Cultural Gap Between English And Chinese Cultural Studies Essay

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One language' concept, object or phenomenon can't find relevant or close expression in another language for the cause of historical background, social custom and ideology's differences. These factors lead to a phenomenon, cultural gap. The author will list the definition of cultural gap first and then explores the cause of it .And then the author will concentrated on the discussion of translation compensation by making comments on the translation compensation work of a Chinese contemporary native writer Mo Yan's Shifu, You'll Do Anything for a Laugh translated by Howard Goldblatt. Finally, the author of this paper holds the opinion that one can take the strategy of translation compensation to make some of them relatively translatable.

Key words: cultural gap; translation compensation

1. Introduction

People living in the same place may share the same language and culture. However, people living in different cultural background may have some cultural gap in intercultural communication. To enumerate some theories of cultural gap in abroad, we can find that many western scholars focus on the mechanism of cultural which has a fixed relation with artificial intelligence and cognitive psychology. Margaret W.Matlin in the book Cognition says that, the organization of knowledge in human cognitive process can be more important than other elements. Gillian Brown and Gorge Yule in the book Discourse Analysis mention that, "It is a feature of these knowledge representations that they are organized in a fixed way as a complete unit of stereotypic knowledge in memory."(Brown, G&Yule, G, 2000:236) The theories of cultural gap in China also develop well. According to Liu Changyu, cultural gap refers to the phenomenon that certain cultural elements in the culture of a nation do not exist at all in the other. (刘长昱,2007:1) Cultural gap is taken to mean that the cultural information in one language can't find relevant expression in another language. The cultural barriers stemming from heterogeneity of both language and culture may lead to unsuccessful intercultural communication and translation. (刘长昱,2007:3) cultural gap, defined as "the absence of relevant cultural background knowledge shared by the author and his/her intended readers". (王东风,1997:55) They are implicitly imbedded within the process of communication and translation. It is highly necessary for people to realize the difficulty of recognizing and understanding cultural gap and the barrier they bring to the intercultural communication and translation studies. That just explains why I choose this topic as my project. To deal with the matter of cultural gap, experts from home and abroad provide many different strategies of compensations to make the cultural gap relatively translatable. The author of the paper will introduce the definition and the expression of cultural gap and its translation compensation by concentrated in the discussion of cultural gap by making comments on the translation compensation work of a famous Chinese contemporary native writer Mo Yan's Shifu, You'll Do Anything for a Laugh translated by Howard Goldblatt. Finally, the author of this paper holds the opinion that one can take the strategy of translation compensation to make some of them translated properly.

2. The Definition and Expression of Cultural Gap

Many experts from home and abroad have proved their definitions to cultural gap and some are provided as follow:

The phenomenon cultural gap first found by an American linguist Hockett (1954), he holds the opinion that there are random holes in patterns between two languages.

However, school of Russia psycho linguists. (1989) say that cultural gap exists in a kind of local culture but be blank in the other

According to Wang Bingqin, "gap" refers to the cultural gap resulting from unintelligible things in source language that will be easily misunderstood or can not be understood at all by target culture receptors (源语中存在某种为异æ-æ-‡åŒ-接å-者所不明白的、莫名其妙的、易于误解的东西,造成异æ-æ-‡åŒ-的空白). (王秉钦,1995:110)

He Qiuhe (1997) says that "gap" refers to the linguistic and cultural phenomena that are specific to one nation do not exist in another(某个民æ-æ‰€å…·æœ‰çš„语言æ-‡åŒ-现象,在另一个民æ-ä¹‹ä¸­å¹¶ä¸å­˜åœ¨).

Different theories to the "gap" refer to things that exist in one language or culture but default in another. Owing to the fact that language depends on culture, and different culture result in the cultural gap between two languages. Some examples will be listed as follows.

(1) The word DINK (double income, no kids) can't find relevant words in Chinese to translate its content concisely, exactly and suitably. However, there are two method to translate it such as "丁克一æ-"(transliterating) and "没有孩子的上班æ-å¤«å¦‡"(paraphrasing).(傅晓玲,2004:91)

(2) "气功"can't find relevant translation in English. If we use the expression "a system of deep breathing exercises" (傅晓玲,2004:91), it can be too cumbersome. The translation "qigong" often confuses its target language readers.

(3) Another word "粽子",means a kind of glutinous rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves(傅晓玲,2004:91). "Dumpling" is one of its translations, but it doesn't bring relevant cultural information as "粽子"indicates.

(4) John can be relied on. He eats no fish and plays the game. (傅晓玲,2004:92)

The literal meaning of "to eat no fish" and "to play the game" is "不吃鱼"

and 玩游 戏". But if we go deep into their cultural meaning, we can find

that "to eat fish" comes from the conflict between protestant and Catholic in the

history of England. Protestant refuses to eat fish in feast day to express their loyalty to protestant. (Catholicism approve to eat fish in feast day) However, this cultural meaning can be hard to translate with appropriate word.

(5) "如"塞翁失马,焉知非福" can be transliterated to "When the old man on the frontier lost his mare, who could have guessed it was a blessing in disguise", this translation gives the story of this sentence. While the translation "A loss may turn out to be gain" can bring the real meaning of the source language.

(6) 爹说:"马二爷,您脑浆子都迸出来了,玉皇大帝下了凡也就不活您了,您就成全了我这片孝心!"(莫言æ-‡é›†Â·ç™½é©¹åƒç§‹æž¶:414)This sentence can be translated to "second Mater Ma," my father said," your brains have spilled out on the ground, and even the Jade Emperor couldn't save you now, so help me be a filial son, won't you?" "玉皇大帝", in charge of great power, is the supreme deity of greatest power in Taoism in Chinese traditional mythology culture. "Jade Emperor" isn't bringing the cultural meaning well, and may be we can take other compensation to solve this problem.

(7) The sentence"她从贫苦的姑家,又转到更贫苦的姨家。"can be translated to "She had lived for a while with some impoverished paternal relatives, and then had been bundled off to some maternal relatives who were, if anything, even worse off." In Western society, people don't distinguish paternal relatives (father's relatives) and maternal relatives (mother's relatives). So they can't understand this sentence's profound inner meaning.

Cultural gap is a type of gap that the cultural background knowledge shared by the author or speaker and his/her intended readers in communication is absent. From the examples above we can find some cultural gap in the translation. Cultural gap exists in many translation of words and sentences of literal works.

3. The Cause of Cultural Gap

People living in the same community share the common cultural background and speak in the similar language. However, people without the same cultural background concerned often face the vacuum of sense when coming across cultural gap, so they can not comprehend the meaning the discourse has held.

Aesthetic Difference

People living in the different cultures have different attitude towards what can be considered as beautiful. For example, one thing can be regarded as pretty in one culture and be seemed ugly in another. Dogs in English culture can be regarded as an honesty animal which is close and faithful to human beings. And the word "dog" often refers to commendatory sense and brings the positive meaning. When we translate "dog" we can't always use the word"ç‹-". We should view the different contexts and give appropriate answer to it. The word "落水ç‹-" means a man living in poverty and bear the bad situation. When we translated it to English we can't use only "wet dog", because this translation may leave out many cultural connotation. Aesthetic difference to some degree causes the cultural gap between different cultural locations for it is unavoidable and common.

Ethical Interference

Every culture possesses its peculiar ethical values that play the function as regulating people's behavior and forming their moral standard. Nowadays, though Chinese participate in the international activity with a more open opinion to the world affairs, they still can not throw away their traditional value to a large extent. They can not tolerate some descriptions of words or sentences that seemed ordinary in the western society. And also some words may be common and neutral or in China but can't be accepted in Western. For example, when the content "共产党" be directly translated to "Communist Party" , it means a group of rough men who often do perpetrate outrage. Ethical element often affects the translators' different choices of diction and readers' different acknowledgement of the source language passage.

Political Influence

Some political culture often has much effect on the translation practice. Translators get certain restriction from political force. Political materials are often strictly regulated and must be translated to a uniform mode. In a political-sensitive society, a translator often tries his best to avoid the translation which may offend the government in power. Many words and sentences against the ruling power will be deleted and instead another compromising expression will be used to express the close meaning. To some extend, this type of translation can be regarded as unfaithfulness. For example, the noun "Communist Party" is commonly translated to "共产党". We can know that Communist Party in the Western society is regarded as a group of political thugs. However, the cultural meaning of Chinese Communist Party is different from that Communist Party in the western society.

4. The compensation strategy

In the book The Theory and Practice of Translation, Nida provided that, compensation should be built on the basis of functional equivalency and the same compensation can be used in different places to achieve the whole equivalence by taking local compensation. (1969, with Charles R.Taber).

While Ke Ping faces to the equivalence compensation that the translation should be conformed to the standard and to transmit the content. He suggested using such compensation strategies as annotation, contextual amplification, generalization, and paraphrase in doing the translation. Relative translation methods include transliteration, paraphrase, compensatory, Image Translation, literal translation with annotation are fully discussed in other writer's works, in the present paper, the writer of this paper is going to focus on transliteration and annotation in the following analysis.

4.1 Transliteration

Transliteration means translating by writing a foreign word in target language according to its pronunciation while transference is the direct employment of foreign words in target language. Let us see how this strategy is applied in this version. ( 郑维,2007:31) Transliteration often be used when the source language and target language have large conflict and have great intercultural difficulty.

(10) ä»-坐在树下,看到有很多老年人在人工æ¹-边晨练,有的遛鸟,有的散步,有的打太极拳, 有的练气功,有的吊å-“子。(莫言æ-‡é›†Â·é€æ˜Žçš„红萝卜:131)

(10) From his vantage point under a tree, he watched a bunch of old folks hard at work on their morning exercises: airing caged birds, strolling, practicing Tai Chi, doing Chi kung, some voice training.(Shifu, You'll Do Anything for a Laugh:28)

In this translation, we can see two peculiar Chinese cultural terms "太极" "气功". They are translated by the method of transliteration and use Chinese syllable to deal with it. Many words such as "叩头" "功夫" "太极" "豆腐" have been introduced into Western society and have been acknowledged by many people. However, this kind of compensation has been used in many places. Some of the Chinese nouns can be translated directly in pinyin. "叩头" can be translated to "kowtow", because in Western this etiquette never be used to distinguish the ranks and can't be understand , so it is hard to translate it in their native language. And " 太极" now is popular in the Western and most of them have accepted its pinyin to express its meaning. So we don't need to try hard to find a target language morpheme to describe it.

The word "师傅" often be translated to "master". But when we present their meanings, we can find that both of them are really different in many aspects. In Chinese culture, "师傅" is a man who live in the temple and teach his apprentices to practice "gong fu". And now with the development of arts and crafts, a craft man in China can be called "师傅". But the word "master" in the western world often means a man who is good at doing something in some specific field. The translation "Shi fu" can be much suitable to its target language culture and bring the necessary cultural intension.

4.2 Annotation

Annotation means transplanting the original cultural term and at the same time giving some explanation in distinct forms. It is divided into two: annotation within text and annotation outside text. (郑维:2007,33) Annotation can always be used to compensate the vacancy in the translation. It often compensates the background material, the origin of the word and some relative information. To see the two examples of annotation within text and annotation outside text below:

(12) 离国家规定的退休年龄还差一个月的æ-¶ä¾¯ï¼Œåœ¨å¸‚农机修造厂工作了四十三年的丁十口下了å²-。十放到口里是个田å­-,丁也是精壮男子的意思,一个精壮男子有了田,不愁过不上丰衣足食的好æ-¥å­ï¼Œè¿™æ˜¯ä»-的身为农民的爹给ä»-å-名æ-¶çš„美好愿望。(莫言æ-‡é›†Â·é€æ˜Žçš„红萝卜:115)

(12) Ding Shikou or Ten Moth Ding, had worked at the Municipal Farm Equipment Factory for forty-three years and was a month away from mandatory retirement age when he was abruptly laid off. Now if you put shi(十) the word for ten, inside a kou(口),the word for mouth, you get the word tian(田), for field. The family name Ding can mean a strapping young man. As long as a strapping man has a field to tend, he'll never have to worry about having food on the table and clothes on his back. That was his farmer father's cherished wish for his son when he named him. (Shifu, You'll Do Anything for a Laugh: 1)

In the translation the translator first transfers the character, and then give its original character in parentheses(插入语) and finally explains its meaning in English. This annotation really helps its target language readers to understand it much clearly. While another one annotation outside text can be more often. To set the example below:



(13) "…The way she's acting, I'm pretty sure she's possessed. We'll have to go back to town and kill a dog so we can have some dog blood at hand when we need it." (Shifu, You'll Do Anything for a Laugh: 88)

"Kill a dog and have some dog blood": This is a superstitious custom believed by some Chinese people especially those who are living in countryside that by pouring some dog blood onto a person or a thing that seems controlled by or as if by a spirit or other, bad luck will be avoided.( 郑维:2007,38) .


(14) "Second Master Ma," my father said, "your brains have spilled out on the ground, and even the Jade Emperor couldn't save you now, so help me be a filial son, won't you?"(Shifu, You'll Do Anything for a Laugh: 122)


In this translation, "马二爷"were translated to "Second Master Ma". I don't think this is a suited translation and "Master" can be a better choice to express the meaning of the salutation. And in this colloquial sentence, name's salutation should not be simple and concise. And the translation of "玉皇大帝" is "the Jade Emperor". The Jade Emperor in Chinese myth is a great supernatural being that controls the whole Universe with great prestige.

This annotation outside the text is necessary for its readers to understand it. Kill a dog and have some dog blood is used by some peculiar Chinese to avoid bad luck. However, in Western society they don't use this way to avoid bad luck and wish good luck at all. Under this circumstance, we can use annotation to help the readers who don't really know this cultural information understand what the author of the source language brings. The author of this paper prefers to use the compensation annotation when translate some sentences in many times.

4.3 Amplification

Amplification means that to explain something more thoroughly or give it more emphasis for example, to add detail to the statement. This translation method is to interpret or explain words or phrases in a more clear way or give essential information to help the target language reader to understand and know more about the source language statement.


(15)Once the thirteenth solar period-Autumn Beginning- arrives, the cabbage must be waterd daily, or the roots will rot. In this orders, the team leader spared the three workers from mustering for duty each morning, since they had to go into the fields to water the cabbage right after breakfast, which they did, from Autumn Beginning to Frost's Descent, the eighteenth solar period. (Shifu, You'll Do Anything for a Laugh: 127)

"立秋"and "霜降" are all in 24 solar terms formed in Chinese agricultural industry for thousands of years and be used to express a period Autumn Beginning. I think the translation "the thirteenth solar period-Autumn Beginning" can be easy for people to understand. This expression amplifies its original meaning to a clear explanation of time.


(16)The sight of all contented people depressed him. If he had a child-son or daughter,it made no difference-he wouldn't be here sitting under a tree early in the morning, laid off or not; he was like the fool who saw a rabbit run into a tree stump and break its neck, then spent his days after that waiting for a second rabbit to do the same.

In this sentence, "守株待兔"is used to describe a man who get a benefit by chance, and then dream to reap without sowing again. Howard translate it in a long sentence to explain the meaning of "守株待兔". In this way, reader can be more easily to understand and catch the meaning of it. But I think that, this translation is too long and too tardy and we can use a more concise express it. We can translate it in other method but not amplification. So this method has its own disadvantage.


The author of the paper has provided some examples to definite the cultural gap and provide some relevant compensation strategies by making comments on the translation compensation work of a Chinese contemporary native writer Mo Yan's Shifu, You'll Do Anything for a Laugh translated by Howard Goldblatt. In the translation of the sentences/expressions manifested by the cultural gap, the translator should make use of different strategy of compensation under different circumstances. In these years' study to make the cultural gap relatively translatable, the sole purpose being for the sake of better achievement of translation efficiency. I do hope that there can be more experts study cultural gap and provide further translation compensations. Then I can learn more from them and use it to improve my translation ability.