First off, some data:
According to COCA "word-for-word" has 60 usages, 3 of them are "word-for-word translation". "Word-by-word" has 26 usages, none of them are "word-by-word" (but some with "transcription").
The definition of "word-for-word" (Oxford, Merriam-Webster):
1 in exactly the same words; verbatim
Only The free dictionary contains a definition for "word-by-word"
one word at a time
And this dictionary also lists a second definition for "word-for-word"
2 one word at a time, without regard for the sense of the whole
This second definition is, obviously, identical to the definition for "word-by-word".
Word-for-word translation ~318k
Word-by-word translation ~95k
According to usages and dictionaries "word-by-word" is, at least, less popular. And assuming that there may be a lot of usages from non-natives among the Google hits, this could be an indicator for "word-by-word" being even utterly wrong.
In another forum I found the following statement:
When I translate something "literally," (wörtlich) it still follows the main rules of the language I'm translating into. What you mean is "word-by-word" (wortwörtlich) to me.
I assume that this was written by a German but I don't know it. However, if this would be true a "word-by-word translation" would be a translation where I keep, for instance, the order of the words, disregarding if it makes sense in the target language.
Word-by-word translation: Wort bei Wort (That's a terrible translation!)
Original: It is critical to know...
Word-by-word translation: Es ist kritisch zu wissen... (That's a terrible translation!)
Original: Ich glaub, ich spinne.
Word-by-word translation: I think I spider. (I guess only Germans understand this.)
A "word-for-word translation", however, would be an attempt to keep the word-choice as close as possible but following the rules of the target language (e.g. order of words) and also considering if the statement still makes sense in the other language. Here are better translations for the examples above:
Wort für Wort
Es ist wichtig zu wissen...
I think, I'm going nuts. (Actually, this is not a word-for-word translation but rather a sense-for-sense translation.)
So, my questions again:
- As neither Oxford nor Merriam-Webster have any entries for "word-by-word" in their dictionaries: is "word-by-word" actually valid?
- If yes, is there any difference between "word-by-word translation" and "word-for-word translation"? If yes again, what is it specifically?