Literary translation implies the translation of all genres of literature, which include prose, drama and poetry. Literature is described as ‘an apparently nebulous body of knowledge in oral or written form, an imitation of life, which reflects civilization and culture, and which covers every angle of human activities-culture, tradition, entertainment, information among others.’ It is one of the great creative and universal means of communicating the emotional, spiritual and intellectual concerns of humankind.
Literary translation has to do with translating texts written in a literary language, which abounds in ambiguities, homonyms and arbitrariness, as distinct from the language of science or that of administration.
Literary language is highly connotative and subjective because each literary author is lexically and stylistically idiosyncratic and through his power of imagination, he uses certain literary techniques such as figures of speech, proverbs and homonyms through which he weaves literary forms.
The literary translator is therefore the person who concerns himself with translation of literary texts. A literary translator generally respects good writing by taking into account the language, structures, and content, whatever the nature of the text.
The literary translator participates in the author’s creative activity and then recreates structures and signs by adapting the target language text to the source language text as closely as intelligibility allows. He needs to assess not only the literary quality of the text but also its acceptability to the target reader, and this should be done by having a deep knowledge of the cultural and literary history of both the Source and the Target Languages. Language and culture are closely related and one is indispensable to the other. In fact, language acquires its meaning from the country’s culture. A single language may cross several culture borders.
There are generally problems in the translation of cultural words in a literary text unless there is a cultural overlap between the source language and the target language. It is not enough for a translator to know what words are used in the target language; he must also make the reader understand the sense as it is understood by the reader of the original. For instance, in a text where there is a cultural focus, there can be translation problems due to the cultural gap between the source and the target languages. The meaning of a single word or expression is largely derived from its culture.
Therefore, translation, being a simple linguistic process, a cultural understanding comes into play because the translator is supposed to produce equivalence and where this does not exist, problems occur. The translator is expected to creatively exploit the altered cultural, linguistic and literary context in order to realize the different potentials of the target language in an act or literary creation since translation is an intercultural activity. Linguistically, each language has its own metaphysics, which determines the spirit of a nation and its behavioral norms, and this is what is known as linguistic relativity. Language directs our intellect and even our sensory perception.
Since words or images may vary considerably from one group to another, the translator needs to pay attention to the style, language and vocabulary peculiar to the two languages in question in order to produce an ‘exact’ translation of the source language text. Thus while translating something from a language to other, the sense and the behavior of the sentence gets changed obscurely. So as to carry the that sense and the behavior of the sentence the original author meant, the translator himself need to be creative, with a good knowledge of both languages, the one translating to and from.