7 ene. 2008

What does "literal translation" really mean? Is it a translation of literal meaning, or a kind mirroring of syntactical structure? Take reflexive constructions in Spanish. They are used in various ways:

The "true reflexive," in which the subject of the verb also is the direct object or indirect object.

Simply to make a verb intranstiive. Pierdo las llaves (I lose the keys transitive) vs. Me pierdo (I get lost). Depierto a los niños (I wake the children vs. "Me despierto" = I wake up.

To express the fact that one is eating or consuming all of something. Me comí todas las galletas = ( I ate all the cookies up.)

For an impersonal construction. "Se dice que..." (It is said that.)

As part of the lexical meaning of a verb, but without any reflexive connotation. "Me voy" (I'm leaving)

Reciprocal: Se quieren mucho (they love each other a lot)


Now in English, the reflexive structure is used mostly if not exclusively for the "true reflexive." So most of the time a "literal" translation of one of these other kinds of reflexive verbs will not involve a reflexive in English. "I go myself" is not a "literal" translation of "Me voy." Nor is "Spanish speaks itself" a "literal" translation of "se habla español." The phrase doesn't mean that in Spanish. So "word-for-word" translation or "syntax mirroring" is not "literal."

A "literal" translation of "voy entendiendo que.. " is not "I go understanding" but "I'm coming to the realization that..." In other words, that is what that phrase actually means. An overliteralistic, word by word, parsing of the syntax doesn't result in accurate translation at all and doesn't even deserve to be called "literal." Put in another way, so-called literal translation may require paraphrase.