Ukrainian Translation Tradition


The Ukrainian translation tradition has existed since the ancient times. Monks of Kievan Rus monasteries, who copied Old Slavic translations of the Bible, unconsciously introduced some phonetic and morphologic features of the Ukrainian language in their copies. Also, Ukrainian elements penetrated in Old Slavic translations of secular literature: historical chronicles, geographical descriptions, and fiction. "The Bee", a collection of aphorisms and parables compiled in Byzantium and translated into Old Slavic in the 12th century, was copied in Ukraine many times during several centuries and gradually absorbed the Ukrainian vernacular vocabulary and phraseology.

The Peresopnytsia Gospel (1556-1561) was the most prominent Ukrainian translation of the New Testament that reflected characteristic features of the vernacular Ukrainian of those times.

In the 17th-18th centuries, tales of chivalry ("Bova the King's Son"), literary works about moral values ("The Story about the Seven Sages"), Aesop's fables, and novellas from Boccaccio's "The Decameron" proliferated in Ukraine in translations from Latin, Italian and Polish. They underwent essential remakes in the Ukrainian cultural environment. H. Skovoroda's loose poetic translations from Ovid and Horace dated the 18th century are an interesting page in the history of Ukrainian translations.

Many translations into Ukrainian made in the first decades of the 19th century were characterized by the influence of I. Kotliarevsky's "Eneida". They included loose poetic translations of Horace's odes ("Harasko songs", "Гараськові пісні") by P. Hulak-Artemovsky, translation of Pushkin's "Poltava" by Ye. Hrebinka, and other translations that brimmed over with the vernacular language and vulgarisms.

Romantic poetry was translated as well: L. Borovykovsky translated from Russian (S. Zhukovsky's poem "Svetlana"); М. Kostomarov translated from English (Byron's poems); О. Shpyhotsky translated from Polish (sonnets of Mickiewicz). With his "David psalms", T. Shevchenko gave examples of high-standard translation of solemn and passionate biblical texts. At that time, "The Tale of Igor's Campaign" was translated from Old Slavic into Ukrainian. Translations from ancient authors (Homer, Virgil, and Sophocles), from Shakespeare and Serbian folklore enriched the Ukrainian language with vivid expressions.

I. Franko (1856-1916) was the first in the Ukrainian literature to demonstrate the unparalleled translation professionalism. He was a master of all stylistic registers of the Ukrainian language and approached translations using the scientific analysis and artistic flair. Before Franko, Ukrainian translators translated only European authors. Franko was the first to translate Eastern authors. At that time, other writers started to translate from Estonian, Latvian, Armenian, Georgian, and other languages.

One should mention the following prominent masters of literary translation, who worked at the end of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century: V. Samiilenko (translated Molière's plays and Béranger's songs), Lesia Ukrainka (translated Heine's lyrics, extracts from Homer and Dante, and Hauptmann's "The Weavers"), V. Schurat (translated "The Song of Roland"), and A. Krymsky (translated works of Hafez, Saadi and other Eastern poets).

At the beginning of the 20th century, Ukrainian translations of prose writings of such authors as G. de Maupassant, K. Hamsun, L. Tolstoy, E. Zola, E. Poe, A. France, R. Kipling, H. Ibsen, and B. Bjornson were widely published.

In Soviet times (1917-1991), the translation activity became a way to the "internal emigration" for those Ukrainian writers, who strived to get out of clutches of the socialist realism. M. Zerov was among recognized translation professionals of those times. He made excellent translations of ancient poetry (Catullus, Virgil, Horace, Ovid), Russian poets (A. Pushkin, N. Lermontov, V. Bryusov), and French lyrics (P. de Ronsard, J.-M. de Heredia).

In the Soviet period, the art of Ukrainian literary translation reached its fullest flower under the hands of M. Rylsky, whose translations conveyed subtle shades of meaning of the original in combination with the distinguishing features of its art form. M. Rylsky translated Mickiewicz's "Mister Thaddeus", Voltaire's "The Maiden of Orleans", Pushkin's "Eugene Onegin", and many lyric works of European poets.

The ability to mobilize resources of the old-Ukrainian vocabulary and modern abstract Ukrainian lexicon was typical of translations of M. Bazhan ("The Knight in Panther's Skin" by Sh. Rustaveli, "Farhad and Shirin" by A. Navoi, poetry of C. Norwid and R.-M. Rilke). Translations of N. Lukash (the full text of Goethe's "Faust", Boccaccio's "Decameron", poetry of Julian Tuwim, Flaubert's "Madame Bovary", excerpts from Rabelais's "Gargantua and Pantagruel") were characterized by linguistic excellence and successful creation of neologisms.

The development of the translation theory and criticism in Ukraine in the post-war period (after 1945) contributed to the enhancement of translation skills. Multi-volume Ukrainian translations of works of Shakespeare, Heine, Pushkin, Balzac, Maupassant, France, Tolstoy, and London were published. Dozens of masters of the word worked on those translations.

Among translators of the Ukrainian diaspora, the most famous are Yu. Klen (O. Burhardt; translated several Shakespeare's plays), M. Orest (German and French poetry), I. Kostetsky (Shakespeare's sonnets), I. Kachurovsky (Petrarch's sonnets and European lyrics of the 19th century), O. Zuievsky (works of Mallarmé and other French poets), and V. Vovk (dramas of F. Garcia Lorca).

Economic hardships of the post-Soviet, transitional, period affected Ukrainian literary translators who started to lose their jobs because of the decline in book publishing. Today, the renowned tradition of Ukrainian translation has not restored yet, and there is a lack of experienced literary translators in Ukraine.

The situation with technical translators into/from Ukrainian is better. Local universities prepare a sufficient quantity of philologists who find jobs at industrial companies, public institutions, translation companies, advertising agencies, the Chamber of Commerce, customs offices, business centers, travel companies, representative offices of international organizations, i.e. everywhere where there is a need for translation of scientific and technical publications and business literature.

Source: Izbornik, an electronic library of the Ukrainian literature of past centuries (the library is available only in Ukrainian).

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_____________________________________________________________________ Website owner: Irina Lychak, self-employed freelance linguist, Russian translator, Ukrainian translator, Kiev (Kyiv), Ukraine


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