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翻譯與文化 (Translation and Culture)
撰文者: Wayne 發表日期: March 10, 2009 – 2:46 pm

這是版主用英文撰寫的翻譯淺論,討論源自於中英文化差異的翻譯困境,內容純屬個人見解,僅供網友參考。

Translation and Culture

Among different cultures one can find similar traditions and practices, as well as totally different or even contradictory ones. Shared cultural elements makes cross-cultural communication possible, which means translation, a form of cross-cultural communication, is feasible to some extent. Different traditions, however, often present varied social and political concepts, thus posing cultural barriers and putting translators in a difficult situation where lots of cultural elements have to be translated. In the worst case, translators might find themselves in a dilemma where there is almost no way out.

For example, Chinese medical theory is heavily based on Taoist philosophy from which 氣 (Chi),  陰陽 (yin and yang), and 五行 (five elements, including Metal, Wood, Water, Fire, and Earth) are developed. For Chinese physicians, a healthy body must maintain balance and harmony of the yin-yang, five elements and the Chi through proper nutrition, even nutritional breathing. Sometimes an illness might be caused by ‘too much fire’ in a patient’s liver (肝火過旺). How can a translator do when asked to convey the same concept to western readers? In this situation, cultural references or connotations outrun the language.        

On the contrary, everyone has the same physical drives regardless of race, color, culture, and age. A man drinks water to quench his thirst and eats food when hungry. It follows that “I am hungry” can be readily translated into Chinese. However, besides physical drives, men devote themselves to a wide range of pursuits, such as pleasure, profits, and religions. People from different cultures generally have varied perspectives on these issues. Western society and Westerners’ relations with the spiritual world are influenced by Christianity. In contrast, the Chinese establish relations with world and the society mainly on the basis of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism. In Western liberal tradition, society is made up of individuals. An individual has much freedom in what he wants to do while in China proper relations, such as husband-and-wife, supervisor-and-subordinate, and teacher-and-student relations, manifest themselves in the hierarchy of society. Attached to these relations are expectations of behavior, rituals, and face-giving. These cultural differences between Eastern and Western societies pose difficulties to English-Chinese / Chinese-English translators.

Moreover, a figure or creature may have opposing connotations in different cultures. There is a saying that goes, “One person’s meat is another person’s poison.” A symbol sacred in one culture may be deemed evil in another. A typical example is the symbol created by the mythical beast: “the dragon” (龍). The dragon represents power and authority in Chinese culture. However, it is often used in a derogatory manner to describe a fierce person, as in the sentence “The woman in charge of the accounts department is an absolute dragon.” When translating this sentence into Chinese, translators have to either use a different metaphor, such as “母夜叉 (an ugly, female devil in Chinese culture)” or just paraphrase it.

It sometimes occurs that metaphors used in the source language do not exist in the target language. In this situation, cultural barriers will be erected and translation dilemmas inevitably ensue. For example, There is an old Chinese saying “不到黃河心不死” (Literally, it means refusing to stop until one reaches the Yellow River). This expression actually means “refusing to give up until one reaches one’s goals.”  Translators have to find equivalent expressions or paraphrase it when doing translation, because the Yellow River, which is inextricably linked to Chinese culture, does not exist in the Western world. Verbatim translation will not create the same image in the minds of western readers as it does with Chinese people.

How to deal with cultural barriers that translators encounter? Well, this is often too broad a topic to discuss. In light of this, this paper focuses on how to deal with translation difficulties related to metaphors or idioms between English and Chinese.

Translators cannot do their job well without taking cultural references into consideration. They ought to keep in mind that both the source language and the target language should be given the same emphasis during the process of translation. The concept of  “Functional equivalence,” first proposed by Eugene A. Nida, provides a guiding principle for translators when dealing with translation problems related to cultural differences. It emphasizes that the equivalence of cultural elements overweighs that of words. The “faithfulness” of a translation lies in whether cultural connotations from the source language have been successfully conveyed to the target language.             

An understanding that regards translation as a cultural rather than a linguistic conveyance, should be promoted. The act of translation is no longer “transcoding” but rather an act of communication. As we know, metaphors and culturally charged idioms not only add flavor to texts, but also represent the worlds created by different peoples. Although the importance of metaphors varies depending on text types, keeping the original metaphor(s), or at least transferring them as much as possible, should be put at the top of translators’ priorities. With this being said, it is acceptable that translators ignore metaphors when dealing with reports or surveys where metaphors play a relatively less important role and clarity is the top priority. In other words, translators have a wide freedom of seeking alternatives to first comprehend the meaning of the expression under consideration and then use everyday common phrases to get the point across.   

In short, a good translation is determined by an excellent trade-off between how to maintain culturally charged expressions and how to avoid unreadibility. Techniques often used to deal with translation difficulties concerning cultural factors include:

1. Translation from the source into the target using the original figurative expression(s)
Examples:
a. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
Translation: 一鳥在手,勝於二鳥在林。

b. When will you be informed of the test result? Not until Monday, so I’ll be on needles and pins all weekend. 
Translation: 你什麼時候可以知道考試成績?禮拜一才會知道,這個週末我一定會如坐針氈的。『如坐針氈』literally means “sitting on a bed of nails” in Chinese.

2. Translating from the source into the target using the expression(s) acceptable to the readers
Examples:

a. 看著吧!明兒一早,咱們給它來個甕中捉鱉,叫他們一個也活不了!
Translation: Keep your eyes open, it’ll be like shooting ducks in a barrel, tomorrow morning we’ll kill them all off.
『甕中捉鱉』literally means “catching turtles inside a jar” in Chinese.

b. He who would search for pearls must dive below.
Translation: 不入虎穴,焉得虎子。 『不入虎穴,焉得虎子』literally means “The only way to catch tiger cubs is to go into the tiger’s cave.” in Chinese.

c. You can’t have your cake and eat it.
Translation: 魚與熊掌不可兼得。 『魚與熊掌不可兼得』literally means “You can’t have the fish and the palm of a bear at the same time.” in Chinese. This expression has its origin in a Chinse book “孟子”.

3. Translating from the source into the target using the original figurative expressions, but with notes that provide needed details.
Examples:
a.「是啊!」領班掀起汗衫前襟擦拭額角的汗水,露出小臂上「反共抗俄就中國/殺朱拔毛除漢奸」的青黑紋字:「一位老將軍,死了好幾年。」
Translation: “Yeah,” said the foreman, lifting the front part of his shirt to wipe the sweat from his forehead. On his forearm could be seen a dark green tattoo: “Opposing the communists, resist the Russians, save China / Kill Chu(6), pull out Mao, weed out the traitors.” “It’s for a general. He died several years back.”

The words underlined would be meaningless to English readers if no notes were provided. So the translator added with a note: “(6) Chu Teh, Chu here being homophonous with “chu” (pig). Mao Tse-tung, Mao here being homophonous with “mao” (hair).
 
b. 開在這面牆上的窗子,早用一層棉紙、一層九九消寒圖糊得嚴絲合密,‧‧‧。
English translation: The windows on these walls were already glued with a layer of cotton paper and pictures of 81 days of cold winter wonders(3).

To add more information for the characters underlined, the author used a note, “(3) This was a drawing of a plum blossom with 81 petals; starting on the winter solstice, every day one petal would be colored in; by the time the whole drawing was colored in, the warm days of spring would have arrived.”
 
4. Explaining the same idea(s) in plain target language instead of using the original figurative expressions
Examples:  
a. Take what he said with a grain of salt.
Translation: 別理他所說的。

b. What do you want to do tomorrow? I don’t know. Let’s just play it by ear.
Translation: 明天想做什麼事?不知道,到時候再說。

Somtimes, similar metaphors or idioms may exist in both source and target languages, but with different connotations. Here is an example. The expression “pulling one’s leg” means making fun of someone. There is a similar, but not equivalent, Chinese expression「扯後腿」. The expression「扯後腿」means hindering someone in his work. If a translator uses 「扯後腿」as an equivalent for “pulling one’s leg” in his or her translation, misunderstanding will occur.

Since ancient times, man has been using metaphors to express his thoughts. With the development of modern society, more and more logic is being used in a wide variety of reports because precision is what concerns people most. It is urgent that translators assume the responsibility of keeping the richness of languages by steeping themselves in cultural references of both source and target languages.

It is worth emphasizing this truth again that a language frames a different world. Transferring values and cultural elements properly from one language to another is a challenging job. But it is a goal that a translator should pursue all his or her life. Learning translation is a life-long process. For readers, translations facilitate communication. For translators, translating is a learning experience: learning how to look at his surroundings from a totally different viewpoint.  

End-notes:
1. Chang Ta-chuen. “The General’s Monument” translated by Ying-tsih Hwang and John J. S. Balcom, Taiwan Literature in Chinese and English, edited by Chi Pan-yuan. Published by Commonwealth Publishing, Taipei, 1999. P 229-230.
2. Ting-chun Wang. “A patch of Sunlight” translated by Nicholas Koss, Taiwan Literature in Chinese and English, edited by Chi Pan-yuan. Published by Commonwealth Publishing, Taipei, 1999. P. 5-6.

Bibliography:
1. 英漢翻譯理論與實踐。葉子南著。書林出版有限公司出版,2000年10月。
2. Taiwan Literature in Chinese and English, published by Commonwealth Publishing, Taipei, 1999.
3. Culture Shock by Chris and Ling-li Bates, published by Times Books International 1998.





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