. In the English sentence we deal with double negation, called understatement, which, according to logic rules, means the positive expressed in the Russian sentence. Through understatement, English-speaking people avoid expressing their ideas in too a categoric tone.

Shifting the negation is another manifestation of the antonymous translation: I don’t think I can do it. – Думаю, я не смогу сделать это., which is a result of linguistic tradition peculiar to this or that language.

5.Metonymical translation is the transferance of meaning and structure based on the contiguity of forms and meanings of the source and target languages: The last twenty years has seen many advances in our linguistic knowledge. – В последние 20 лет наблюдается значительный прогресс в лингвистике. In the English sentence, time is expressed by the subject of the sentence, whereas in Russian it is more typical to express it by the adverbial modifier. This causes grammar restructuring of the sentence.

6.Complex compensation is a deliberate change of the word or structure by another one because the exact equivalent of the target language word or phrase is unable to produce the same impact upon the receptor as does the source language word or phrase. For example, we often have to compensate on the lexical level the meaning of the Past Perfect in the Russian text translation, since there is no similar tense category in Russian: Their food, clothing and wages were less bad than they had been. – Теперь их еда, одежда и зарплата были не такими уж плохими, как когда-то. Puns, riddles, tongue-twisters are often compensated; for example, Don’t trouble trouble until trouble troubles you. – Во дворе трава на траве дрова. Compensation exercises the translator’s ingenuity; however, the effort it requires should not be wasted on textually unimportant features.

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