Language Acquisition and Literal Translation

Categories: The Divine Comedy

A naive view of literal translation might be that it consists in the one for one substitution of the word forms of the target language for the word forms of the source language. This is what normally meant by the term "literal translation". Yet, this view is unrealistic. Literal translation, also known as direct translation, is the rendering of text from one language to another "word-for-word" (Latin: "verbum pro verbo") rather than conveying the sense of the original. Literal translations thus commonly mis-translate idioms.

Also, in the context of translating an analytic language to a synthetic language, it renders even the grammar unintelligible. A literal English translation of the German word "Kindergarten" would be "children garden," but in English the expression refers to the school year between pre-school and first grade. Literal translations in which individual components within words or compounds are translated to create new lexical items in the target language (a process also known as “loan translation”) are called calques, e.

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g. , “beer garden” from German “Biergarten.

” Literal translation of the Italian sentence, "So che questa non va bene" ("I know that this is not good"), produces "Know(I) that this not go(it) well," which has English words and Italian grammar. Further more, literal translation of idioms is a source of numerous translators' jokes and apocrypha. The following famous example has often been told both in the context of newbie translators and that of machine translation: when the sentence "The spirit is strong, but the flesh is weak" was translated into Russian and then back to English, the result was "The vodka is good, but the meat is rotten.

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" This is generally believed to be simply an amusing story, and not a factual reference to an actual machine translation error [1]. Literal translation can also denote a translation that represents the precise meaning of the original text but does not attempt to convey its style, beauty, or poetry. Charles Singleton's translation of The Divine Comedy (1975) is regarded as a literal translation.

In Conclusion, a literal translation is a translation that follows closely the form of the source language Also known as: word-for-word translation. This translation can not be applied in nature, because it will result sentences can not be understood. “Literal” translations can actually result in mis-communication of the meaning of the text. The point is, of course, that the translators have decided to translate words, but not larger semantic units such as phrases.

Updated: Nov 01, 2022
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Language Acquisition and Literal Translation. (2016, Sep 18). Retrieved from

Language Acquisition and Literal Translation essay
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