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Relationship between Translation and Culture

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 1619 words Published: 23rd Jul 2018

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Vocabulary is the most active part of language. It can directly reflect the social changes and cultural developments. In a sense, vocabulary is the mirror of the society and culture, so is the color terms. The understanding and feelings to color terms of Chinese and English People are much alike, which underlies the possibility in cross-cultural communication as well as translatability.

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When both denotative and connotative meanings of color terms will not lead to misreading, the method of literal translation is a good choice. The merits of this method lie in its fidelity to the original meaning and flavor of color terms (Deng, 2001). It can introduce the TL readers the vivid expression in SL so as to let them gain more knowledge about the unique culture in SL country. For example, red light district 灯区. Red light district is a part in a city where many houses of prostitution are located. This expression did not exist in China at first. By literal translation, this expression with its cultural connotation has successfully made its way into Chinese (Wu, 2009).

Likewise, some Chinese expressions can also be literally translated into English. For example, green increasing and red decreasing. It is well known to us that is a famous phrase in a Chinese poem <<如梦令>> written by Li Qingzhao. It refers to the leaves and flowers seen by the author after she got drunk. It must have been totally strange to English receptors in the past. Due to cultural exchange, the phrase “green increasing and red decreasing” is becoming more and more familiar to them, and it has been endowed with the same cultural connotation in English as has in Chinese.

Zero Translation — Transliteration

The concept of “zero translation” is introduced by Professor Qiu Maoru both as a translating strategy for overcoming the unbridgeable distinctions between languages, and as a means of safeguarding the general validity of translatability as the theoretical cornerstone of translation (Wu, 2003). Zero translation means that the TL words or phrases are not employed to translate the SL words or phrases. According to Professor Qiu, ellipsis, transliteration and transference all belong to zero translation (Qiu Maoru, 2001).

Transliteration is the way in which, instead of rendering the meaning, only the pronunciation is transferred from SL to TL. As the most fundamental method, this technique is most often used in translating words with absence of designative meanings in TL such as proper nouns, especially names of person, place or geographical features, brand names and corporation names; or some objects, things, terminologies and phenomena peculiar to the source language culture, for instance:

小(person’s name) Xiao Hong

女儿(name of wine) Nv’ er Hong

Although through transliteration, the cultural flavor can be retained and the rendering is concise and easy to remember, such a method may sometimes bring obstacles or barriers to the target readers (Wu, 2009). In such cases, transliteration is utilized and often combined with other compensation methods such as extra-textual gloss and contextual amplification, which is to be discussed in the following section (Wu, 2003).

Free Translation

Though it is preferable to retain in the TL texts as much original cultural sense as possible, in practice, the method of free translation of original cultural-specific factors is not rare. What is free translation? It may be defined as a supplement which means “to reproduce the matter without the manner or the content without the form of the original” (Newmark, 1988). And it is widely used in cases when literal translation is awkward enough to impair proper understanding and no alternatives in TL can be found for replacement (Newmark, 2001).

For example, “” in Chinese does not mean a person who is red in skin color. “娘” is a quite common expression to Chinese people, however, for English people, it does not arouse any associative meaning if it is literally translated into “red mother”. Then the method of free translation is suggested. Translating it into “matchmaker” so as that TL reader can understand what is said in the context. More examples are served as follows:

颜 the bloom of youth

Red-neck 乡巴佬,美国å-部农民

From the perspective of cultural translation, the awareness of culture is of great importance for a translator to obtain an ideal rendering in translating practice. A good or ideal translation should accord with the demand and tendency of a particular time and should be understandable and acceptable so that it can enlighten readers to recognize foreign cultural elements. Because of lack of communication, in the past domestication (e.g. Free translation, substitution) was preferred and most of those renderings that employed foreignizing methods (e.g. Literal translation, transliteration) couldn’t widely spread. However, because of tendency of cultural integration, foreignizing methods can serve better for the purpose of cultural translation (Guan, 2010).

Substitution is an important part of free translation. It refers to a strategy for dealing with objects or events whose usages of color terms are different from those in the target culture. It is the use of one color from the target culture for another from the source culture, both of the colors having the same function (Liu, 2003)

There are kinds of situations that need to employ substitution:

1) People often associate certain qualities with certain colors. These qualities often arouse certain reactions or emotions, which are not always the same with different people and the differences fall into two categories:

a) Colors having certain associated characteristics in one culture, but not in the other;

b) Colors with certain associated qualities in both cultures, but with different qualities.

As for the first category, paraphrase will be employed, while as far as the second category is concerned, the technique of substitution is suitable, for example green-eyed “眼” (Qiu Maoru, 2001).

In Chinese, “” can be used to express the psychological state of envy or jealousy. In this case, it is improper to translate into “red”. In English green is often associated with jealousy and envy. “Green with envy”, “green-eyed monsters”, and “green-eyed” all mean being jealous, envious. In English, “red eye” is a phrase meaning “cheap and strong whisky” as eyes turn red after drinking such liquor (Gao, 2006).

2) In terms of those with concrete colors, Chinese and English often use different color terms, e.g black tea 茶; pink eyes 眼ç-…

This is because Chinese and English People tend to adopt different angles of view in observing things and phenomena, and grasping the characteristics of things. In this situation, substitution is apparently an appropriate translating strategy.


In conclusion, word meaning is different in accordance with various cultural backgrounds. Due to man’s social and cultural experiences, same expression may lead to different understandings. Word corresponds in conceptual meaning, connotative meaning, and emotional meaning. The understanding and interpretation of such culture-loaded words must go along with the understanding of the culture involved.

Previously, this dissertation analyzes the reasons for similarities and differences of the term RED and illustrates in accordance with perception, natural and social background, and religion. Every cultural phenomenon originates from a certain cultural foundation. Similarities are caused by similar perception and custom. On the other hand, differences are naturally more apparent. Language is involved with the differences of national culture. Therefore, differences between two cultures should be critically considered when translating.

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And the, this dissertation gives three cultural translation strategies. Firstly, literal translation is considered as the first step. It takes word-for-word translation as its starting point. Literal translation aims at preserving the most possible cultural information of the meaning without changing the linguistic forms of the source text. Secondly, zero translation can be used for overcoming the unbridgeable distinctions between languages. It means that means that TL words or phrases are not conducted to translate SL words or phrases. Thirdly, free translation is an effective way to deal with cultural sense. It is widely used when literal translation is awkward enough to impair proper understanding. In this situation, no TL alternatives can be found for replacement.

However, there are some limitations in this paper. Firstly, the colors in the world limitless and there are also many color terms that are used to symbolize them, but cannot compare all of them. The comparison in this paper only focuses on the basic color term RED. Secondly, there are so many expressions with color terms in both Chinese and English that the author cannot write them all, but the examples given in this paper are enough because the purpose of this paper is not only to find out the similarities and differences, the more important point is to understand the similarities and differences between cultures, thus finding out a more appropriate method of rendering the color words.


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