A Comparison of Cultural Connotations between Chinese and English Animals and Their Translations
Abstract: With different cultural connotations, there are similarities and discrepancies between English and Chinese animals. This thesis compares and analyses different cultural connotations of animals in English and Chinese, takes culture as the main influential factor in the process of animal words’ translation, classifies and researches on animal translation. Then several translation methods such as equivalent translation, free translation, combined translation, and metaphors changed translation are provided for conducting effective translation of animals. The instructions and suggestions are provided for the animal translation practice with different animal cultural connotations.
Key words: animals; cultural connotations; translation
A Comparison of Cultural Connotations between Chinese and English Animals and Their Translations
Both English and Chinese are fascinating languages in the world, which have many colorful animal words used in various situations. Among the word categories, animals, with distinguished characteristics, always attract more attention in translation. Generally, the animals in different countries have various meanings, mainly due to the cultural differences. What’s more, animal words’ usage usually reflects emotions from human beings. Each animal symbolizes particular meaning when applied to language usage. That’s why when the animal appears in idioms, sentences, poems, essays, etc., it usually refers to a person or a situation, rather than showing the animal itself.
With this background, it is definitely that translating animals properly and accurately requires excellent understanding and mastery of different cultural connotations. This thesis insists that the translated animals need to keep the same cultural background as the original and get similar reaction from the receptors. Besides, proper translation strategies will also be summarized for applying to animal translation practice, which will also provide guidance for further animals’ translation and research.
This thesis contains five chapters. Chapter One introduces the purpose and significance of this study as well as the thesis structure. Chapter Two states the research background, difficulty, culture’s role and previous research on animals’ translation. Chapter Three and Chapter Four are the main parts of the thesis. In Chapter Three, similarities and discrepancies between English and Chinese animals are analyzed. This chapter aims to stress that culture is an important factor results in the differences between English and Chinese animals. In Chapter Four, the translation of animals with cultural connotations is discussed. Four categories are classified for further analysis. Chapter Five is the conclusion of this thesis.
2. The Influence of Literature and Cultural Factor
2.1 Background of Animal Word Translation
In both English and Chinese, many animal words appear in different situations. The living environment, customs, convention, religion, history, etc., will also exert influence on animal words’ usage. However, most of these influences can be summarized as culture.
Due to cultural differences, when the animal words in one language are translated into another, besides the literal meaning of animal words, other cultural elements are also expressed by these words. Under this circumstance, the translators need to collect rich cultural background, in order to translate accurate literal information as well as the implied information. Therefore, the translation could be accepted by the target receptors without difficulties in understanding.
2.2 Reasons of Difficulty in Animal Word Translation
There are several reasons for the difficulty in translation of animal words. Three reasons are summarized as follows:
First, the translators need to learn intrinsic features of animal words. The animals’ appearance, physiology, action, habit, etc., affect the translation of animal words. Only when the translators grasp all these features can they do the translation correspondingly.
Besides, the translators need to be familiar with the target cultures, including the habits, convention, etc. Animals’ connotations are related to these factors, which differ in various countries. As a result, the translators spend much time on finding out these factors.
At last, association with the human beings, such as using animals as metaphors, makes them have more implying and associated meaning. That adds more information to animal words and increases the difficulty in translation.
2.3 Cultural Role in Animal Word Translation
Culture can be regarded as the most influential factor result in the difficulty of animal word translation. It plays an important role in animal word translation.
Language and culture are interdependent. When some of a language is translated into another language, we can not but consider the cultural factors involved in this kind of language. In this sense, translation is a cross language, and also a cross-cultural communication activity (Yao, 2013). With animal expressions as the target, the paper analyzes cultural connotations in the expressions involving animals in English and Chinese comparatively by a number of examples. Different cultures between Chinese and English will give animal-related words different connotations (Fan, 2011). Learning animal-related words should begin with the learning of the country’s customs, religion, historical background and geographical environment, etc. Only in this way can we better grasp and understand the application of animal vocabulary in English.
Due to the distance between China and the western countries, different culture such as custom, habits and conventions are formed. Then their literal and implying meanings toward the same animal may be the same and sometimes be different. Some opinions are the same in Chinese and western cultures, such as the fox is crafty, the wolf is cruel and ferocious, the pigeon symbolizes peace, and the owl refers to bad luck. However, most animal connotations are far different in various countries. For example, “dog” usually has positive meaning in English, but conflicting meaning in Chinese. The following examples explain the cultural differences.
as timid as a hare 胆小如鼠
drink like a fish 牛饮
like a drowned rat 湿得像落汤鸡
a black sheep 害群之马 (Yu & Zhang, 1992: 55)
In these four examples, the animal images are changed in the translation, due to the connotations of animal words in different languages with different cultural background. That is why the animal images are changed in these examples. Cultural factors influence the meanings of animal words when they are translated into another language. Without proper translation with culture, perhaps a positive comment might be taken as a curse, which will pose a problem in the communication.
2.4 Previous Research on Animal Word Translation
A great amount of research had been taken on language translation. Xu Tian (2011) pointed out that the existence of language can not be independent of culture. Hao Min (2012)’s view shows that language is the coordination of the history and culture, and they can help and inspire each other. According to Zhang Hong (2011), translating is “the act of transferring meaning of a stretch or a unit of language, the whole or a part, from one language to another”. In Rao Yuxia’s (2011) point of view, it is necessary to master the words literally for foreign language learners, but the most important thing is to know the meaning of the words.
Besides, there are many studies about the animal-related words and the comparison of different cultures. Jia Liyan (2011) regards that the names of animals rely on their appearance, habits, personality, behavior, function, characteristics and so on. And the words about animals are related to mythology, religion, history, legends, literature, language, art, geographical environment, customs and ethics. By comparing different cultural connotations of animals in Chinese and English, Wen Hongrui (2004) states that English learners of China can clearly recognize the animal words in any language, but they will not think of them just as animal image symbols. So the research of animal words and their translations has developed quickly. In Chang Feng’s view (2012), cultural concepts come to be the key area of learning different symbols of connotations of animals. Therefore, if people want to have a good grasp of animal words or symbols, they must try their best to understand the connotations of these words, especially the cultural connotations, so they should read books as many as possible in order to understand the cultural differences.
3. Similarities and Discrepancies between English and Chinese Animals
3.1 Similarities between English and Chinese Animals
English people and Chinese people have some similarities on the image usage of animals’ characteristics. Same animals as metaphors are adopted to express their similar feeling and social phenomena. The following examples will give the illustrations to the similarities.
Phoenix is a kind of legendary bird. In both Chinese and western mythologies, Phoenix symbolized rebirth and resurrection. According to Greek legend, phoenix is described with 500 years’ longevity. However, at the end of its life, it sings a death song and is burned to ashes. At that time, a rebirth phoenix emerges when the old one died. It is corresponding to the Chinese idiom “凤凰涅槃，浴火重生”, which is derived from Buddhism and also refers to rebirth and resurrection.
Another example for similarities of animals is “parrot”. Both in English and Chinese, it refers to someone’s speech of mimic with dullness. As a result, “parrot” usually describes someone who just repeats the others’ words without any understanding, lacking of creation.
3.2 Discrepancies between English and Chinese Animals
3.2.1 Conflict of Cultural Meaning between English and Chinese Animals
Conflict of cultural meaning between English and Chinese animals refers to the same animal word which has opposite cultural meanings in both languages. For example, “龙” in Chinese is a magical animal which is the symbol of power in the ancient times possessed only by the emperors. While in the western culture, the corresponding word “dragon” refers to a kind of evil animal, without any sense of power. Due to different cultural understanding, “龙” should be translated into loong in English for better, according to the pronunciation of its Chinese.
This kind of conflict also happens to other words. “Owl” is another example showing the conflict of cultural meanings. Owl is “a bird with large eyes that hunts at night” (LONGMAN 2004:1180). In English, it usually associates with wisdom. That is why the idiom “as wise as an owl” usually describes the wise person. However, in Chinese, owl is regarded as the bad luck. There is an old saying that “when an owl is visiting a home, bad things will come (夜猫子进宅，无事不来)”. The owl represents darkness, misfortune, death, etc. Its meanings are contradictory with the ones in Chinese.
3.2.2 Divergence of Cultural Meaning between English and Chinese Animals
Divergence of cultural meaning between English and Chinese animals refers to that the same animal words are greatly different in their cultural meanings though not contradictory. The animal word of “horse” gives an example. Due to the image of horse, both English people and Chinese hold a favorable feeling toward horse, which always associates with the positive things such as hope and success. In Chinese, the idioms of “马到成功”, “一马当先”, “万马奔腾”, etc., build the image of horse as success and grandeur. While in English, though the image of horse is also positive, the divergence of cultural meaning also provides some extending meaning. “Back the wrong horse” in English refers to that the situation is wrongly judged and the defeated side are supported, which isn’t used in Chinese.
3.2.3 Exclusiveness of Cultural Meaning between English and Chinese Animals
The exclusiveness of cultural meaning between English and Chinese animals refers to that the cultural meaning of an animal word in one language can not be found correspondingly in another language. The animal word of “shark” gives an illustration to the exclusiveness.
Shark is “a larger sea fish with several rows of very sharp teeth that is considered to be dangerous to humans” (LONGMAN 2004:1509), which symbolizes violent and dangerous things. The Chinese mainly live in inland, so the word “shark” is seldom applied in language description. On the contrary, English people undertake many activities related to the sea, so “shark” usually appears in the idioms. “Pool/card shark” refers to “someone who uses their skill at pool or cards to cheat other players out of money” (LONGMAN 2004:1509). “A shark” refers to “a dishonest person”. So “shark’s manner(s)” usually refers to someone’s “greed (贪心、贪婪)”. This meaning could not be found in Chinese.
3.3 Cultural Influences on English and Chinese Animals
Culture influences greatly English and Chinese Animals. Culture includes many factors, such as economic development, geographical condition, mythology, literature, folk customs, social practice, religion, etc., which will give great influences on animal word translation. (Xu, 2008: 32)
Animals are an important part of our nature. Due to different geographical location and weather conditions, animal species vary in different regions and form the local culture when used in language expression. The development of human civilization is dependent on the nature and the animal kingdom. Human beings gradually understand the life habits and laws of animals when contacting with them. Gradually, the animals and the formed local culture begin to influence languages of human-beings. In every language of the world, there are many animal-related idioms and proverbs, which are not only related to animals, but also have their profound connotations of cultures. All of the animal-related words show people the same or different emotional attitude towards animals.
4. The Translation of Animal Words with Cultural Connotations
4.1 Equivalent Translation
4.1.1 Word-for-word Translation/ Literal Translation
When both English and Chinese people hold the same understanding toward the same animal words, word-for-word translation, which is also called literal translation, could be applied to animal word translation. The following are some examples.
as busy as a bee 像蜜蜂一样忙
chicken breast 鸡胸
old fox 老狐狸
不入虎穴，焉得虎子 If you do not enter a tiger’s den, you can not get his cubs.
骑虎难下 He who rides on a tiger can never dismount
In these examples, the animals’ images are as the same as the original when they are translated into Chinese or English. That means the cultural connotations for these animals are the same in both of these two languages. This part of animal word translation is easily translated and will not bring misunderstanding.
4.1.2 Intercultural Translation
As the intercultural communication happens more than before, the cultural expressions of one country have been introduced to other countries. In this case, equivalent cultural expression should be selected for conveying the same or similar meanings.
black sheep 害群之马
crocodile tears 鳄鱼的眼泪/假慈悲
to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs 杀鸡取卵
狗嘴里吐不出象牙 What do you expect from a pig but a grunt.
In these examples, the corresponding expressions can be found in the target language, even though the animal images have been changed. For achieving better cultural equivalence, the intercultural translation is applied.
4.2 Free Translation
The equivalent translation only happens in definite situation. Not all the animals’ translation could be equivalent. In most cases, free translation must be applied for realizing better understand and reception for the language readers.
to drive one’s pigs to market 打鼾
to hunt with the hounds and run with the hare 耍两面派手法
to see a wolf 张口结舌
to strain at a gnat and swallow a camel 见小不见大
In these examples, even though the animals appear in these phrases, however, when they are translated, the equivalent animal words have not been found in Chinese. Due to the changes for these animals’ images, the described objects are also changed and free translation is applied for giving direct cultural connotations.
4.3 Literal Translation Combined with Free Translation
Some animal words can not be understood if they are translated literally. Under this circumstance, free translation must be combined to provide the complement to literal translation. The following is an example for the combination of literal and free translation.
A dog snarls and barks at Lü Dongbin, one of the eight immortals in Chinese mythology — mistake a good man for a bad; wrong a person of good will (New Century 2004: 570)
In this example, “狗咬吕洞宾” is literally translated into “A dog snarls and barks at Lü Dongbin”. In order to provide more information to understand who is Lü Dongbin and the implying meaning, other information as free translation is compensated to explain that this idiom refers to “mistake a good man for a bad”.
4.4 Translation with Metaphors Changed
The metaphor of animals plays a great role in animal word translation. In English and Chinese, the same or different associations of animals happen relying on the cultural background. When the animals in one language are translated into another language, the metaphors of animals may change.
The phrase “work like beaver” refers to someone who works diligently. “A bull in a china shop” means “鲁莽闯祸的人”, “as active as tiger” is usually translated as “龙腾虎跃” with the addition of character “龙”, and “as strong as a horse” changes as “力大如牛”, in which the “horse (马)” is changed by “ox (牛)” so that it can be better accepted by Chinese. In these examples, the metaphors of animals are substituted by human-beings, or other animals. When facing the translation with metaphors changed, the translators need to learn the similar animal expressions in the target language, for better interpreting the cultural connotations of animals.
This thesis is aimed to analyze the cultural connotations involved in translating and summarize the translation methods for animal translations.
The writer firstly gives a general introduction to the study of animal translation with the background of culture. After undertaking the analysis on the similarities and discrepancies between English and Chinese animals, the writer explains the reasons for these similarities and discrepancies and their influences on animal word translation, and also stresses the importance of culture.
After the examples of animal word translation with different cultural connotations are analyzed, several translation methods such as equivalent translation, free translation, combined translation, and metaphors changed translation are provided for conducting effective translation of animals. With these methods, different cultural connotations of animals can be classified according to different translation background and situation. And finally, proper animal words will be selected for conveying correct information.
Chang, F. (2012). Animals in Chinese and Western Culture. Overseas English, 2, 190-192.
Hao, M. (2012). A Comparative Study of English and Chinese Animal Proverbs from Cultural Perspective. Business, 23, 135.
Jia, L.Y. (2011). On Influence of Cultural Elements on Idioms. Overseas English, 11, 300-303.
Rao, Y. X. (2011). On the Differences and Similarities of Animal Words in Chinese and English Idioms. Tokyo Literature, 9, 206-209.
Xu, T. (2011). Cultural Connotations of Biblical Allusions and Their Expressions in English. Science, 5, 195-196.
Zhang, H. (2011). Translation of Idioms with Cultural Connotations. China Science and Technology Review , 32, 487-488.
[Fan, Y.] 范岳宏．(2011)．从英汉动物习语看文化的共性与特性．《陇东学院学报》第22期第89-91页．
[Hui, Y] 惠宇(主编)．(2004)．《新世纪汉英大辞典》．北京: 外语教学与研究出版社．
[Wen, H.] 温洪瑞．(2004)．英汉谚语文化涵义对比研究．《山东大学学报》哲学社会科学版第4期第86页．
[Yao, S.H.] 姚诗情．(2013)．浅析英汉动物习语中的文化内涵．《青春岁月》第14期第133页．
[Yu, Y. & Zhang, J.] 喻云根，张积模．(1992)．英汉动物词的比较与翻译．《外语研究》第3期第55-58,64页．
[Zhang, G.] 章国健．(2003)．跨文化交际与词语的文化涵义翻译．《湖州师范学院学报》第25期第112页．
英国培生教育出版有限公司(编)(2004)．《朗文当代英语辞典》(LONGMAN Dictionary of Contemporary ENGLISH, 第4版).．北京: 外语教学与研究出版社．．