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Comparisons of Animal Idioms in English and Chinese and Their Translation

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Comparisons of Animal Idioms in English and Chinese and Their Translation

by Wu Weiqing Thesis Advisor: Yang Min

Submitted to the B.A. Committee in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the Degree of Bachelor of Arts in the English Department of Foreign Languages College of Langfang Teachers College.

5.21.2006

廊坊师范学院

本科生毕业论文
题 目:中英动物*语的对比与翻译

学生姓名: 指导教师: 二级学院: 系 专 年 学 别: 业: 级: 号:

吴伟青 杨 敏

外国语学院 英语系 英 语

2006 届 0403016180

完成日期:

2006 年 5 月 21 日

Title: Comparisons of Animal Idioms in English and Chinese and Their
Translation

Abstract: Both English and Chinese are rich in animal idioms. But,
owing to the different cultural backgrounds, many cultural-loaded animal images in the two languages are not identical. They show the distinctive national forms and national features. On the one hand, some animal images are identical in the conceptual meaning in the two languages but not identical, even opposite in the cultural connotations. On the other hand, some animal images are abundant in cultural connotations in the source language but without any connotation in the target language. The value of animal idioms is in their cultural connotations. So translator must convey the cultural meaning of the idioms in translating. This paper aims to explore the animal images in English and Chinese idioms according to the theory of the studies of the cultural-loaded words and attempts to find the effective translation methods of animal idioms. Thus, it can help the reader to improve their competence in understanding and expressing cultural connotations. And also it can help the people avoid mistranslating and improve the quality of translation in animal idioms.

Key Words: animal idioms; animal images; cultural connotation

题目:英汉动物*语的比较与翻译

摘要:在英汉两种语言中,有诸多关于动物的*语。但是,由于两种 语言所产生的地理环境、风俗*惯、宗教信仰等文化背景不同,英汉动物 *语呈现出不同的民族形式,渗透着不同的民族文化气息。因此同一动物 所承载的喻义也不尽相同。一方面,指称意义相同的动物形象,其喻义在 源语和译语中的语用含义相差甚远,甚至完全相悖。另一方面,有些动物 形象在源语中含有丰富的语用意义,而在译语中却没有。动物*语的价值 在其意。翻译时,首先要保证原文*语的语用意义的传达。本文将对不同 类型的动物*语进行对比分析与研究,旨在提高读者对文化内涵的理解与 表达,并有效地指导译者采用恰当的翻译方法以及翻译技巧,避免误译的 产生,提高动物*语翻译的质量。

关键词: 动物*语;动物形象;文化内涵

Contents
Ⅰ. Introduction…………………………………………………………..1 Ⅱ. Factors That Influence the Making of the Cultural Connotations of Animal Idioms………………………………………………………2 A. Differences in Natural Environments……………………………3 B. Differences in Customs………………………………………….3 C. Differences in Religious Beliefs………………………………...4 Ⅲ. Comparisons of English and Chinese Animal Idioms………………..5 A. Same Animal Images with Same Cultural Connotations……..…5 B. Same Animal Images with Different Cultural

Connotations…………………………………………………….7 C. Different Animal Images with Similar Cultural Connotations….9 D. Same Animal Images without Corresponding Cultural Connotations in English and Chinese………………………….10 Ⅳ. Translation of English and Chinese Animal Idioms………………...12 A. Retaining the Original Image by Literal Translation…………..12 B. Dropping or Adding the Image by Free Translation…………...14 C. Image –shift Translation………………………….……………15 Ⅴ. Conclusion…….………………………………………………….....16 Works Cited………………………………………………………….….18

I. Introduction
During the long period of the development and progress of human society, man contacts with animals frequently, which are either tamed to become domestic animals serving people, or still live in wild as people ’s natural friend, or have become people’s pet. That is to say animals have already become part of people’s life. It is this kind of intimate relationship that causes people associating their feelings and emotions, even happenings and natural phenomena with various animals. Therefore, many animals have become a kind of symbolism in people’s thinking, and this symbolism is reflected in the language. So there are lots of words denoting animals, especially, there are a large number of idioms containing animals as the vehicles both in English and Chinese. These kinds of idioms are used frequently, which makes English and Chinese vivid in images, plain in characters and rich in flavors. Animal idioms discussed in this paper are in a broad sense, including set phrases, literary quotations, slang, colloquialism, proverb and so on. It is believed that idioms are the most culturally loaded element in any language ’s vocabulary. They are usually highly specialized in meaning and closely tied to distinctive cultural features and cultural attitudes. Since each culture is unique, and has a body of information that is not shared by all human societies, the vast differences exist between English and Chinese culture and these differences occur in English and Chinese animal idioms, too. So the connotations of animal

idioms in English do not always coincide with those in Chinese. Sometimes people will use different animal to express the same feelings or figurative meanings. While on some occasions, people will give different figurative meanings and connotative meanings to the same animal. These metaphorical idioms of animals are yielded from certain cultural settings. And the pragmatic meanings of them depend on the understanding of the cultures both of English and Chinese. This thesis mainly focuses on the differences and similarities of the cultural connotations and translation of animal idioms in English and Chinese.

Ⅱ. Factors that Influence the Making of the Cultural Connotation of Animal Idioms

Language is one of the tools that man has ever created, which records the process of the social civilization. So any language is based on certain particular cultural settings and reflects the particular culture, just as Eugene A. Nida in his Language, Culture, and Translating has wrote, Since culture is defined succinctly as ― the totality of beliefs and practices of a society,‖ nothing is of greater strategic importance than the language through which its beliefs are expressed and transmitted and by which its most interaction of its member take place (105). The British and Chinese nations differ in cultural context, like natural

environments, customs and religious beliefs, which make people associate different emotions and metaphorical meanings to the animal images. A. Differences in Natural Environments Natural environments are the essential condition for the existence of man, so different living surroundings may exert different influences on the culture of a nation. The Chinese and British nations lie in different natural environment. Geographically, Britain is an island country surrounded by water on all sides, and has a long history of navigation and fishery. Undoubtedly, the English people’s life is closely linked with sea. So there are a lot of idioms relevant to sea and ocean, specifically speaking, containing fish. Here are some examples: A big fish (a very important person); he eats not fish (he is an honest man and one to be trusted); cry stinking fish (speaking badly or unfavorably of one ’s own affairs and circumstances in a way that reflect unfavorably on oneself.). In contrast, land is the lifeblood of the Chinese people. Even today, the overwhelming majorities of the people still live in the rural areas and make a living by cultivating land. So the Chinese usually have a profound attachment for land and soil and used to plough with oxen. In this way, there are lots of idioms containing ―牛‖, such as :牛脾气,力大如牛,钻牛角尖. It is evident that the Chinese people and British people have different life experiences and the animals they see and contact with are almost not identical. No wonder they understand words in different ways or modes.

B. Differences in Customs The difference in customs is one of the most important aspects in cultural differences between English and Chinese animal idioms. Every nation has its own customs. Customs mean peculiar ways of behavior, which are observed by individuals and social groups because they have been long established. It centrally embodies the different figurative meaning of the same kind of animals in the two languages. ―Magpie‖ is exceptionally noteworthy. In Chinese, the animal word ―magpie‖ is considered as good luck because ―magpie‖ in Chinese is pronounced ―喜鹊(Xi Que)‖, ―喜 (xi) ‖ in Chinese means good and happy. So there exist such idioms as:喜鹊叫,好事到(when magpies calling, it must have good news) . However, in Britain, if a magpie flies near a window, it is a symbol of bad luck. Furthermore, if someone happens to meet a magpie he has to spit three times to avoid bad luck. ―Bat‖ is another example worthy to note. In the western myth, bat is a kind of ugly and evil animal, which is associated with crime or bad eggs. The vampire bat makes people frightened. The idioms containing ―bat‖ are obviously derogatory, such as: as blind as a bat (有眼无珠); crazy as bat (疯的像蝙蝠);have bats in the belfry(发痴;异想天开). But in the traditional Chinese culture, ― 蝙蝠 ‖ is regarded as a symbol of happiness, because ―蝠‖ and ―福‖ are homophones in Chinese. C. Differences in Religious Beliefs Religion, the main component of human culture, reflects different attitudes towards admiration and taboo of each nation and has provided the people of the

world with advice, values, and guidance since antiquity. In addition, religion is the everyday practices of a culture, gives us insight into the members of that culture. And religious culture would be imperceptibly fused into a nation language. Therefore, religious culture, to some extent, can reflect and stand for the culture of a nation. In turn, the contents of a national language would partly embody the people’s religious life. The Chinese people and the English people have different religious beliefs. In China, the four divine animals are ―kylin‖, ―phoenix‖, ―dragon‖, and ―turtle‖ (the former three being imaginary). Take the phoenix for example, it is the king of birds, so there is an idiom ―百鸟朝凤‖. And it is a lovely deity who brings people happiness and peace. In western culture this bird is ―a mythical bird which after living hundreds of years in the Arabian Desert, burnt itself at a funeral pile and rose from the ashes young again, to live for another cycle.‖ So there comes the idiom ―rise like a phoenix from its ashes.‖

Ⅲ. Comparisons of English and Chinese Animal idioms

From the above discussions, it can be seen that the English people have different or similar associations of most animals from Chinese people. This is a refection of cultures. Generally speaking, there are four kinds of corresponding relationships between the animal idioms in Chinese and English.

A. Same Animal Images with Same Cultural Connotations People of different races may have different customs and ways of perception. It does not follow that they will never share the same understanding about the same animal image. It is because people of different nation live in the same world. It is possible for them to share some similar experiences. In addition they nearly have the same knowledge of animal. As a result, some animal images gradually get the same connotative meaning both in Chinese and English. For example: ―fox‖ and ―狐狸‖, both stand for cunning and slyness. English people would say, ― He is a fox.‖ At the same time, Chinese people can understand the meaning of the sentence. ―He is a fox.‖ in Chinese means ―他像 狐狸一样狡猾‖. The ―parrot‖ and ―鹦鹉‖, also have the same meaning of imitation. For example: the student imitates what his teacher has said just like a parrot. In Chinese we have the idioms of ―鹦鹉学舌‖. Now let’s take ―snail‖ for example to see why and how they have the same connotative in both languages. Snail in English denotes ―a small soft creature that moves very slowly and has a hard shell on its back‖ (Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English 1359). It is known that its eyes are in the horns supported by stems, which can retract at pleasure. Snail ’s spiral shell protects its important organs. A snail secretes a slimy path over which it progresses, slowly by rhythmic contractions of the muscular base of foot. So the most important feature of a snail helps to make the connotative meaning of being ― extremely slow‖, as is shown in the following idioms: at a snail ’s pace

(ways of saying that someone does something or something happens very slowly); snail mail (letters that are sent by post, used especially by people who send computer messages). And the Chinese equivalent ―蜗牛 ‖also has the connotative meaning of ―small and slow‖. For examples:蜗牛赛跑—慢慢爬; 蜗 牛走路—慢腾腾.From comparing semantic idea of snail we can come to the ―snail‖ and ―蜗牛‖have the same cultural connotation both in Chinese and English. Here are some other examples: ―dove‖ and ―鸽子‖are an symbol of peace. There is an idiom--the dove of peace. In Chinese we have the idiom---和*鸽; ― wolf‖ and ― 狼 ‖have the similar figurative meaning of fierceness and greediness. For example: a wolf in sheep’s clothing means a person who pretends to be good but really is bad. In Chinese we also have the idioms ―披着 羊皮的狼‖. B. Same Animal Images with Different Cultural Connotations Though people in different places can get to know the world in the similar ways, more often than not they have their unique impression about the world due to different cultural backgrounds. So it is quite common that English people and Chinese would have different associations of the same animal images and give more different cultural connotations to them. The author takes ―dog‖, ―dragon‖, ―fish‖, ―owl‖ for examples to show it. ―Dog‖ is a very powerful example of this. The English speakers usually have very high opinion of it. ―Dogs‖ are very often used to describe people in a

complimentary sense or at least in a neutral sense, such as: a big dog (重要的人 物); a lucky dog (幸运的人); a gay dog (快活的人); old dogs will learn no new tricks (老年人学不了新东西); the tail wags the dog (本末倒置). Such usage does not contain derogatory connotation. All the examples show that ―dog‖ can be used to meet people’s requirement of friendship, sincerity and faith. But in Chinese ―狗‖ is always with some derogatory connotations, like dirty, disgusting indecency, which are reflected in idioms such as: 狗腿子(lackey);狗杂种 (bastard);狗胆包天(monstrous audacity);狗嘴里吐不出象牙(a filthy mouth can not litter decent language);狗急跳墙(a cornered beast will do something desperate).It is because, generally speaking, Chinese looked down upon this humble animal. They prefer to use the word ―狗‖ to describe something bad and compare bad persons to dogs. Here are more examples: 狗头军师;狗眼看人 低;狗咬吕洞宾;狗仗人势;丧家之犬. Let’s take a look at the ―dragon‖. “Dragon‖ is not a real animal but an imaginary one, which is with quite different connotations. To Chinese, ―龙‖is something sacred and has been referred to as the ancestor of the Chinese nation---that is why the Chinese all call themselves descendents of the dragon and Chinese feudal emperors were often referred to as sons of dragons, wearing clothes with designs of dragons. Many Chinese would “望子成龙‖, but it would sound ridiculous to the native English speaking people, because in their mind the “dragon‖ is an evil monster. The explanation of ―dragon‖ in The Concise Oxford Dictionary is ―mythical monster like reptile, usu. with wings

and claws and often breathing fire; fierce person‖ (313). It is safe to say in western people’s minds, the dragon is something like evil monster that can spit fire and sometimes possesses three to nine heads. The animal image—―fish‖ has quite different cultural connotations in English and in Chinese. In English, ―fish‖ has derogatory meaning that refers to bad thing and persons. Here are examples: a cold fish ( 无情的人); a poor fish (可怜虫); a loose fish(生活放荡的人); fish in the air (水中捞月); to have other fish to fry (有别的事要干); to teach fish to swim (班门弄斧). However, in China, the letters ―鱼‖and ―余‖ are pun in sounds. Therefore, in the important festivals, such as Spring Festival, Chinese people would like to use ―fish‖ as an absolutely dish to symbolize ―abundance‖---年年有鱼(余).And―鱼水‖ (fish and water) is metaphorically applied to ―harmonious relationship‖. It can be the relationship between husband and wife as well as emperor and officials. Now the idiom 鱼水情深 is applicable to any harmonious relation. In English, ―owl‖ implies wisdom and calmness. As wise as an owl (像猫 头鹰一样聪明)indicates that English people associate wisdom with this bird. However, there is a superstitious belief that this bird is a sign of bad luck and the symbol of sinister things among many Chinese people. There is 猫头鹰进宅, 好事不来(an owl visiting a home portends misfortune in that house). C. Different Animal Images with Similar Cultural Connotations Different animal images have similar cultural connotations in English and Chinese; namely, people use different animal images to express similar

meanings. Even though the animal images are different, they have similar cultural connotations. When describing a strong person, the English choose as strong as a horse, while the Chinese choose 力大如牛. To refer to ―timid‖, Chinese people would like to say 胆小如鼠,but English people would employ as timid as a rabbit. If one expresses the idea of anxiety and uneasiness, he says somebody is like a cat on hot bricks or 像热锅上的蚂蚁. 擎牛 and stubborn as a mule have the same connotation. If we mean to contend about trifles or to quarrel about the shadow we often lose the substance, we choose wrangle for an ass’s shadow and 鹊蚌相 争,渔翁得利 respectively to express this idea. To mean ―brag‖, Chinese

people would say 吹牛, but English people would say talk horse. In English the horse is also often used to refer to a person, such as a willing horse. A harsh laugh is called a horse-laugh (在声狂笑); rough and noisy play is called horse play (喧哗) and plain good sense is referred to as horse sense (常识). But in the Chinese language, there are no such allusions. In Chinese, ―牛‖is often used to refer to a person. A hard working person is called a 老黄牛. This is because the Chinese have been using ―牛‖ in farming for thousands of years while the ―horse‖ has been used for most farming work in Britain. Here are more examples: as proud as a peacock---骄傲的大公鸡; as industrious as an ant---像 蜜蜂般勤劳 ; shed crocodile tears---猫哭老鼠 ; kill the goose that lays the golden eggs---杀鸡取卵; neither fish nor fowl---非驴非马; black sheep---害群 之马;beard the lion in his hide---虎口拔牙; a lion in the way---拦路虎; as merry

as a cricket---快乐得像只百灵鸟. D. Same Animal Images without Corresponding Cultural Connotations in English and Chinese. It means that the cultural connotation of animal image in the source language may have no corresponding or equivalent connotation in the target language. 1. The Same Animal Images with Rich and Varied Cultural Connotations in English, but with No Cultural Connotations in Chinese. In English culture, ―cat‖ has rich and varied cultural connotations. For example: rains cat and dogs (大雨倾盆) . The ―cat‖ can be also used to refer to persons with different connotations and colors: a fat cat ( 有财有势的人);a queer cat(奇怪的人); an old cat (脾气坏的老太婆); a copy cat (抄袭别人的人);bell the cat (为别人冒险); let the cat out of the bag (泄露机); a cat in the pan (密叛 徒). However, it is very difficult for Chinese people to understand these English idioms due to different culture background. Another example is ―nightingale‖. It is noted for the melodious song of the male give chiefly at night during the breeding season. The origin of the name nightingale is actually quite straightforward, being a combination of the Old English words, ―nigh‖(night) and ―galan‖(to sing), and first appeared in its modern spelling during 16th century. It is taken as a symbol of sweet songs and gets the symbolism of forlornness. For example: as sweetly as a nightingale. But in Chinese language, there are no such idioms.

2. The Same Animal Images with Rich and Varied Cultural Connotations in Chinese, but with No Cultural Connotations in English ―Cicada‖ is a Middle English word derived from the Latin word cicada. Its buzzing in the maple trees is the sound of hot summer, which can be regarded as a connotative meaning in English, nut its Chinese equivalent ―蝉‖is rich in connotation. It is a natural phenomenon for cicadas to dough their shin when they grow into adult ones. Their dough ―蝉蜕‖indicates ―extrication‖. There comes the Chinese idiom 金蝉脱壳(slipping out of a predicament like a cicada sloughing its shin), which figuratively means to escape by cunning way. There are other examples about it:蝉冠,蝉翼,寒蝉凄切 and so on. Let’s take ―蚕‖(silk worm) for another example. We all know that ―蚕‖ originates in China. The products with silk produced by silkworms are very popular in other countries especially in Europe. ―The Silk Road(丝绸之路) is well known to the world. All these indicate that China has long history with rich silkworm culture. For example: 春 蚕 到 死 丝 方 尽 , 蜡 炬 成 灰 泪 始 干 (The silkworm till its spill silk from love-sick heart, the candle only when burnt has no tears to shed), which impresses the Chinese people from generation to generation. However, to English people, silkworm is only a worm without any cultural connotations.

Ⅳ. Translation of English and Chinese Animal Idioms
Translating is essentially a very complex phenomenon. Peter Newmark in

his book Approaches to translation has said: ―…translation is a craft consisting in the attempt to replace a written message and/or statement in one language by the same message and/or statement in another language…‖ (7). As we know, every nation has its own language and culture, which are quite different from the others. And animal idioms are the most culture-loaded language. Therefore, similarities and dissimilarities in the connotations of animal images in the two language should be taken in consideration in translation. We should use different method in different cases and strive to find the cultural equivalents between English and Chinese. On the basis of animal idioms classification in part three, the author put forth three corresponding translation methods: retaining the original image by literal translation, dropping or adding the image by free translation and image-shift translation. A. Retaining the Original Image by Literal Translation In literal translation, a translator tries to retain the linguistic form of a source language including lexical items, sentential structures, figures of speech and so on. So literal translation can best presence the cultural elements and national characteristics of the source language. And the same time, literal translation also requires that the version of a target language must be fluent and understandable. There are a lot of animal idioms with roughly the same image and connotations in English and Chinese. A simple and ideal translating method is to retain the image. This may help to reserve the national flavor of source language, and make the readers of target language accept the cultural characters

of source language. Here are some idioms of same animal images in Chinese and English, which are easy to understand by the English and Chinese people: dark horse---黑马; hare lip---兔唇; chicken breast---鸡胸; an ostrich policy---驼 鸟政策; Let’s us look at some examples of literal translation: New-born calves make little of tigers. A lion at home, a mouse abroad As gay as a lark Trojan horse 走马观花 打草惊蛇 坐山观虎斗 sitting on top of the mountain to watch the tigers fight. 路遥知马力,日久见人心 A long road tests a horse’s strength and a long task proves a man’s heart. The above literal translation not only keeps the original form of the idioms but also transfer the original image and metaphorical meaning effectively. Furthermore, it keeps the full flavor of the idioms and has the highest degree of faithfulness. B. Dropping or Adding the Image by Free Translation As we have discussed in part three, we learn that images are identical in conceptual meaning, but different in connotations or even opposite because of 像云雀一样欢跃 特洛伊木马 looking at the flowers on horse back beat the grass and startle the snake 初生牛犊不怕虎 在家如狮,在外如鼠

the great cultural differences between English and Chinese. On such occasions, free translation is inevitable. Free translation, which is completely different from literal translation, pays particular attention to the implied or connotative meaning of an idiom. In other words, in free translation we can use an accepted form of expression in a target language to express the identical or similar idea of an idiom in a source language. Take ―get one’s goat‖ for example. ―get one’s goat‖ has nothing to do with the goat, meaning to lose one’s temper. We can translate it as :使…发火. Here are some more examples: in a pig’s whisper a fly in the ointment a fly (butterfly) on the wheel every bird likes its own nest 单枪匹马 叶公好龙 偷鸡不成蚀把米 指鹿为马 守株待兔 低声地,顷刻间 美中不足 自以为有天大本事的人 鸟爱其巢,人爱其家 be single-handed in doing something professed love of what one really fears go for wool and come home shorn to swear black is white waiting for gains without pains

It is safe to say that all the translations above are well done, for they convey adequate information and preserve the original meaning as well. C. Image-shift Translation It is known that both Chinese and English are rich in animal idioms. But because of the difference of cultural context, the different animal images may

convey the same message, or the connotations of the same animal image are conflicting in the two language. In this case, we may choose the image-shift translation, which means translator may choose a different image in the target language to replace the image in the source language in order to make these two images have corresponding meaning and attain an equivalent effect. Here are some examples: When the cat is away, the mice will play. Cherish a snake in one’s bosom. As wet as a drowned rat A fox may turn gray, but never kind. 狐假虎威 龙生龙,凤生凤 老虎屁股摸不得 兔子不吃窝边草 山中无老虎,猴子称霸王 养虎遗患 湿得像落汤鸡 狗改不了听屎的本性 A donkey in a lion’s tail Eagles do not breed doves One should not twist the lion’s tail The fox prays farther from home

We can see that all the above idioms have images that are different from the other language, but we can find the images that have the same metaphorical meaning in Chinese or in English. So when we are dealing with these idioms, synonymous Chinese or English animal images may be borrowed.

Ⅴ. Conclusion

Culture is a kind of social behavior. It needs time and people to form it.

Since language and culture are indispensable, as an English teacher or an English learner, it is useful and helpful to understand and learn about the cultural differences between English and Chinese animal idioms. It can help us to get rid of the big barrier to understanding the original English and Chinese animal idioms. In the preceding parts, the social cultural factors of the formation of cultural connotations of animal idioms, the corresponding-relationships of animal idioms between English and Chinese and three practical translating strategies are studied. The exploring of the similarities and dissimilarities of the cultural connotations of these animal idioms and their translation may help us to promote cultural communication and it is significant and instructive to the English teaching and learning. At last the author wants to point out that the key or the purpose of translation is to convey the original meaning of the source language accurately and lively. When it comes to the translation of animal idioms, the culture implication plays a very important role to achieve more accurate and satisfactory translations. So the translators should first strive to familiarize themselves with the cultural differences between the source language and the target language and then study how to deal with the cultural factors in translation.

Works Cited
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郭著章,李庆生. 《英汉互译实用教程》. 武汉大学出版社,1996. 贾秋彦,欧忆. ―浅谈英语*语中的动物名称及翻译‖. 《西北建筑工程学院 学报 (社会科学版)》 ,2002(2). 蒋磊. 《英汉*语的文化关照与对比》. 武汉大学出版社,2000. 金惠康. 《跨文化交际翻译续编》. 中国对外翻译出版公司,2003.




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