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 »  Articles Overview  »  Language Specific  »  Chinese  »  Figurative Expressions

Figurative Expressions

By Ben Shang | Published  09/5/2006 | Chinese | Recommendation:
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Ben Shang
անգլերենից չինարեն translator
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Eugene A. Nida divides translation into three processes: analysis ─ transfer ─ restructuring. So a translator should first distinguish and analyze what each figurative expression intends to achieve. Let's see how figures of speech (mainly about simile and metaphor) are used to achieve expressive effect.

I. Simile

Simile is mainly indicated by the words "like", "as" or "as if". For instance, "He is like a fox". Here "fox" is figuratively used. Since "he" and "a fox" share the same sense, or point of similarity of deceptive cleverness, the image of a fox is used to describe his cunning personality. Take two other examples as follows:

Example 1  It is a vitreous greenish blue, as I remember it, like those patches of the winter sky seen through cloud vistas in the west before sundown.

[Suggested Translation] 我還記得, 那是一種藍中透綠的晶瑩色綵,猶如鼕季落日前透過雲層西望所見到的片片天色。

Example 2  As if by magic, a staff of thousands appeared.

[Suggested Translation] 好像變戲法似的,一下子冒出來好幾千名工作人員。

II. Metaphor

However, compared with simile, it is more difficult to get an exact connotation of a metaphor. By metaphor we mean referring to one object in terms of another with a similar quality. Like simile it is also a comparison, but the comparison is implicit, not expressed with the word as or like. If "like" is omitted from "He is like a fox", then fox in the sentence "He is a fox" is metaphorically used. Not only nouns but other word classes like verbs, adjectives and adverbs also can be used metaphorically. The following examples may well illustrate this point.

Example 3  He often prefaced his remarks by I can’t help thinking……

[Suggested Translation] 他講話常常用"我不由地想……"來作開場白。

The verb "preface" in this sentence compares that man’s way of beginning every remark with "I can’t help thinking?" to providing a preface to a book.

Example 4  There were a few lordly poplars before the house.

[Suggested Translation] 房前有幾棵高貴挺拔的白楊樹。

III. Three approaches about tranlating figurative expressions

As far as the transfer is concerned, there are generally three approaches applied to the conversion of figurative expressions from English into Chinese: literal translation from English into Chinese, translation from figurative expressions into figurative ones and translation from figurative expressions into nonfigurative ones.

1. The first approach can maintain the stylistic feature and the image of the source language. This way also adds new words to and enriches Chinese language. For instance, such expressions as "及時縫一針,可以省九針" (A stitch in time saves nine), "君子協定"(a gentleman’s agreement ), and "穿梭外交" (shuttle diplomacy) are effective translation by means of the first approach. They are well accepted by the receptor and become part of the target language.

Sometimes literal translation is likely to be misunderstood by or has no meaning to the receptor. In this case a translator may add an explanation, use explanatory notes or just avoid this approach. For example, The tongue is a fire can be converted into "口舌如火,火能傷人,口舌亦然". An explanation ─ A fire ruins things; what we say also ruins things is added to the translation; otherwise, it is hard for the receptor to figure out the similarity between the tongue and a fire.

2. The second approach is employed if there exist s in Chinese a figurative equivalence with the English expression. Phrases like a flash in pan (曇花一現), spring up like mushrooms (如雨后春筍般地湧現出來) are such a case.

In this way English expressions can be converted into authentic Chinese without any translationese. Two more examples can further explain this.

Example 5  As it turned out I went from the frying pan into the fire……

[Suggested Translation] 不料我剛跳出油鍋,卻又掉進了火中。

Example 6  The royalties from his books and short stories still literally flowed in from all over the world.

[Suggested Translation] 他因出書和發表短篇小說所得的版稅收入,就像氾濫的河水一樣,源源不斷地從世界各地流來。

"Literally" is figuratively used to modify flow and the manner of flow is translated into "像氾濫的河水一樣". In addition to reproducing the same image of Chinese, the translator may also replace the image in English with a standard Chinese image. For instance, in the translation of "He leads a dog’s life" (他過著牛馬般的生活),"牛馬" has replaced the image of a dog.

3. However, if a Chinese expression connotes too much cultural sense, it is not necessarily the most appropriate choice for the source language. The translation of "Two heads are better than one" (一人不及兩人智) is a case in point. Tough Chinese saying "三個臭皮匠勝過諸葛亮" has exactly the same sense as the source expression, the version "諸葛亮", a character in ancient China, does not fit into the social context of the source language. As a result, the former translation takes priority over the latter. It is not always possible or necessary to find a Chinese equivalence to the English one. In this case the translator just transfers figurative expressions into nonfigurative or standard Chinese. Look at this example ─Wall Street is a dog - eat - dog place (華爾街是個殘酷的地方). "狗咬狗" seems to be a legitimate translation for dog - eat - dog, but the sense of "狗咬狗" in Chinese is to denounce each other by using insulting and bad words. The English sense for dog - eat - dog actually means tough and cruel, so "狗咬狗" is inappropriate in this sentence. The following are some more examples to show that only the meaning of the source language is maintained while the style is sacrificed.

Example 7  A book is often the best urn of a life enshrining the best that life could think of ……

[Suggested Translation] 一本好書往往就是人的一生最好的歸宿之所, 它珍藏著人的思想的精華。

In this sentence, the image of "urn" (a box for putting one’s bone ashes) is not shown in the translation and "urn" is directly transferred into "歸宿之所".

Example 8  In Japan, farmers fearing a flood of cheep American oranges and beef march on the United States embassy.
[Suggested Translation] 在日本,農民們向美國大使館進軍施壓,因為他們擔心美國的廉價柑橘和牛肉大量輸入日本。

The deletion of the image in English sometimes eliminates vividness and conciseness of the language. Doing deletion is unavoidable if a translator attaches more importance to the response of the audience. That is to say a translation must be understood by the receptor without any distortion of the meaning of the source language. Just as Nida point s out: "Content should take priority over the form."

The three ways above are largely used in the translation of figurative expressions. That which one is better all depends on different situations, styles and texts. A translator should observe one principle: translating consists in reproducing in the receptor language the closest natural equivalent of the source language message, first in terms of meaning and second in terms of style.

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