Volume 7, No. 1 
January 2003

Song Xiaoshu
Song Xiaoshu
Cheng Dongming
Cheng Dongming





From the Editor
Give Credit Where Credit Is Due

Index 1997-2003

  Translator Profiles
How Not to Become a Translator
by Per Dohler

  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant & Worker Bee
It's a Small World
by Steve Vlasta Vitek
Translation: A Market in Crisis?
by Danilo Nogueira

Translators Around the World
Análisis de la demanda de traducción en un organismo público en las islas Baleares—El caso de la Dirección General de Economía
Lluch i Dubon, Ferran y Belmonte Juan, Roser
In Memoriam
Harvie Jordan, 1943-2002
by Patricia Bobeck
David Orpin, 1946-2002
by Geoffrey Pearl

  Literary Translation
Language Ambiguity: A Curse and a Blessing
by Cecilia Quiroga-Clare
Translation of Literary Style
by Song Xiaoshu, Cheng Dongming

  Translator Education
Translator Training & the Real World: Concrete Suggestions for Bridging the Gap — Part 1
Translator Training & the Real World: Concrete Suggestions for Bridging the Gap — Part 2

  Arts & Entertainment
Translation in a Confined Space—Film Sub-titling—Part 2
by Barbara Schwarz

  Caught in the Web
Web Surfing for Fun and Profit
by Cathy Flick, Ph.D.
Translators’ On-Line Resources
by Gabe Bokor

  Translators’ Tools
Close Windows. Open Doors
by Marc Prior
Translators’ Emporium

Translators’ Job Market

Letters to the Editor

Translators’ Events

Call for Papers and Editorial Policies
  Translation Journal

Literary Translation


Translation of Literary Style

by Song Xiaoshu, Cheng Dongming
School of Economics, Jilin University, Changchun, China

Abstract: This paper deals with the translatability of literary styles and gives guiding principles and proper methods of translating literary styles.

Keywords: literary style; translatability; translation

1. Definition of Style and Its Identification

tyle is the essential characteristic of every piece of writing, the outcome of the writer's personality and his emotions at the moment, and no single paragraph can be put together without revealing to some degree the personality of its author.

In short, style is the man, as de Buffon, the eighteenth-century French thinker and writer, put it.

It is universally acknowledged that every writer has a literary style and that his style is reflected in his writing.

There is no doubt that different literary works have discernibly different styles. However, regarding the question of translatability of the original style, opinions differ. Some will say that a translation should reflect the style of the original and others say that a translation should possess the style of the translator.

2. Translatability of Style

Among translators, there are still many who consider the original literary style untranslatable although many think that it should be reproduced and that it is possible to reproduce it. It seems that the question of translatability is worth discussing.

Translators who deem it possible to reproduce the style of the original work have valid arguments. Mao Dun pointed out that literary works are a kind of art created in language. What we demand of them is not merely the recording of concepts and incidents; they should also contain artistic images that are attractive to readers. The reader must have a strong feeling toward the characters' thought and behavior through the artistic images portrayed in literary works. Literary translation is to reproduce the original artistic images in another language, so that the reader of the translation may be inspired, moved and aesthetically entertained in the same way as the native reader is by the original.

Such a translation is not purely a technical change in language, but it requires that the translator duplicate the author's process of artistic creation, grasp the spirit of the original, find the most appropriate expression of his own thought, feeling and experience, and reproduce fully and correctly the content and form of the original in a literary language comparable to the original style. Such a creative artistic translation is necessary, since the main task of literary translation lies in the faithful reproduction of the spirit and features of the original.

Many theoreticians hold that the reproduction of the style of the original work is necessary and possible, but I believe that it is really a hard task to accomplish.

In spite of the difficulty in reproducing the original style, I believe that effective interlingual communication is always possible, despite differences in the structures and cultural features of the languages involved. Semantic similarities between languages due to the common core of human experience and fundamental similarities in the syntactic structures of languages at the core level form the basis of the relative feasibility of interlingual communication.

3. Literary Point of View and Linguistic Point of View

If one wants to reproduce the original style satisfactorily, one must keep two points in mind before undertaking the translation.

First, the translator must have a macroscopic point of view, namely, a view of the whole, and should always remember that what he is working at is a literary work written by somebody else and try his utmost to turn his translation into a work of art which is in conformity with the thought, feelings, and style of the original. Thus, the translation will be as moving and vivid as the original work and the reader may be aesthetically entertained as well.

Second, he must have a microscopic point of view, namely, the linguistic point of view. In the process of translating, all the paragraphs, sentences and words should be attentively studied so that the best expressions may be chosen to satisfy the needs of reproducing the thought, feelings, and style of the original. From this point of view, style is formed by the coordination of paragraphs, sentences and words. Therefore, even if some individual sentences or words were not satisfactorily rendered, they would not affect the style of the work as a whole.

Style can never go without language. Paragraphs, sentences and words are absolutely essential to style. Paragraphs, sentences and words for the basis of style. Sentences are made up of words, paragraphs of sentences, and a entire work of paragraphs. The excellence of a work is due to its flawless paragraphs, of a paragraph to its faultless sentences, and of a sentence to appropriate choice of words. This has long been the goal writers pursue and translators should make the utmost effort to make translations correspond to the original in style, so that a resemblance in spirit may be achieved. At the same time, the translator should render the words, sentences, and paragraphs so that a resemblance in form may be achieved.

Paragraphing refers to chapters and natural paragraphs in a novel, prose, verse or a play. All these must be translated in their original order.

Sentence order and sentence patterns should be kept as much as possible. Sometimes we have to make some change in sentence patterns in accordance with the different usage of the target language. Only when we have rendered the sentence patterns flexibly where necessary can we have satisfied the minimum requirement of clear expression of meaning and smooth use of language in translation.

Wording here means choice of words and rhetorical devices. Every word must be weighed carefully and every figure of speech dealt with seriously. Proper words in proper places define a style.

4. Conclusion

The quality of a translation has nothing to do with the original work or with the original writer; rather, it depends on the theoretical knowledge and practical skill of the translator. It is because translation is not only a science, a science with its own peculiar laws and methods, but also an art—an art of reproduction and re-creation.

The thought, feeling and style will be reproduced provided the paragraphs, sentences and words in the original or source language are faithfully, flexibly and satisfactorily transferred to the target or receptor language. Resemblance in form is the basis for the resemblance in spirit and the latter is the crystallization of the former.

The translation process consists of two steps. First, the translator should carefully appreciate the tone and spirit of the whole original work through words, sentences and paragraphs it is made up of and determine what kind of style it reflects from both the literary and linguistic points of view. Then he starts translating it sentence by sentence and paragraph by paragraph from beginning to the end, with the reproduction of the original style kept in mind.

Faced with a passage in the original language, the translator must ask himself:

  1. What does the author say?
  2. What does he mean?
  3. How does he say it?

This method of analysis may be applied to the paragraph, to the sentence, or even the phrase.

Meanwhile, a translator should pay attention to the three aspects of an utterance, i.e., the verbal, syntactic, and semantic aspects. The verbal aspect is reflected by the sentences in the work. The syntactic aspect involves the interrelation of the parts of the text. The semantic aspect involves the global sense of the utterance, the theme it evokes.

Translatability of the literary style of original works has been reaffirmed, and guiding principles and proper methods have been given. Literary translators must consider the reproduction of the original style as their common goal and strive for it in their work.