Literal translation

Literal translation, direct translation, or word-for-word translation is the rendering of text from one language to another one word at a time (Latin: "verbum pro verbo") with or without conveying the sense of the original whole.

In translation studies, "literal translation" denotes technical translation of scientific, technical, technological or legal texts.[1]

In translation theory, another term for "literal translation" is "metaphrase"; and for phrasal ("sense") translation — "paraphrase."

When considered a bad practice of conveying word by word (lexeme to lexeme, or morpheme to lexeme) translation of non-technical type literal translations has the meaning of mistranslating idioms,[2] for example, or in the context of translating an analytic language to a synthetic language, it renders even the grammar unintelligible.

The concept of literal translation may be viewed as an oxymoron (contradiction in terms), given that literal denotes something existing without interpretation, whereas a translation, by its very nature, is an interpretation (an interpretation of the meaning of words from one language into another).

The term as used in translation studies


The term "literal translation" often appeared in the titles of 19th-century English translations of classical, Bible and other texts.


Literal translations ("cribs," "ponies", or "trots") are sometimes prepared for a writer who is translating a work written in a language he does not know. For example, Robert Pinsky is reported to have used a literal translation in preparing his translation of Dante's Inferno (1994), as he does not know Italian. Similarly, Richard Pevear worked from literal translations provided by his wife, Larissa Volokhonsky, in their translations of several Russian novels.

Poetry to prose

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. There is, however, a great deal of difference between a literal translation of a poetic work and a prose translation. A literal translation of poetry may be in prose rather than verse, but also be error free. Charles Singleton's translation of The Divine Comedy (1975) is regarded as a prose translation.

As bad practice

"Literal" translation implies that it is probably full of errors, since the translator has made no effort to convey, for example, correct idioms or shades of meaning, but it might be also useful in seeing how words are used to convey a meaning in the source language.


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

Literal translation of the Italian sentence, "So che questo non va bene" ("I know that this is not good"), produces "Know(I) that this not goes(it) well," which has English words and Italian grammar.

Machine translation

Early machine translations (as of 1962[2] at least) were notorious for this type of translation as they simply employed a database of words and their translations. Later attempts utilized common phrases which resulted in better grammatical structure and capture of idioms but with many words left in the original language. For translating synthetic languages, a morphosyntactic analyzer and synthesizer is required.

The best systems today use a combination of the above technologies and apply algorithms to correct the "natural" sound of the translation. In the end though, professional translation firms that employ machine translation use it as a tool to create a rough translation that is then tweaked by a human, professional translator.


Often, first-generation immigrants create something of a literal translation in how they speak their parents' native language. This results in a mix of the two languages in something of a pidgin. Many such mixes have specific names, e.g. Spanglish or Germish. For example, American children of German immigrants are heard using "rockingstool" from the German word "Schaukelstuhl" instead of "rocking chair".


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 willing, but the flesh is weak" (дух бодр, плоть же немощна, an allusion to Mark 14:38) was translated into Russian and then back to English, the result was "The vodka is good, but the meat is rotten" (водка хорошая, но мясо протухло). This is generally believed to be simply an amusing story, and not a factual reference to an actual machine translation error.[2]

See also


  1. ^ Olive Classe, Encyclopedia of literary translation into English, vol. 1, Taylor & Francis, 2000, ISBN 1-884964-36-2, p. viii.
  2. ^ a b c John Hutchins, "The whisky was invisible", or Persistent myths of MT, MT News International 11 (June 1995), pp. 17-18.

Ballynagarrick (from Irish Baile na gCarraig, meaning 'townland of the rocks') is a townland situated outside Craigavon, County Armagh, Northern Ireland. The literal translation of the name means town (land) of the rocks, and indeed in bygone days two quarries were situated on the small townland.2. Ballynagarrick (Baile na gCarraig) is a small townland in the area of Kilclief (Irish: Cill Cleithe - "Church of the Wattles"), a parish in the area of Lecale, County Armagh. Ballynagarrick is bordered by the townlands of Ballynarry, Ballywooden and Ballyorgan. It largely consists of two major laneways, once part of a larger circuit of laneways across the area which linked into the former British Army barracks at Bishopscourt. Many of these laneways are now abandoned.

Caffè macchiato

Caffè macchiato (Italian pronunciation: [kafˈfɛ mmakˈkjaːto]), sometimes called espresso macchiato, is an espresso coffee drink with a small amount of milk, usually foamed. In Italian, macchiato means "stained" or "spotted" so the literal translation of caffè macchiato is "stained coffee", or coffee with a spot of milk.


Ditalini [ditaˈliːni] (Italian: "small thimbles", also referred to as tubettini) is a type of pasta that is shaped like small tubes. The literal translation from the Italian language to English is "small thimbles". It has been described as "thimble-sized" and as "very short macaroni". In some areas it may also be called "salad macaroni." During the industrial age in Apulia, Italy, increased development of ditali and other short-cut pastas occurred. In contemporary times, it is a mass-produced pasta. It is used in several dishes, and is commonly used throughout Sicily.

Forbes (band)

Forbes was a Swedish dansband (literal translation: "dance band") of the 1970s.The band represented Sweden in the Eurovision Song Contest 1977 with the entry "Beatles". The song is about the British band of the same name. Despite the popular topic of the song, Forbes ended in 18th and last place and mustered only two points. It was one of the worst placements ever for a Swedish entry in the Eurovision Song Contest.

The band consisted of Peter Forbes, Roger Capello, Claes Bure, Peter Björk, Anders Hector and Chino Mariano.

Green's Literal Translation

Green's Literal Translation (Literal Translation of the Holy Bible - LITV), is a translation of the Bible by Jay P. Green, Sr., first published in 1985. The LITV takes a literal, formal equivalence approach to translation. The Masoretic Text is used as the Hebrew basis for the Old Testament, and the Textus Receptus is used as the Greek basis for the New Testament. This translation is available in book form, and is freely available online for use with the e-Sword software program. Some also refer to it as the "KJ3" or "KJV3" (KJ = King James).The translation was integrated into the 1986 edition of Green's Hebrew-English-Greek The Interlinear Bible.

Guest star (astronomy)

In Chinese astronomy, a guest star (Chinese: 客星; pinyin: kèxīng; literally: 'guest star') is a star which has suddenly appeared in a place where no star had previously been observed and becomes invisible again after some time. The term is a literal translation from ancient Chinese astronomical records.

Modern astronomy recognizes that guest stars are manifestations of cataclysmic variable stars: novae and supernovae. The term "guest star" is used in the context of ancient records, since the exact classification of an astronomical event in question is based on interpretations of old records, including inference, rather than on direct observations.

In ancient Chinese astronomy, guest stars were one of the three types of highly transient objects (bright heavenly bodies); the other two (彗星, huixing, “broom star”, a comet with a tail; and xing bo, “fuzzy star”, a comet without a tail) being comets in modern understanding. The earliest Chinese record of guest stars is contained in Han Shu (漢書), the history of Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE), and all subsequent dynastic histories had such records. These contain one of the clearest early descriptions consistent with a supernova, posited to be left over by object SN 185, thus identified as a supernova remnant of the exact year 185 CE.

Chronicles of the contemporary Ancient Europeans are more vague when consulted for supernovae candidates. Whether due to weather or other reasons for lack of observation, astronomers have questioned why the notable remnant attributed to Chinese observations of a guest star in 1054 AD (see SN 1054), is missing from the European records.

Kreegah bundolo

Kreegah bundolo is a phrase that Tarzan—and the tribe of apes that raised him—cry out to warn of danger, for example, "Kreegah bundolo! White men come with hunt sticks. Kill!" According to the fictional ape language worked out by Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs, the literal translation of the phrase would be "Beware, (I) kill!"

"Kreegah Bundola" is one of a few names for the Frank Zappa song whose most popular title seems to be "Let's Move to Cleveland". It is also utilized in Bruce Coville's "Allbright" series as Grakker's "violence" module boot-up sound byte. It was uttered by a hunger-crazed Fat Freddy in an episode of The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers.

In Portuguese, "Kreegah bundolo" was translated as "Krig-Ha, Bandolo!" and it names an album by the Brazilian rocker Raul Seixas.

In the comic strip Dilbert dated 2/7/1995, Dogbert uses this phrase in speaking with Dilbert after he has been home telecommuting too long.

Legislative Assembly of Quebec

The Legislative Assembly of Quebec (French: Assemblée législative du Québec) was the name of the lower house of Quebec's legislature until December 31, 1968, when it was renamed the National Assembly of Quebec. At the same time, the upper house of the legislature, the Legislative Council, was abolished. Both were initially created by the Constitutional Act of 1791.

It was the Union Nationale government of Premier Jean-Jacques Bertrand that passed the "Bill 90" legislation to abolish the upper house, but earlier attempts had been made by earlier governments.

The presiding officer of the Assembly was known in French as "orateur," a literal translation of the English term, "speaker". When the Assembly was renamed so too was the title of its presiding officer, becoming known as the President.

Today, Quebec has a unicameral legislature, whose single house is the National Assembly.

The large chamber that housed the assembly is also known as le salon bleu (the blue hall) because of the predominance of the colour on the walls. It used to be known as le salon vert (the green hall) until 1978, when the colour was changed to suit the televising of parliamentary debates.

Names of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant

The name of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has been subject of debate and controversy since 2013.

In Arabic, the jihadist group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has called itself ad-Dawlah al-Islāmiyah (الدولة الإسلامية‎) since June 2014. Before it was known under the name ad-Dawlah al-Islāmiyah fī 'l-ʿIrāq wa-sh-Shām (الدولة الإسلامية في العراق والشام‎), which it adopted in April 2013.

The literal translation of their previous name resulted in confusion, resulting in both ISIS and ISIL, two acronyms based on different literal translations of the name into English. Apart from these, an Arabic-derived acronym, Daesh or Da'ish gained traction well beyond Arabic-speaking parts of the world. Finally, the group's current name caused controversy due to its English translation as Islamic State (IS) and as a result, both the previous acronyms are still widely used, or a qualifier is often added to the IS name, such as "self-styled Islamic State".


Not to be confused with Nieuwendammerdijk en Buiksloterdijk or Tuindorp Nieuwendam.Nieuwendam (literal translation: "new dam") is a neighbourhood of Amsterdam, Netherlands, best known for its marina Dutch: jachthaven). A former village in the province of North Holland, Nieuwendam was a separate municipality until 1921, when it merged with Amsterdam, on the same time as Ransdorp. The municipality also covered the village of Zunderdorp. Nowadays, it is part of the Amsterdam-Noord borough.


Noph or Moph was the Hebrew name for the ancient Egyptian city of Memphis, capital of Lower Egypt, which stood on the Nile near the site of modern-day Cairo. It is mentioned several times in the Hebrew Bible (Isaiah 19:13; Jeremiah 2:16; 44:1; 46:14, 19; Ezekiel. 30:13, 16).

Hosea 9:6 uses the older version Moph (e.g. in Young's Literal Translation) although many English translations use the name Memphis in this verse


Philalethes was an Ancient Greek name, also often adopted in pseudonyms (based on its literal translation, "lover of truth"). It may apply to:

Alazonomastix Philalethes, pseudonym of Henry More

Alexander Philalethes

Demosthenes Philalethes

Eirenaeus Philalethes, alchemical writer, now usually identified with George Starkey

Eugenius Philalethes, alchemical writer, now usually identified with Thomas Vaughan (philosopher)

Irenaeus Philalethes, pseudonym of Lewis Du Moulin

Philalethes Cantabrigiensis, pseudonym of James Jurin

Philalethes, pen-name of William Hazlitt


Not to be confused with: Marshal of the Realm (Denmark) and Marshal of the Realm (Sweden)

Reichsmarschall, Marshal of the Reich (literal translation: Empire or Realm), was the highest rank in the Wehrmacht of Nazi Germany during World War II.


Sheermal or Shirmal (Persian-Urdu: شیرمال, Hindi: शीरमल), is a saffron-flavored traditional flatbread from Greater Iran. The word sheermal is derived from the Persian words شیر (translit. sheer) meaning milk, and مالیدن (translit. malidan) meaning to rub. In a literal translation, sheermal means milk rubbed. After being introduced to North India by the Persianate Mughal emperors. It became a delicacy of Lucknow and Hyderabad. It is also part of the Awadhi cuisine and is enjoyed in Old Bhopal.

Spanish proverbs

Spanish proverbs are a subset of proverbs that are used in Western cultures in general; there are many that have essentially the same form and content as their counterparts in other Western languages. Proverbs that have their origin in Spanish have migrated to and from English, French, Flemish, German and other languages.

Teachta Dála

A TD (plural in Irish: TDanna or TDs in English; full Irish form Irish: Teachta Dála , Irish pronunciation: [ˈtʲaxt̪ˠə ˈd̪ˠɑːlˠə] (listen), plural Irish: Teachtaí Dála) is a member of Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Oireachtas (the Irish Parliament). It is the equivalent of terms such as 'Member of Parliament' (MP) or 'Member of Congress' used in other countries. The official translation of the term is 'Deputy to the Dáil', although a more literal translation is "Assembly Delegate".


Uzak is a 2002 Turkish film directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan. It was released as Distant in North America, a literal translation of its title (pronounced [uˈzac]). The movie is the winner of 31 awards including Best Actor at Cannes, Special Jury Prize at Chicago, and Best Balkan Movie at Sofia International Film Festival.

Young's Literal Translation

Young's Literal Translation (YLT) is a translation of the Bible into English, published in 1862. The translation was made by Robert Young, compiler of Young's Analytical Concordance to the Bible and Concise Critical Comments on the New Testament. Young used the Textus Receptus (TR) and the Majority Text (MT) as the basis for his translation. He wrote in the preface to the first edition, "It has been no part of the Translator's plan to attempt to form a New Hebrew or Greek Text—he has therefore somewhat rigidly adhered to the received ones." Young produced a “Revised Version” of his translation in 1887, but he stuck with the Received Text. He wrote in the preface to the Revised Edition, "The Greek Text followed is that generally recognized as the 'Received Text,' not because it is thought perfect, but because the department of Translation is quite distinct from that of textual criticism, and few are qualified for both. If the original text be altered by a translator, (except he give his reasons for and against each emendation,) the reader is left in uncertainty whether the translation given is to be considered as that of the old or of the new reading." A new Revised Edition was released ten years after Robert Young's death on October 14, 1888. The 1898 version was based on the TR, easily confirmed by the word "bathe" in Rev. 1:5 and the word "again" in Rev 20:5. The "Publishers' Note to the Third Edition" explains, "The work has been subjected to a fresh revision, making no alteration on the principles on which the Translation proceeds, but endeavouring to make it as nearly perfect in point of accuracy on its present lines as possible."


Zanshin (Japanese: 残心) is a state of awareness, of relaxed alertness, in Japanese martial arts. A literal translation of zanshin is "remaining mind".In several martial arts, zanshin refers more narrowly to the body's posture after a technique is executed.

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