Session 22
Classification and
Translation of Idioms
习语的分类与翻译
Each language contains many elements
derived from its culture, such as idioms and
other fixed expressions. First, it is necessary
to have a clear knowledge of some basic
concepts.
一、A Brief Discussion of
Several Fundamental
Concepts
1.1 Definition of Idioms
Each language has many idioms. Idioms a
linguistic chunks (语言模块)made up of fixed
expressions and sentences. Idioms include
set phrases, proverbs, allusions, common
sayings or folk adages(俗语) , ect. They
are known as “熟语” in Chinese. The
meaning
of an idiom is not clear from the meaning of
its individual words. An idiom must be learne
as a whole unit. English has many idioms.
E.g. give way, a change of heart, be hard pu
to it. Chinese also boasts plenty of idioms.
E.g. “小题大做” (to make a mountain out o
a molehill 鼹丘)、“后来居上”、“朝秦暮
the State of Qin in the morning and the
State of Chu in the evening—be quick to
switch sides; be fickle; be inconstant);
“杯弓蛇影” (mistaking the reflection of
a bow in the cup for a snake—beset with
imaginary fears; extremely suspicious);
“杯水车薪” (trying to put out a blazing
cartload of faggots with a cup of water—
an utterly inadequate measure)
Idioms are based on people’s
common experiences in life.
They shine with people’s wisdom
and they are characterized by
national cultures. No wonder
some people say that idioms are
the cream or the best part of
language.
Translation is not only an inter-lingual
transfer, but also a cross-cultural
communication. Before we talk about
translation of idioms, we think that it is
necessary to discuss the relationship
between language
andand
culture.
between
language
culture.
1.2 The Relationship Between
Language and Culture
Culture is the medium evolved by
humans to survive. Nothing in human
life is free from cultural influence. It is
the keystone in civilization’s arch and
is the medium through which all life’s
events must flow (Samovar & Porter,
2000:22). Culture is really an extremely
wide and complex concept. The modern
technical definition of culture, as socially
patterned human thought and behavior,
was originally proposed by the 19th century British anthropologist, Edward Tylor
(2005):“Culture … is that complex whole
which includes knowledge, beliefs, arts,
moral, law, customs and any other capa
bilities and habits acquired by man as a
member of society.”
There is no standard definition of culture.
In Ci Hai (《辞海》), the definition of culture is “in a broad sense, the sum total of
material and spiritual wealth created by
human beings in the process of social de
velopment; narrowly speaking, it refers to
social ideology and the institution and org
anization structure corresponding to it.”
(“……从广义来说,指人类社会历史实践中
所创造的物质财富和精神财富的总和。从
狭义来说,指社会的意识形态,以及与之
“Language is the principal means where
by we conduct our social lives. When it i
used in contexts of communication, it is
bound up with culture in multiple and co
plex ways” (Kramsch, 2000:3).
At first, language expresses cultural r
ality. The words people utter not only refer to common experience and the know
ledge about the world that people share
but also reflect their attitudes and beliefs
Secondly, language embodies cultural
reality through verbal or non-verbal communication. Members of a social group
Not only express experience; they also
create experience through language. They
give meaning to it through the medium They
choose to communicate with one another.
Finally, language symbolizes cultural reality. Language is a system of signs that
is seen as having itself a cultural value.
Speakers identify themselves and others
through their use of language; they view
their language as a symbol of their social
identity. The prohibition of its use is often
perceived by its speakers as a rejection of
their social group and their culture.
“Although a language may be regarded
as a relatively small part of a culture, it is
also indispensable to both the functioning
and perpetuation of culture.” “Language
And culture are two interdependent
symbolic systems” (Nida, 2001:139).
Human culture without language is unthinkable. Without language, there wou
No culture. Language is the keystone o
culture. Without culture, language woul
lose all its meanings and vanish in the e
“A language is a part of a culture and a
culture is a part of a language, the two
intricately interwoven so that one can
not separate the two without losing the
significance of either language or
culture” (Douglas, 1980:16).
1.3 The Relationship Between
Culture and Translation
Translation is in its essence a kind of
Intercultural communication and is closel
related to culture. Translation and culture
share an interdependent relationship.
First, translation definitely involves cul
In applied linguistics and anthropology, a
culture is closely linked with a certain lan
guage and makes this language culturall
loaded in a manner different from other
languages. The intimate relationship between language and culture determines
that in the process of translation, culture
is an important part needed to be dealt
with, and more attention should be paid
to cultural elements.
Second, translation is a means of tran
mitting culture ever since nations and
languages have been in contact with eac
other. Translation serves as a bridge
between different cultures.
For instance, many English expressions
have found their way into the Chinese
language, while the Chinese people feel
no foreignness at all, for they have been
assimilated into the Chinese language,
such as “Ivory tower” (象牙塔), “a trump
card” (王牌), “honeymoon” (蜜月), “blueprint” (蓝图),“The Open-door Policy” (门户
开放政策), etc.
Third, translation promotes cultural de
velopment by importing foreign cultural
nourishments and transplanting the outside cultures into its own cultural environ
ment, thus enhancing the improvement
of the world cultures on the whole and
leading to the bettering of the world civilization. Take China as an example. In Su
Dynasty and Tang Dynasty, a large numb
of works of Sutra were translated into
Chinese, which was s a great impetus to
the development of Buddhism in Chinese
religion.
Last but not least, culture exerts a
great influence on translation. Eg. the
translator’s aesthetic habits and options
will be affected by the culture in which
he finds himself.
1.4 Translatability and
“Untranslatability” of Culture
Translatability and “untranslatability”
seem always opposite to each other;
however, it is a matter of degree, since
there are similarities and differences between cultures at the same time. “Untran
slatability” indicates the limitation of tran
lation, which is relative rather than abso
lute.
To some extent, the degree of translatability depends on the relationship be
tween the cultures involved. The closer
the relationship, the higher the degree.
Human beings live on the same globe
and share many experiences. We know
that at least ninety percent of the basic
structures of all languages are quite similar, and language universals far outweigh
the divergences. Though English and
Chinese are different languages, we still
can find many equivalent expressions and
closely related expressions both at both
linguistic and cultural levels. E.g.“burn one’s
boat”(破釜沉舟),“an eye for an eye, a tooth for
a tooth” (以眼还眼,以牙还牙),“to pour oil on
However, the diversity of culture is
obvious. Because of different geographical locations, conventions, religious
beliefs, values, political systems and so
on, the cultural differences are displayed,
which are certainly embodied in different
languages. The influence of culture on
language makes it difficult to translate
artistic images, puns, allusions and other
figurative speeches which are rather subtle
and ambiguous even to Chinese readers
Without the prerequisite knowledge of
history and poetic cultivation. They will
always be the obstructions in the process
of translation. Thus the translated version
is bound to lose something, especially its
beauty in form and in sound.
In a word, the cultural universals of the
whole world make languages translatable
while the cultural characteristics of different nations make languages “untranslata
Translatability coexists with “untranslatability”. Therefore, in the process of
translation, translators should have
adequate cultural awareness and apply
suitable translation strategies so that
they may avoid falling into the “Cultural
Traps”.
1.5 Basic Strategies for
Translation of Idioms
We have some essential translation
approaches for translation of all texts,
such as the literal translation approach,
the liberal translation approach, and
the literal-plus-liberal translation. Of
course, they are suitable for translation
of idioms. Let’s review them one by one.
How to define each of them?
These translation approaches have bee
popularized and adopted by many trans
lation theorists & practitioners in China.
Of course, there are other translation
strategies which include foreignizing
translation (异化) or foreignization, and
domesticating translation or domesticat
on(归化),which have been introduce
to China from the West.
1.5.1 Foreignization and Domesticatio
A famous German theologian, philosopher
and translator, argued that “there are only two
methods. Either the translator leaves the author
in peace, as much as possible, and moves the
reader towards him; or he leaves the reader in
peace, as much as possible, and moves the author
towards him.” (Venuti, 2004:19-20).
It can be illustrated by the following figure:.
Domestication
The author
The translator
Foreignization
Figure 3-1: Schleiermacher’s Dichotomy of Translation strategies
Readers
Although Schleiermacher gave a detailed
description of these two translation strate
gies,he didn’t propose definite terms for
each. Different scholars defined these
two translation strategies from their own
understandings. E.g. Lu Xun (鲁迅, 1984
301) thought domestication as “rewriting,
changing a foreign story into a Chinese
story and changing foreigners into
Chinese.”
Some scholars use other terms insteadof foreignization, such as “alienation”, “Europeanization”
or “westernization”. It was Lawrence Venuti, an
Italian American translation theorist, who first
coined these two translation strategies in his
book The Translator’s Invisibility—A History of
Translation: a domesticating method (domest
cation) is an ethnocentric (以人为中心的)
reduction of the foreign text to TL cultural
values, bringing the author back home, and
a foreignizing method (foreignization) is an
ethnodeviant (偏离人的,不考虑读者的)
pressure on those values to register the
linguistic and cultural difference of the
foreign text, sending the reader abroad
(2004:20). So generally speaking, domes
tication is a TL culturally oriented translation strategy in which a natural, fluent sty
is adopted in order to minimize the lingui
tic and cultural strangeness of the foreign
text for target language readers; foreignization is a SL culturally oriented transla-
tion strategy in which the original forms
and content, especially the original
cultural features are kept in order to
retain the foreignism.
1.5.2 Domestication and
Foreignization Vs
Liberal Translation &
Literal Translation
we know that these two pairs of dichotomies (一分为二,二分法) share some
similarities. Free translation and domes-
audience, because of idiomatic sentences,
familiar expressions and cultural phenomena
sometimes the target language readers may
not realize that they are actually reading a
translated text from another culture. While
literal translation and foreignization put emphasis on the linguistic and stylistic features
of the source text, and the target text translated in this way may not be very smooth
in language and the content may not be familiar to the target readers, so they may feel
foreign when reading the translation.
Some say that the dichotomy of domestication and foreignization is the development
and elevation of the dichotomy of free trans
lation and literal translation from the
diachronic prospective. But I don’t agree. In
my view, as the literal translation stresses faithfulness both to the original form and content, it
certainly highlights transplanting the foreign cul
tural aspects of the source language text into the
target language text.
二、Classification and Translation
of English and Chinese Idioms
2.1 English and Chinese Idioms
Corresponding to Each Other
and Their Translation
As people have many things in common, e.g.
they have many similarities in modes of thinking
life habits, cognition abilities, as well as in geogr
phical conditions and geological environments, i.
they share many cultural aspects, there are plenty
of idioms between two cultures and two language
The same is true of English and Chinese.
There are quite a number of idioms in
English and Chinese which correspond
to each other. Look at the following:
The great fish eat up the small. 大鱼吃小鱼。
He who rides a tiger is afraid to dismount.
骑虎难下。// It’s the saddle that makes
the horse and the tailor, the man. 人靠衣裳马
靠鞍。// One swallow does not make a
summer. 一燕不成夏。 // 洗手不干 wash
one’s hands of // 旧瓶装新酒 new wine in ol
bottles. // 玩火者必自焚。He who plays with
Please give more examples of this type
of idioms.
Which is the best strategy for translation
of such idioms?
在翻译此类习语时,“等效理论”(Tytler,
1790; Nida, 1964,)得以彻底实施,即
这样的英汉习语应该套用相互对应的习语
进行对等翻译The literal translation approach
is applicable here, and it is used with the
best possible result. Why?
2.2 Practice in Various Ways
2.2.1 Ask your partner or desk-mate
to give more examples of this
type of idioms. (1minute)
2.2.2 Translate and make sentences
with the following idioms:
be armed to the teeth
be as mild as a lamb
to play with fire
as gay / cheerful as a lark (像云
那样快活)
to shed crocodile tears
Beauty lies in the lover’s eyes.
In the country of the blind, the oneeyed man is king.
to teach a pig to play on a flute
to flog a dead horse
There is no smoke without some fire.
Beauty is but skin-deep.
Can the leopard change his spots?
As gaudy as a peacock 像孔雀一样华丽
武装到牙齿; 全副武装
鳄鱼的眼泪;伪善的眼泪;猫哭老鼠假慈悲
情人眼里出美人;情人眼里出西施
盲人国里,独眼人称王。
山中无老虎,猴子称霸王。
教猪吹笛;对牛弹琴;做荒唐不可能的事
鞭打死马;做无用功;白费唇舌
无火不生烟。无风不起浪。
美貌只是一层皮。不可以貌取人。
花豹岂能改变身上的花斑? 本性难移
像孔雀一样华丽;穿得过于艳丽
2.2 English and Chinese Idioms
That Partially Correspond to
Each other and Their Translation
英语和汉语分属两种不同的语系,属于不
同民族的母语。在不同的环境下生存的人们,
其生活经历和对外部世界的看法不可能完全一
致,因此,反映人民生产和生活的习语也必然
千差万别,对应的习语毕竟是少数,大量的习
语只是呈半对应关系。半对应的英汉习语通常
是比喻意义相同,但喻体迥异。为使目的语读
者顺利地理解源语习语中所承载的文化信息和
用合适的目的语习语将其译出,以达到跨文化
交际的目的。如:as timid as a hare胆小如鼠
as strong as a horse力大如牛;as poor as a
church mouse一贫如洗;Man proposes, Go
disposes谋事在人,成事在天。// 宁为鸡口,
不为牛后。Better be the head of a dog than
the tail of a lion. // 正中下怀 after one’s own
heart // 一箭双雕 kill two birds with one
stone //水中捞月 fish in the air // 过河拆桥
kick down the ladder //进退维谷 between the
devil and the deep sea. 翻译半对应的英汉习
语时,套用喻体不同但喻意相同的习语是可取
可行的译法。这种改变喻体、
保留喻意的译法是一种活译法。
2.3 English and Chinese
Idioms Which Do not
Correspond to Each
Other and Their
Translation
由于英汉两种语言有巨大差异,英语
习语中存在大量与汉语惯用法和汉文化
特征大相迥异的习语,既非对应的习语,
汉语习语中也有为数不少的与英语表达
习惯和西方文化大相径庭的非对应的习
语。非对应习语的喻体意象和表达方式
是源语所特有的,它们在译语中是空缺
的,体现了东西方人民认识上的
差异。这类习语用两种不同的译法处理:
一是采用直译法,二是使用意译法。由
于人类有许多共识,
源语中有些包含独特喻体的习语在目的语读者
心中引起的联想意义很可能也相同,这类习语
的比喻意义谁都能理解。因此,英汉两种语言
均有很多互不对应的习语可采用直译法处理。
如:sour grapes 酸葡萄;eye foreye and too
bull market牛市;bear market熊市;armed to
the teeth武装到牙齿;shed crocodile tears掉
鳄鱼眼泪;tower of ivory 象牙之塔。// 竭泽而
渔 to drain a pond to catch all the fish; 打草惊
蛇 to stir up the grass and alert the snake; 易
如反掌 to be as easy as turning over one’s
hand;对牛弹琴 to play the lute to a cow; 守口
如瓶 to keep one’s mouth closed like a bottle;
雪中送炭 to send charcoal in snowy weather;
画蛇添足 to draw a snake and add feet to it;
声东击西 to shout in the east and strike in the
west; 井底之蛙 to be like a frog at the bottom
of a well;调虎离山to lure the tiger from the
mountain; 口蜜腹剑 to be honey-mouthed and
dagger-hearted. 英语中还有一些非对应习语涉
及广为流传的典故,亦可采用直译法翻译。例
如:Trojan horse ( 特洛伊木马); as wise
总之,易为目的语读者所接受的源语习语
采用直译法为佳。著名翻译家张培基教授(1
980:12-13)指出,直译既能保持原文的内
容,又能保持原文的形式——特别是保持原
文的比喻、形象、和民族、地方色彩等。通
过直译法,不同的语言、不同的文化相互学
习,相互借鉴,共同繁荣,共同发展。
文化之间必然存在差异,这是民族文化的个性
民族文化个性蕴涵在许多习语中。包含民族文
化个性的习语如果采用直译法翻译,能为目的
语读者所理解和接受,便可大胆使用直译法处
理。否则就必须采用意译法处理。
什么叫意译法?笔者参考刘重德教授(199
4:173)给意译下的定义,将意译定义为:
如果采用直译法处理,译文不忠于原文,或
不能为译语读者所接受,或诘屈聱牙,难读
难懂,在这种情况下,译者不得不舍弃或改
变原文的形式或修辞,使用目的语习惯表达
法,或运用目的语读者易懂的切合原文意思
的词语,并选用恰当句式来传达原文的涵义
和精神。许多英语习语涉及独特的西方文化
意象,染上了独特的西方文化色彩,只有采
用意译法处理,才能为我国读者所理解。
试观察以下英语习语及其译文。
to draw one’s blood伤人感情,惹人生气;t
hang on sb.’s sleeve依赖某人;to hang on sb
’s lips对某人言听计从;to make a monkey of
sb. 愚弄某人;to bend an ear to倾听,聚精会
神地听;to bury one’s head in the sand 采取
鸵鸟政策;to have an axe to grind 别有用心;
to talk through one’s hat 胡言乱语;to leave
no stone unturned千方百计,不遗余力;to
call a spade a spade直言不讳;to pull one’s
leg愚弄某人,开某人的玩笑;to eat one’s wo
被迫收回前言,承认自己说了错话;to be full
of beans精力旺盛,精力充沛;to be like squa
pegs in round holes格格不入;a skeleton at
the feast扫兴的人或事物;a fly in the ointmen
美中不足;with a grain of salt半信半疑;with
one’s tongue in one’s cheek 说说而已,半心
半意,非诚心诚意。
以上英语习语都是生动具体的暗喻表达法,
所涉及的喻体非常独特,十分形象,以英语为
母语的人们习以为常。它们都被翻译成切合源
语习语比喻意义、但抛弃了其喻体形象的普普
通通的汉语成语或词语。如果将之直译成汉语
我们就会不知所云,而且会导致错误的译文。
汉语中也没有与之半对应的习语。因此,只好
舍弃英语习语的喻体形象和字面意义,采用忠
于源语比喻意义的译语习惯表达法处理。在鱼
(字面意义)与熊掌(修辞意义)不可兼得时
舍鱼而取熊掌,仍是合格的翻译(彭长江,2
02:271)。同样,许多汉语成语涉及独特的
汉文化特征,染上了独特的汉文化色彩,其比
喻形象是英语读者所不可接受的。这样的汉语
习语只能意译。比如:扬眉吐气 to feel proud
and elated; 灯红酒绿dissipated and luxurious
开门见山 to come straight to the point; 单枪
匹马 to be single-handed in doing sth.; 大张旗
海阔天空 (to talk) at random; 风雨飘摇 (of a
situation) being unstable; 胸有成竹to have a
well-thought-out plan before doing sth.
以上汉语习语都是生动形象表达喻意的成语
都根据其喻意翻译成未含喻体喻义的英语词语
虽然舍弃了源语习语的比喻形式,但表达了它
们蕴涵的喻义。以上成语如果直译,必定贻笑
大方,令人莫名其妙。
汉语还有一些成语涉及典故,字面翻译无法
为外国读者所接受;如果加上一长串解释性文
字,就失去了成语精粹的特点。最好的办法是
其文化背景,译出其真正含义(冯庆华,2002
如:四面楚歌 to be besieged on all sides;
毛遂自荐 to volunteer one’s service;
初出茅庐 at the beginning of one’s career;
倾城倾国to be exceedingly beautiful;
罄竹难书 (of crimes) too numerous to mention
我们谈到了习语与文化的紧密联系,指出了
习语翻译的关键是文化翻译;文章从文化的视
角,将英汉习语分为三类加以探讨,并较详细
地讨论了常用可行的习语翻译方法:直译法,
活译法和意译法。实际上,涉及独特典故的习
语还可采用直译加解释的翻译方法。篇幅有限
本文不予论证。习语与习语的翻译是个非常重
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