Literal Translation and Liberal Translation

Which one is better? This issue has always existed for a long time in the translation field. Well, different people express various opinions on this problem and these two translation methods have their own characteristics. We should treat the translation according to the context of the situation and the content of the text.

Literal translation requires the translator to express the original text’s meaning and be consistent with the text. While the literal translation means we should let the target language be as localized as possible, more specialized in the style of writing- copywriting.

Let us see Some Examples of Literal Translation

1.  A wait-and-see attitude   等着瞧的态度

Crack the case 破案

Thirst to learn 渴望学习

A gentleman’s agreement  君子协定

Man and Nature  人与自然 (电视栏目)

Music Bridge 音乐桥 (电视栏目)

Women Are Not the Moon  女人不是月亮(电视剧)

2. I read this letter with both surprise and excitement, surprise because he is still around, excitement because he didn’t ever forget me.

我读到他的信时既惊又喜,惊的是他还健在,喜的是他一直没有忘记我。

3.As the weather was fine, we decided to climb the mountain.

由于天气很好, 我们决定去爬山。

4.The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

要知道布丁的滋味,就要亲自吃一吃。

Above translations have expressed the original meaning by using literal translation and get a good effect. While for the following sentences, if we still use literal translation, it will bring out some severe mistakes. The sentences are:

1)  Last night I heard him driving his pigs to market

2)  It seems to me what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

If we follow the literal translation, it will be “昨夜我听见他把他的猪赶到市场。” and “我觉得煮母鹅用什么酱油,煮公鹅也要用什么酱油。”。When you see these translations, you will be surprised at the expression and wonder why such translation could have occurred. Under this circumstance, we should take the liberal translation. So the correct ones are “昨夜我听见他鼾声如雷。” and “我认为应该一视同仁。”

More examples:

1.  And the shell burst into a million new copies.

(Literal)—炮弹一爆炸,变成了几百万份的新拷贝。

(Liberal)—炮弹炸成了无数碎片。

2. What is done by night appears by day.

(Literal)—夜晚做的事白天就看见了。

(Liberal)—要想人不知,除非己莫为。

3. He was seen walking a Virginia fence in the street last night.

(Literal)—昨晚有人看见他在街上走过一个维多利亚式的篱笆。

(Liberal)—昨晚有人看见他在街上摇摇晃晃地走过。

Read Also: Basic Conceptions and Issue of Translation

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