When translating poetry (possibly song lyrics) with a meter and sometimes literary devices such as rhymes or acrostics, I can ask which of the following translation types are requested:

  1. A translation which preserves the meter and literary devices, but sacrifices accuracy and some of the meaning. This is used when one wants to keep the original melody or for poetic reading.

  2. A translation which preserves the meaning and is fairly accurate, but does not preserve the meter and literary devices. This is used when one wants to understand the text. It is the usual translation type for non-poetic works.

  3. A translation which is accurate, but loses everything else. This is almost a word-to-word translation where idioms are kept as-is. The result is not necessarily grammatically correct. This is usually coupled with the 2nd translation type for clarity and is used when one wants to expose the basic structure and ideas in the original language.

The terms I came up with are poetic, linguistic and literal (in order), but I have no formal sources to back it up. What are these translation types called, or what should I call them?

I can give examples if my question is not clear.

  • 1
    your idioms are fine I think. For the third, literal translation, direct translation, and word-for-word translation can be also used. The second one could be called a dynamic translation see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dynamic_and_formal_equivalence .
    – P. O.
    Feb 4, 2016 at 17:23
  • @P.Obertelli The Types section in the template in that page is pretty helpful. Thanks. Feb 4, 2016 at 22:17

1 Answer 1


Here are some plausible answers that seem to have formal definitions:

  1. Could be either Literary or Semantic Translation. Although "Semantic" wouldn't seem to describe a method that may lose meaning, apparently this type of translation prioritizes the meaning of words and sentences over any broader meaning.
  2. Idiomatic Translation
  3. Literal Translation

Unfortunately, the definitions don't seem to be mutually exclusive, and might not be as clear-cut as you would wish.


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