English Chinese translation services offer the following information:
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Some idioms are culturally sensitive and the translation may not be able to retain lexical definitions and imagery of the original text. Hence, a translator can replace the imagery of the original text with one that is familiar to readers so as to achieve a pragmatic translation of the original text and convey the underlying meaning. In <Pragmatics and English Learning>, the expression “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” is given as an example. A direct translation of the sentence may confuse readers on why Rome is used and not other cities. Actually, the underlying meaning of the sentence is “Visitors should follow local customs,” which could also be translated into “Sing to the rhythm of the mountain,” which in turn has more imagery. A translation should be determined by the genre of the original text and the context.
It is widely known that the word “dragon” has completely different cultural meanings in English and Chinese. So, imagery in the Chinese idiom “to raise a dragon child” should not be retained in an English translation. The idiom could be translated into “to expect one’s son to become an outstanding individual”. Another example is the English idiom “like a cat on hot bricks,” which gives the impression of a cat walking on burning bricks in agony. This expression is similar to the Chinese idiom “the ant in the hot pot.” Both the English and Chinese idioms refer to someone who is “anxious and agitated.” An altered imagery could help readers understand better.
The lexical definition and imagery in the original text may not be retained in the translation; only the underlying meaning could be conveyed. For example, the direct translation in English of the Chinese idiom “The winds and clouds are unpredictable” may be quite confusing to readers. Most Westerners may not be aware of the connotation of “wind and cloud” in Chinese. So, providing a translation of the underlying meaning (i.e., “Something unexpected may happen anytime.”) may enhance readers’ understanding. This method is common when translating idioms with literary or cultural origins. For example, the direct translation of “Achilles’ heel” in Chinese may not be intelligible to most readers; using the paraphrase “fatal weakness” is more appropriate.
Another example, the expression “A dog that will fetch a bone will carry a bone” would be confusing if the words “dog” and “bone” are retained in the Chinese translation; thus, it is better to paraphrase the underlying meaning; i.e., “Someone who speaks ill of others in front of you, may also speak ill of you behind your back.” The idiom, “Fight like cats and dogs” is another similar example. The direct translation may keep the imagery of the original text, but it would be comprehensible to Chinese readers. The sentence “We still love each other very much, but we fight like cats and dogs” should be paraphrased in Chinese to mean “We argue with each other all the time, but we still love each other.”
3. Some idioms could be directly translated based on imagery without being culturally contradictory, but they could be pragmatically misused, which may hinder readers’ comprehension. The translation could have vivid imagery reflecting the genre and style of the original text. For example, the Chinese idiom “黃鼠狼給雞拜年” could be translated into “The weasel goes to pay his respects to the hen.” The Chinese idiom “盲人騎瞎馬” could be translated into “A blind man on a blind horse” Also, the Chinese idiom “又要馬兒跑，又要馬兒不吃草” could be translated into “You can’t make your horse work without feeding it.”
Some English and Chinese idioms appear mutually translatable; they have similar lexical definitions but different underlying meanings (positive and negative connotations). For example, the English idiom “Laugh one’s head off” and the Chinese idiom “笑掉大牙” appear to have similar meanings. However, the English idiom means “to laugh in an extreme way or beyond reasonable limits,” while the Chinese idiom means “to amuse oneself at the expense of others.” Another example is the English idiom “make one’s hair stand on end” and the Chinese idiom “令人髮指.”The former means to feel scared after seeing or hearing about something horrible, while the latter means “to make someone very upset.”
There are positive and negative connotations in certain idioms, so we should avoid making incorrect association while translating texts. For example, there are no negative connotations in the English idiom “Speak of the devil and he will appear” and the Chinese idiom “說曹操 (speak of Tsao Tsao).” It is not correct to associate the Chinese idiom “雨後春筍 (bamboo shoots after a spring shower)” with the English idiom “Spring up like mushrooms.” The former means “a lot of things appear, showing strong vitality”, while the English idiom could mean “rapid growth and eventual death.”
If you have further questions, please contact English Chinese translation services.