Eclectic Approaches To Translating Culturally Loaded Idioms Cultural Studies Essay

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This paper analyses different methods of translating English and Chinese idioms,and 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 translation,this paper analyses different methods of translating English and Chinese idioms,and 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 conception,we should not transfer images word-for-word,but dip into the deeper meaning through referent. The convey of meaning is primary and of more importance than the correspondence of form,which is secondary.

Keywords: translation approach,idiom , cultural image, equivalence, correspondence

1. Introduction

What's the objective of translation?It 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 conception,we should not transfer image literally,but 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 field,there 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),free translation,idiomatic translation and communicative translation(weakest). Source-oriented translation approach include translation methods such as word-for-word translation(strongest),literal translation,faithful translation and semantic translation(weakest). When it comes to translation approaches ,the 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 equivalence,and it is also known as functional equivalence,which includes nine functions, namely expressive function,cognitive function,interpersonal function,informative function,imperative function,performative function,emotive function,aesthetic function,and 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 Translating, Nida classified meaning into three categories:linguistic meaning,referential meaning,and emotive meaning. In his The Sociolinguistics of Interlingual Communication,Nida stressed the significance of social and cultural factors in translation,and put forward the opinions below: translation aims to reappear source text in receptive language in the most natural way-meaning first,manner second ; to achieve equivalence between source text and target text,we must make the translation as natural as possible,break 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 live,namely social,cultural and psychological factors should be taken into account,so that readers of the target text can have similar mental reaction as readers of the source text. Therefore,correspondence 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 field,there 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),free translation,idiomatic translation and communicative translation(weakest). Source-oriented translation approach include translation methods such as word-for-word translation(strongest),literal translation,faithful translation and semantic translation(weakest).

2.1 Source-oriented Translation Principles and Theories

First, 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 :faithfulness, expressiveness and elegance. LuXun also put forward two aspects which should be taken into account in translation: the translators should try to make the translated text easy to understand;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 say,translation should give a complete transcript of the ideas of the original work;the style and manner of writing should be of the same character with that of the original;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 ,some contradictory principles are supposed to be noted:to translate the original text literally or liberally;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 Translation,Gideon Toury brings forth 3 norms-preliminary norm(the choice of original edition and translated genre),initial norm(translators' choice between correspondence, readers' acceptability and the compromise of both),operational norm(the actual choice reflected in translated text)

Realistic Translation by Кашкин put it:What translator is supposed to represent is not the original text nor its words,but 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.

3.Translation 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 translation,literal translation,faithful 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. Therefore,it's not used widely as in the following situations.

e.g. a gentleman's agreement 君子协定

Seeing is believing 眼见为实,百é-»ä¸å¦‚一见

Pour oil on the flame 火上浇油

Facts speak louder than words 事实胜于雄辩

血浓于水 Blood is thicker than water

空中楼阁 a castle in the air

轻如鸿毛 as slight as feather

å¤-强中干 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 it…"(Newmark, 2001). Examples are illustrated below.

New wine in old bottles æ-§ç“¶è£…æ-°é…’

Barking dogs do not bite 吠犬不咬

an eye for eye, a tooth for tooth 以眼还眼,以牙还牙

in one ear and out the other 一只耳朵进,一只耳朵出

以德报怨 return good for evil

活到老,学到老。 As long as you live, keep learning.

清官难æ-­å®¶åŠ¡äº‹ã€‚ Even good officials cannot settle family troubles.

趁热打铁 Strike while the iron is hot

3.1.3 Faithful translation

In faithful translation,the 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 落下帷幕

A rolling stone gathers no moss 滚石不生苔

Crocodile's tears 鳄鱼的眼泪(比å-»å‡æ…ˆæ‚²ï¼‰

胆小如鼠 as timid as a mouse

祸不单行 misfortune never comes singly

鱼目混珠 to pass fish eyes for pearls

浑水摸鱼 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.

一个和尚挑水吃,两个和尚抬水吃,三个和尚没水吃One boy is a boy, two boy half a boy ,three boys no boy

If you run after two hares, you will catch neither. 同æ-¶è¿½ä¸¤å…”,全都抓不住。

heart to heart 心心相印

turn a deaf ear 置若罔é-»

Love me, love my dog. 爱屋及乌。 ( in Chinese : Love one's house, love the crows around the house).

Beat the dog before the lion. 杀鸡骇猴。 (in Chinese: Kill the chicken before the monkey).

He cries wine and sells vinegar. 挂羊头å-ç‹-肉。 ( 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 adaption,free translation,idiomatic translation and communicative translation. Below are their definitions and some examples where they are apllied.

3.2.1 Adaption

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 (多此一举) ,as grave as an owl (板起面孔) ,hang in the wind(犹豫不定), cast pearls to the swine (对牛弹琴) , serve somebody with the same sauce (以其人之道,还治其人之身) , there are no birds of this year in last year's nest(事过境迁)

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 聚精会神地听 倾听

A skeleton at the feast 扫兴的人æˆ-者东西

Get cold feet 开始感到怀ç-‘、胆怯æˆ-者害怕

To be full of beans 精神æ-ºç››ï¼Œç²¾åŠ›å……æ²›

Hang on somebody' s sleeve 依èµ-某人,任某人做主

Hang on somebody' s lips 对某人言听计从

Every man has a fool in his sleeve 人人都有糊涂的æ-¶å€™

When Greek meets Greek then comes the tug of war两雄相争,其æ--必烈

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"钻石切钻石", 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. 人人都有糊涂æ-¶ã€‚

A door must be either shut or open. 不要脚踩两只船。

不到黄河不死心。Never give up until all hope is gone.

前车之覆,后车之鉴。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 "当你在ç½-马æ-¶ï¼Œå°±è¦åƒç½-马人一样做事情", Chinese people might be extremely confused and may wonder why it is Rome but not elsewhere. We may infer that "入乡随ä¿-"is the implied meaning underlying in this idiom. So it will be much more vivid and easily understood if it is translated into "到什么山上唱什么歌" (Sing different songs on different mountains). Let's see another example,"一个和尚挑水吃,两个和尚抬水吃,三个和尚没水吃" is translated into "One boy is boy, two boys half a boy, three boys no boy". Some more examples are listed below.

譬如诸葛 as wise as Solomon

罄竹难书 too numerous to mention

东æ-½æ•ˆé¢¦ crude imitation with ludicrous effect

毛遂自荐 volunteer one's service

四面楚歌 to be besieged on all sides

天有不测风雨 Something unexpected may happen at any time.

你可不要吃不了兜着走 You will be in serious trouble.

情人眼里出西æ-½ Beauty lies in the lover's eye.

Dutch courage 酒后之勇

tread upon eggs 如履è-„冰

like a cat on hot bricks 像热锅上的蚂蚁一样

Every dog has his day. 人人都有出头之æ-¥

to live a dog's life 过着牛马不如的生活

as poor as a church mouse ç©·å¾-像叫花子

broken reed 不可靠的人

the Herculian efforts 九牛二虎之力

a burnt child dreads the fire 一朝被蛇咬,十年怕井绳

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 "黄鼠狼给鸡拜年"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.

指鹿为马 to point to a deer calling it a horse, deliberately misrepresent

雪中送炭 to bring coals in snowy weather, to give the needed a timely aid

杯弓蛇影 mistake the shadow of a bow in one's cup as a snake, a false alarm

坐井观天 sit in a well and look at the heaven, limited outlook

掩耳ç›-铃 cover one's ears when he hears a bell, deceive oneself

谈虎色变 to turn pales as somebody mentioning tigers, nervous fears make things seem real

挂羊头,å-ç‹-肉 Hang up a sheep's head and sell dog meat, trying to palm off something

a dog in the manager ç‹-占马槽

painting the lily 画蛇点睛,费力不讨好

(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 "烈火见真金", which shows the vividness of this figure of speech. "Times tries friend" is translated freely into "æ-¥ä¹…见人心" which is more exact in sense. So "烈火见真金,æ-¥ä¹…见人心" is a faithful rendering of the original.

(2) 不到黄河心不死。

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.

(3) 搬起石头打自己的脚。

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 "搬起石头"is translated "Lifting a rock" which keeps the original images. The latter part "打自己的脚"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-C: (1) If you run after two hares, you will catch neither.

Free Translation: 同æ-¶å¹²ä¸¤ä»¶äº‹ï¼Œå…¨éƒ½å¹²ä¸å¥½ã€‚

Literal Translation:同æ-¶è¿½ä¸¤å…”,全都抓不到。

(2) When the cat's away, the mice will play.

Free Translation:山中æ- è€è™Žï¼ŒçŒ´å­ç§°å¤§çŽ‹

Literal Translation: 猫不在,鼠成精。

C-E:(1) 城é-¨å¤±ç«ï¼Œæ®ƒåŠæ± 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.

(2) 初生牛犊不怕虎。

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.

4. Conclusion

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.

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