Literary translation is a genre of literary creativity in which a work written in one language is re-created in another. Because literature is verbal, it is the only art that is subject to linguistic barriers. Unlike music, painting, sculpture, or dance, the literary work is accessible only to those who know the language in which it is written. The specific characteristics of literary translation are defined by its place among other types of translation and by its relationship to original literary creativity.
In literary translation, language has more than a communicative, or social and connective purpose. The word functions as the “primary element” of literature—that is, it has an aesthetic function. Between the inception and the completion of a creative work of translation, a complex process takes place—the “trans-expression” (A. S. Pushkin’s term) of the life captured in the fabric of imagery of the work being translated. Therefore, the problems of literary translation are within the sphere of art and are subject to its specific laws.
Literary translation differs from literary creativity in that its existence depends on the existence of an object of translation, a work to be translated. However, in the actual literary process, it is not always possible to draw a distinct boundary between translation and all creative literature. In quite a few instances, a work may not be a translation in the usual sense, but it may not be possible to describe it unreservedly as a work of literary creativity. (A number of labels are used to designate these works: “free translation,” “imitation,” “a work on the themes of,” and “based on.” The specific meanings of these designations differ, depending on the language and the period.)