by Dec 8, 2020

Localization in Literary Translation. Yes or No?

Localization in Literary Translation. Yes or No?

As a literary translator, I have a quite interesting hobby which is to read the same book first in the source language (for me it is English) and then in the target language (for me it is Russian), bit by bit gathering the experience and techniques other translators use in their works.

I am always curious to see how particular challenges of literary translation has been handled by other professionals and I must admit that most of the time I am genuinely impressed by the offered solutions.

But what about Localization in Literary Translation? Should a literary translator pay so much attention to the cultural differences when translating a piece of modern literature?

Honestly, for a long time these questions did not bother me that much. As a translator, I was mainly focused on the process of rendering texts from the target language into the source language, working to deliver the meaning as neatly as possible.

And here is the fundamental difference between translation and localization. Because unlike translation,

localization is a more comprehensive process that addresses cultural and non-textual components as well as linguistic issues when adopting a text, product or service for another country or locale.

But is Localization really needed in Literary Translation?

My answer is wobbling indecisively between yes and no, but only because there are wild cases (stylistically and linguistically speaking) that if not localized mess up with the meaning and literacy of the translated text. It is especially so when there is a huge difference in cultures between the source language and the target language.

I think a good example would be a translation of anime from Japanese (the source language) to English (the target language). If you are an anime fan (I am a bit), then you might have noticed that old translations that were mostly not localized sound a bit strange and at times even senseless. If you are interested in how localization works in anime translation, I would recommend you to check out the article on ‘Organic Japanese with Cure Dolly.’

And though I do think that localization is a very important part of translation, I at the same time believe that localization in literary translation should not be as obvious as localization in video games, for example.

Here is a short excerpt from the Christmas short story ‘Santa’s Christmas.’ Let’s see the challenges a translator might face while trying to translate the text into Russian.

It was a beautiful December day, witch clear blue sky and snow covered treetops. Christmas was in the air but up in Santa’s lodge, all was quiet. The usual hustle and bustle of preparing Christmas presents had gone for Santa had fallen ill. ‘Oh dear, what will the children say when they don’t receive presents this year,’ Santa wondered sadly as he lay on his bed. You can read the whole story here.

First of all, unlike Christmas in America that is celebrated on the 25th of December, Christmas in Russia is celebrated on the 7th of January and has a different celebration ceremony. So, should a translator try to adopt the text to the Russian culture localizing this little fact? Hmm… I don’t think so.

But what about Santa?

In Russian we have a different name for Santa Claus which is ‘Дедушка Мороз,’ so should we localize that?

Again, I do not think so.

Why? Because Santa Claus is a well-known name among children of different countries these days and changing it on ‘Дедушка Мороз’ will create a dissonance in the final translation. Unless your goal is to localize the entire text by creating a Russian re-telling of this text (story) which is almost never the case in translation.

So, I would never try to localize things like that in my translation, because replacing one cultural thing will demand to replace the others as well and as a result we will get a completely different story which goes across the main dogma of translation.

Remember, translation is the process of rendering texts from the target language into the source language, purpose of which is to deliver the meaning as neatly as possible.

But there are some cases when Localization is highly needed in Literary Translation.

Here are a few examples:

Eng./ Oh boy, oh boy! or Oh boy, my father’s gonna love that.

Translating ‘oh boy’ literally is not an option here because it would be senseless in Russian. So what do we do with that? Well, we try to localize that.

So, ‘Oh boy, oh boy!’ in Russian would be ‘ну и дела, ну и дела!’ which has nothing to do with a boy at all, right?

Literal translation of ‘ну’ is ‘well’ at least it is the closest word that comes to my mind – ‘и’ is ‘and’ – ‘дела’ is ‘matter.Well and matter?? See, literal translation here just does not make sense but it is how we say it in Russia.

And, ‘Oh boy, my father’s gonna love that,’ in Russian would be ‘Вау, моему отцу это должно понравится.’ Literal translation of ‘вау’ here is ‘wow’ and again has nothing to do with a boy.

Now, let’s talk about slang – something that rarely gets a literal translation just because the slang culture is so different from country to country.

For example:

I feel you. That was really unfair.

Even in English these three words ‘I feel you’ are not translated literally, so trying to translate this phrase into other languages will demand a bit of adjusting (localization).

I would say that locolizing slang words and fancy slang-ish expressions most of the time is what helps to increase the quality of final translation.

And though I would not overuse localization in my translating work I still think that it is a great tool that helps a translator to wrap the meaning of the text in translation clearer and neater. After all, every translator is responsible for whether the final translation makes sense or like a razor goes down the natives’ ears.

  • twitter
  • facebook

Del Dec 9, 2020

Really a good post Franka — well written.


Franka Dec 9, 2020

@Del, thank you ^_^

Tom K.

Tom K. Dec 10, 2020

Great ❤️


Franka Dec 10, 2020

@Tom K. thank youuu ^_^

You might also like