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This paper analyses different methods of translating English and Chinese idioms¼Œand discusses the importance of target-oriented translation approaches compared to source-oriented translation approaches and the broad sphere where target-oriented translation approaches are applied.
Abstract: Translation, a cross-culture activity, is not only the transformation of languages, but also the introduction of their cultures. Language cannot exist without culture as its component. As a part of language, idioms are characterized by their richness and vividness in their concise expressions. The primary difficulty in idiom translation is that even if one can find some replacements or seemingly similar equivalents for some words referring to certain objects, one still cannot understand them without the experience of their cultural backgrounds. By means of analysis and synthetical study of some translation theories and examples of idiom translation¼Œthis paper analyses different methods of translating English and Chinese idioms¼Œand discusses the importance of target-oriented translation approaches compared to source-oriented translation approaches and the broad sphere where target-oriented translation approaches are applied. As different images reflected by Chinese and English idioms have distinctive cultural connotations and convey dissimilar artistic conception¼Œwe should not transfer images word-for-word¼Œbut dip into the deeper meaning through referent. The convey of meaning is primary and of more importance than the correspondence of form¼Œwhich is secondary.
Keywords: translation approach¼Œidiom , cultural image, equivalence¼Œ correspondence
What's the objective of translation¼ŸIt aims to transform perceived information from one linguistic form to another so that the readers of the translated text can get to know what meaning the source text has conveyed. The translation of idioms is to introduce the implied meaning of the source idioms to readers of the translated text . As different images reflected by Chinese and English idioms have distinctive cultural connotations and convey dissimilar artistic conception¼Œwe should not transfer image literally¼Œbut dip into the deeper meaning through referent. The convey of meaning is more important than and the prerequisite of the correspondence of form.
In translation field¼Œthere are mainly two broad classification of translation approaches--target-oriented translation approach and source-oriented translation approach. Target-oriented translation approach include translation methods such as adaption(strongest)¼Œfree translation¼Œidiomatic translation and communicative translation(weakest). Source-oriented translation approach include translation methods such as word-for-word translation(strongest)¼Œliteral translation¼Œfaithful translation and semantic translation(weakest). When it comes to translation approaches ¼Œthe theories of some masters are worth mentioning. It goes without saying that Eugene Nida and Peter Newmark occupy a foremost position;
Eugene Nida's main contribution in translation theory is the dynamic equivalence¼Œand it is also known as functional equivalence¼Œwhich includes nine functions, namely expressive function¼Œcognitive function¼Œinterpersonal function¼Œinformative function¼Œimperative function¼Œperformative function¼Œemotive function¼Œaesthetic function¼Œand metalingual function. The opposite approach is formal equivalence. Nida advocates the translation approach of dynamic equivalence. He distinguishes two types of equivalence. By formal equivalence, he "focuses attention on the message itself, in both form and content" with aims to allow readers to understand as much source context as possible. Dynamic equivalence emphasizes more on the effect the readers receive the message with the aim to "relate the reader to modes of behavior relevant within the context of reader's own culture". Later, realizing that there is no absolute symmetry between languages, he prefers the term "functional equivalence" in the sense that "equivalence can be understood in terms of proximity, i.e. on the basis of degrees of closeness to functional identity. In his Toward a Science of Translating¼Œ Nida classified meaning into three categories¼šlinguistic meaning¼Œreferential meaning¼Œand emotive meaning. In his The Sociolinguistics of Interlingual Communication¼ŒNida stressed the significance of social and cultural factors in translation¼Œand put forward the opinions below: translation aims to reappear source text in receptive language in the most natural way-meaning first¼Œmanner second ; to achieve equivalence between source text and target text¼Œwe must make the translation as natural as possible¼Œbreak away from the formal shackles of the source text and avoid translationese. Nida puts communicative theory as "how the different cultural backgrounds of original text and translated text affect the receptive effect of translated text".The environment where the text is produced and where the readers live¼Œnamely social¼Œcultural and psychological factors should be taken into account¼Œso that readers of the target text can have similar mental reaction as readers of the source text. Therefore¼Œcorrespondence should be judged by readers' mental reaction.
Peter Newmark introduces two kinds of translation methods and three kinds of text types (expressive text, informative text and vocative text). The methods are semantic translation and communicative translation. In fact, Peter Newmark thinks that all translations must be in some degree both communicative and semantic .It is actually a matter of difference of emphasis. Communicative translation, however, is concerned mainly with the readers, usually in the context of a language and cultural variety, while semantic translation is concerned with the author usually as an individual, and often in contradistinction both to his culture and to the norms of his language. He states clearly there is no purely semantic translation or purely communicative translation in translation practice, and only through a combination of the two methods can a translation be both accurate in meaning and acceptable to the target language reader.
2. Two Main Classifications of Translation Principles and Theories
Cultural connotation is a great barrier to idiom translation. Therefore, a Chinese idiom or an idiomatic expression which has the same literal meaning as its English translated version may have different implied meaning. Only with a complete understanding of the cultural differences of Chinese and English idioms can we translate properly and express the source text as it is.
With regard to the standards of translation, Chinese and foreign translation theorists have diverse opinions. In translation field¼Œthere are mainly two broad classification of translation approaches--target-oriented translation approach and source-oriented translation approach. Target-oriented translation approach include translation methods such as adaption(strongest)¼Œfree translation¼Œidiomatic translation and communicative translation(weakest). Source-oriented translation approach include translation methods such as word-for-word translation(strongest)¼Œliteral translation¼Œfaithful translation and semantic translation(weakest).
2.1 Source-oriented Translation Principles and Theories
First¼Œ let's have a outlook on source-oriented translation approach .
Yan Fu, a well-known Chinese translator in the 19th century come up with three famous and influential principles of translation ¼šfaithfulness, expressiveness and elegance. LuXun also put forward two aspects which should be taken into account in translation¼š the translators should try to make the translated text easy to understand¼›the original style and charm should be well preserved to create an exotic flavor. we can find that the principles presented by above translation theorists have a large overlapping area. In other words, they more or less agree on the following principle: preserving and reproducing in the target language the original content, style and fluency of text in the source language. In order to meet the purpose of idiom translation, the translator must adopt "faithful" principle. "Faithfulness" here means ' be loyal to the literal meaning, figurative meaning' and also 'the implied meaning'.
Alexander Fraser Tytler, a British scholar, pointed out in his three famous principles of translation: "preserving and reproducing the original idea, style and fluency". That's to say¼Œtranslation should give a complete transcript of the ideas of the original work¼›the style and manner of writing should be of the same character with that of the original¼›translation should have all the ease of original composition.
2.2 Target-oriented Translation Principles and Theories
Then let's take another perspective on target-oriented translation approach. They are comprehensive, and full of figures of speech with strongly accented rhythm and profound truth. At the same time, coming from diverse sources, idioms present a distinctive cultural identity and manifest themselves as a real cultural indicator. Some masters of translation theories have come up with a series of translation principles and norms.
In Theodore Savory's The Art of Translation ¼Œsome contradictory principles are supposed to be noted¼što translate the original text literally or liberally¼›the translated text inclined to reflect the genre of original text or translated text. He also put it,"Translation, the surmounting of the obstacle, is made possible by an equivalence of thought which lies behind the different verbal exssions of a thought."
In his In Search of a Theory of Translation¼ŒGideon Toury brings forth 3 norms-preliminary norm¼ˆthe choice of original edition and translated genre¼‰¼Œinitial norm(translators' choice between correspondence, readers' acceptability and the compromise of both)¼Œoperational norm¼ˆthe actual choice reflected in translated text¼‰
Realistic Translation by ÐšÐ°ÑˆÐºÐ¸Ð½ put it¼šWhat translator is supposed to represent is not the original text nor its words¼Œbut the reality the original text reflects and its artistic image. Realistic Approach especially emphasizes that the artistic reality loyal to the original text is still the only object translators should express.
3¼ŽTranslation Approaches Applied in Chinese and English Idioms
3.1 Source-oriented Translation Approaches
Source-oriented translation approach include translation methods such as word-for-word translation¼Œliteral translation¼Œfaithful translation and semantic translation.Below are their definitions and some examples where they are apllied.
3.1.1 Word-for-word translation
Literal translation is an approach adopted to keep the original meaning, image and structure.It is a way by which the meaning and form of the source language are kept to the full in the target language. In this way, the rhetoric, national and regional characteristics are unchanged. Therefore¼Œit's not used widely as in the following situations.
e.g. a gentleman's agreement å›ååå®š
Seeing is believing çœ¼èä¸ºå®ž¼Œç™¾é-»ä¸å¦‚ä¸€è
Pour oil on the flame ç«ä¸Šæµ‡æ²¹
Facts speak louder than words äº‹å®žèƒœäºŽé›„è¾©
è¡€æµ“äºŽæ°´ Blood is thicker than water
ç©ºä¸æ¥¼é˜ a castle in the air
è½»å¦‚é¸¿æ¯› as slight as feather
å¤-å¼ºä¸å¹² outwardly strong but inwardly weak
3.1.2 Literal translation
Literal translation is not equal to word-for-word translation. "Literal translation is the only correct procedure if the SL meaning and TL meaning correspond, or correspond more closely than any alternative; that means the referent and the pragmatic effect are equivalent, i.e. that the words not only refer to the same 'thing' but have similar associations and appear to be equally frequent in this style of text; further, that the meaning of the SL unit is not affected by its context in such a way that the meaning of the TL unit does not correspond to itâ€¦"(Newmark, 2001). Examples are illustrated below.
New wine in old bottles æ-ç“¶è£…æ-°é…’
Barking dogs do not bite å çŠ¬ä¸å’¬
an eye for eye, a tooth for tooth ä»¥çœ¼è¿˜çœ¼¼Œä»¥ç‰™è¿˜ç‰™
in one ear and out the other ä¸€åªè€³æœµè¿›¼Œä¸€åªè€³æœµå‡º
ä»¥å¾·æŠ¥æ€¨ return good for evil
æ´»åˆ°è€¼Œå¦åˆ°è€ã€‚ As long as you live, keep learning.
æ¸…å®˜éš¾æ-å®¶åŠ¡äº‹ã€‚ Even good officials cannot settle family troubles.
è¶çƒæ‰“é“ Strike while the iron is hot
3.1.3 Faithful translation
In faithful translation¼Œthe principles of target language are not violated and misunderstanding will not come forth. In this way, the image, metaphor, national culture of the source language can be transplanted into the target language. Thus, it may help introduce foreign country's culture, as well as enrich the target language. For example:
Draw the curtain è½ä¸‹å¸·å¹•
A rolling stone gathers no moss æ»šçŸ³ä¸ç”Ÿè‹”
Crocodile's tears é³„é±¼çš„çœ¼æ³ª¼ˆæ¯”å-»å‡æ…ˆæ‚²¼‰
èƒ†å°å¦‚é¼ as timid as a mouse
ç¥¸ä¸å•è¡Œ misfortune never comes singly
é±¼ç›®æ··ç to pass fish eyes for pearls
æµ‘æ°´æ‘¸é±¼ To fish in troubled water
3.1.4 Semantic translation
It doesn't necessarily reserve the metaphors, images and national characteristics of source language idioms, as long as it does not cause false associations.The translated version must conform to the standard of the target language and it is not supposed to bring about wrong associations in the reader mind. Otherwise, in reading the translated version, the readers may fail to achieve the maximal relevance and to understand the meaning of the original idiom. In a word, the translator must take the readers' expectation into account and realize the maximal relevance.
Some idioms carry strong and peculiar tint of a particular culture. In order to introduce the culture of the source language to the readers of the target language, the translator should expose the culturally-loaded terms to them as long as the version conveys the original meaning and does not lead to the reader misunderstandings. In fact, the readers of the target language have accepted some literally translated versions after long-term usage. For example, the literally translated version of All roads lead to Rome has been completely accepted by Chinese readers and it has become a Chinese idiom.Literal translation is very helpful for the readers of the target language to know what things actually are in the source language. So it is very beneficial in cultural transmission.
More examples are as follows.
ä¸€ä¸ªå’Œå°šæŒ‘æ°´åƒ¼Œä¸¤ä¸ªå’Œå°šæŠ¬æ°´åƒ¼Œä¸‰ä¸ªå’Œå°šæ²¡æ°´åƒOne boy is a boy, two boy half a boy ,three boys no boy
If you run after two hares, you will catch neither. åŒæ-¶è¿½ä¸¤å…”¼Œå…¨éƒ½æŠ“ä¸ä½ã€‚
heart to heart å¿ƒå¿ƒç›¸å°
turn a deaf ear ç½®è‹¥ç½”é-»
Love me, love my dog. çˆ±å±‹åŠä¹Œã€‚ ( in Chinese : Love one's house, love the crows around the house).
Beat the dog before the lion. æ€é¸¡éª‡çŒ´ã€‚ (in Chinese: Kill the chicken before the monkey).
He cries wine and sells vinegar. æŒ‚ç¾Šå¤´å-ç‹-è‚‰ã€‚ ( in Chinese: He cries mutton and sells meat of dog).
A new broom sweeps clean. æ-°å®˜ä¸Šä»»ä¸‰æŠŠç«ã€‚ ( in Chinese : a newly appointed officer carries out new efficient policies).
3.2 Target-oriented Translation Approaches
Target-oriented translation approach include translation methods such as adaption¼Œfree translation¼Œidiomatic translation and communicative translation. Below are their definitions and some examples where they are apllied.
This is only used when the images in source text can't be replaced by proper correspondence that express similar meanings.Below are examples.
to carry coals to Newcastle (å¤šæ¤ä¸€ä¸¾) ¼Œas grave as an owl (æ¿èµ·é¢å”) ¼Œhang in the wind(çŠ¹è±«ä¸å®š¼‰¼Œ cast pearls to the swine ¼ˆå¯¹ç‰›å¼¹ç´¼‰ , serve somebody with the same sauce ¼ˆä»¥å…¶äººä¹‹é“¼Œè¿˜æ²»å…¶äººä¹‹èº«¼‰ , there are no birds of this year in last year's nest¼ˆäº‹è¿‡å¢ƒè¿¼‰
3.2.2 Free translation
Free translation is an alterative approach which is used mainly to convey the meaning and spirit of the original without recreating its sentence patterns or figures of speech. This approach is most frequently adopted when it is really impossible to translate the original literally and we cannot keep the literal meaning and figurative meaning of the idiom, then we can change the image into another image that people are familiar with, so that we can transmit the purpose of the idiom and translate the implied meaning. Let's look at the following examples.
Because of different cultural background, Chinese readers can not always understand the imagery of some English idioms properly only by the liberal translation. In this case, free translation is more suitable to express the connotation of English idioms. e.g.
Bend an ear to èšç²¾ä¼šç¥žåœ°å¬ å€¾å¬
A skeleton at the feast æ‰«å…´çš„äººæˆ-è€…ä¸œè¥¿
Get cold feet å¼€å‹æ„Ÿåˆ°æ€€ç-‘ã€èƒ†æ€¯æˆ-è€…å®³æ€•
To be full of beans ç²¾ç¥žæ-ºç››¼Œç²¾åŠ›å……æ²›
Hang on somebody' s sleeve ä¾èµ-æŸäºº¼Œä»»æŸäººåšä¸»
Hang on somebody' s lips å¯¹æŸäººè¨€å¬è®¡ä»Ž
Every man has a fool in his sleeve äººäººéƒ½æœ‰ç³Šæ¶‚çš„æ-¶å€™
When Greek meets Greek then comes the tug of warä¸¤é›„ç›¸äº‰¼Œå…¶æ--å¿…çƒˆ
3.2.3 Idiomatic translation
Idiomatic translation is an approach in which a translator gives priority to the meaning of the original idiom and puts the image and structure in the second place.
Sometimes, the meaning of an idiom cannot be drawn from the literal meaning of its individual component words and its meaning is given priority to instead of its image or figure of speech. Meanwhile, it doesn't have a synonymous idiom in the target language or even if it has, the synonymous idiom cannot be borrowed directly because of its distinctive cultural connotation. In this case, literal translation doesn't work and translators have to give priority to the meaning. For example, English-speaking people cite" Diamond cut diamond "to show that there are always people who are stronger in some aspects than you. If the translator takes up literal translation approach and translates it into"é’»çŸ³åˆ‡é’»çŸ³", it will throw the Chinese readers into bewilderment. The version is very appropriate to convey the implied meaning of the original idiom. Here are some other examples of liberal translation:
Everyman has a fool in his sleeve. äººäººéƒ½æœ‰ç³Šæ¶‚æ-¶ã€‚
A door must be either shut or open. ä¸è¦è„šè¸©ä¸¤åªèˆ¹ã€‚
ä¸åˆ°é»„æ²³ä¸æ»å¿ƒã€‚Never give up until all hope is gone.
å‰è½¦ä¹‹è¦†¼ŒåŽè½¦ä¹‹é‰´ã€‚One should learn from one past.
3.2.4 Communicative translation
Communicative translation , a translation method put forward by Newmark, aims to maintain the elegance and intelligibility in the target text at the sacrifice of the form of the source text but without changing the main cultural message of the original.
Therefore when literal translation leads to misunderstanding of the cultural message, communicative translation can be used instead. Let's see the following example. When translating the English idiom "When in Rome, do as the Romans do" into Chinese as "å½“ä½ åœ¨ç½-é©¬æ-¶¼Œå°±è¦åƒç½-é©¬äººä¸€æ ·åšäº‹æƒ…"¼Œ Chinese people might be extremely confused and may wonder why it is Rome but not elsewhere. We may infer that "å…¥ä¹¡éšä¿-"is the implied meaning underlying in this idiom. So it will be much more vivid and easily understood if it is translated into "åˆ°ä»€ä¹ˆå±±ä¸Šå”±ä»€ä¹ˆæŒ" (Sing different songs on different mountains). Let's see another example,"ä¸€ä¸ªå’Œå°šæŒ‘æ°´åƒ¼Œä¸¤ä¸ªå’Œå°šæŠ¬æ°´åƒ¼Œä¸‰ä¸ªå’Œå°šæ²¡æ°´åƒ" is translated into "One boy is boy, two boys half a boy, three boys no boy". Some more examples are listed below.
è¬å¦‚è¯¸è‘› as wise as Solomon
ç½„ç«¹éš¾ä¹¦ too numerous to mention
ä¸œæ-½æ•ˆé¢¦ crude imitation with ludicrous effect
æ¯›é‚è‡ªè volunteer one's service
å››é¢æ¥šæŒ to be besieged on all sides
å¤©æœ‰ä¸æµ‹é£Žé›¨ Something unexpected may happen at any time.
ä½ å¯ä¸è¦åƒä¸äº†å…œç€èµ° You will be in serious trouble.
æƒ…äººçœ¼é‡Œå‡ºè¥¿æ-½ Beauty lies in the lover's eye.
Dutch courage é…’åŽä¹‹å‹‡
tread upon eggs å¦‚å±¥è-„å†°
like a cat on hot bricks åƒçƒé”…ä¸Šçš„èš‚èšä¸€æ ·
Every dog has his day. äººäººéƒ½æœ‰å‡ºå¤´ä¹‹æ-¥
to live a dog's life è¿‡ç€ç‰›é©¬ä¸å¦‚çš„ç”Ÿæ´»
as poor as a church mouse ç©·å¾-åƒå«èŠ±å
broken reed ä¸å¯é çš„äºº
the Herculian efforts ä¹ç‰›äºŒè™Žä¹‹åŠ›
a burnt child dreads the fire ä¸€æœè¢«è›‡å’¬¼Œåå¹´æ€•äº•ç»³
3.3 The Combinations of Literal Translation and Free Translation
From above mentioned, it is easy to find that literal translation and free translation are both important and widely-applied methods in idiom translation. Actually these two methods are seldom applied alone and there are no absolute boundaries between them. In order to reserve the style of the original text and grasp the implied meaning as well, the method of combination of literal translation and free translation is often employed.
In C-E translation,take "é»„é¼ ç‹¼ç»™é¸¡æ‹œå¹´"for example. It is literally translated into "The weasel goes to pay his respect to the hen". As for western people, they may not know the implicated meaning although they understand the literal meaning. So by employing the method of combination of literal translation and free translation, it can be translated into "The weasel goes to pay his respect to the hen not with the best intention". The following examples listed will give a further demonstration about how the method of combination of literal translation and free translation works with the latter part being the implied meaning of the former.
æŒ‡é¹¿ä¸ºé©¬ to point to a deer calling it a horse, deliberately misrepresent
é›ªä¸é€ç‚ to bring coals in snowy weather, to give the needed a timely aid
æ¯å¼“è›‡å½± mistake the shadow of a bow in one's cup as a snake, a false alarm
åäº•è‚å¤© sit in a well and look at the heaven, limited outlook
æŽ©è€³ç›-é“ƒ cover one's ears when he hears a bell, deceive oneself
è°ˆè™Žè‰²å˜ to turn pales as somebody mentioning tigers, nervous fears make things seem real
æŒ‚ç¾Šå¤´¼Œå-ç‹-è‚‰ Hang up a sheep's head and sell dog meat, trying to palm off something
a dog in the manager ç‹-å é©¬æ½
painting the lily ç”»è›‡ç‚¹ç›¼Œè´¹åŠ›ä¸è®¨å¥½
(1) Time tries friend as fire tries gold.
This is the manifestation of both simile and personification. This idiom indicates that people of worth show their mettle during trials and tribulation. In this idiom, "Fires tries gold" is literally translated into "çƒˆç«èçœŸé‡‘", which shows the vividness of this figure of speech. "Times tries friend" is translated freely into "æ-¥ä¹…èäººå¿ƒ" which is more exact in sense. So "çƒˆç«èçœŸé‡‘¼Œæ-¥ä¹…èäººå¿ƒ" is a faithful rendering of the original.
This Chinese idiom implies that one should refuse to give up until all hope is gone. If it is translated literally, the idiom will be " Until the Yellow River is reached ambition never dies." However, the target language readers can be confused with "Until the Yellow River is reached." Yellow River, the second longest Chinese one, is deep and the current is fast. So, it is very difficult to cross it, here it is likened to an impasse. In order to make it more comprehensible, it has to be translated freely into "Until all is over". So, "Until all is over ambition never dies" should be employed and it does fit the original idiom best.
This Chinese idiom tells us that a person who intends to cheat or hurt others will eventually be cheated or hurt by himself. According to the meaning, the original idiom can be translated into " Lifting a rock only to have his own toes squashed." Literally, the former part "æ¬èµ·çŸ³å¤´"is translated "Lifting a rock" which keeps the original images. The latter part "æ‰“è‡ªå·±çš„è„š"is translated freely into " to have his own toes squashed" which is more vivid and expressive. Reading this version, the target language readers will get profound meaning from this vivid expression easily.
In the following examples, both the literal and free translations of the same idioms are given. Let's compare the two translations below each of the idioms.
E-C¼š (1) If you run after two hares, you will catch neither.
Free Translation: åŒæ-¶å¹²ä¸¤ä»¶äº‹¼Œå…¨éƒ½å¹²ä¸å¥½ã€‚
(2) When the cat's away, the mice will play.
Free Translation:å±±ä¸æ- è€è™Ž¼ŒçŒ´åç°å¤çŽ‹
Literal Translation: çŒ«ä¸åœ¨¼Œé¼ æˆç²¾ã€‚
C-E¼š(1) åŸŽé-¨å¤±ç«¼Œæ®ƒåŠæ± é±¼ã€‚
Free Translation: In a disturbance innocent bystanders get into trouble.
Literal Translation: A fire on city wall brings disaster to the fish in the moat.
Free Translation: Young people are fearless.
Literal Translation: New-born calves make little of tigers.
The literal translations of all these idioms preserve the original images and figures of speech and retain the original techniques of expressing ideas. Most importantly, readers can get profound truths from these vivid images. The free ones do tell the implied meanings, but they lack vivid images and flavor of the original, and cannot give a sense of novelty to readers.
Idioms are the treasures of language and the crystallization of wisdom. Idioms touch almost all aspects of people's life and the role idioms play in the education of people is unique and can hardly be replaced by other means of education. This paper analyses the cultural differences that English and Chinese idioms reflect and puts forward the translation approaches for idiom translation. The study of both English and Chinese idioms can help bridge the cultural gaps and enhance the effectiveness of cross-cultural communication. Language is rich and colorful, it differs in thousands of ways, so do English and Chinese idioms. A paper cannot cover all the situations in translating idioms, and there are more to be studied.