（青岛农业大学外国语学院 山东 青岛 266109）
关键词：习语翻译 文化差异 习语
Cultural Similarities and Differences Embodied in Idiom Translation
Abstract: This paper mainly talks about the influence of Chinese and Western culture in idiom translation and the approaches of translating them. It shows the similarities and differences between Chinese and Western culture in many aspects， such as living environment， social customs， religions， believes and historic allusion. According to all these similarities and differences， the paper gives several methods about how to translate idioms well. By following these， people can translate well and promote the understandings of all nations well.
Key Words: Idiom Translation; Cultural Difference; Idioms
It is an acknowledged agreement that translation， in its narrow sense， is an inter-lingual communicative activity. The birth of translation is a result of a strong need for communication between people speaking different languages. In all translating and interpreting， the source and target languages must be implicitly or explicitly compared. However， such inter-lingual communication extends far beyond the structure of linguistic similarities and contrasts. One if the main reason for this is that some words’ translations depend on the culture of the language community. Therefore， translation is an inter-lingual and intercultural activity. It must be restrict by culture. In translation， any attempt to separate the text from the culture is wrong. The translators should take the culture factors of both Chinese and English into careful consideration when he or she tries to translate Chinese into English. This requirement is especially necessary for the translation of idioms.
Idiomatic expressions are usually concise and meaningful. They are widely used in every language. People of every age and from every place frequently use idioms both in speech or writing. Using idiom is actually a common lingual preference all over the world. However， when people translate idioms， they often face the difficulties for cross-cultural communication. Idioms rather than any other lexical items in any language are often depending on cultural element. Some of them may be unique to one specific language community only. As in any other language， idioms in both Chinese and English are heavily bound up with cultural elements. When translating， we should take culture inside.
2 Similarities and Difference Between Chinese and English Culture
English and Chinese cultures are totally different. Their origins and development are not the same. Chinese has a close relation with the Chinese culture. Many Chinese idioms can be translated when the Chinese culture expressed by them are uncovered. However， English idioms are bound up with British and American cultures. Culture similarities and differences between Chinese and English idioms are mainly reflected in the following aspects.
Both China and Britain have a long-time history， ancient civilization and glorious culture. Both the two countries have the similar experience and thought. During the communication of the two countries， cultures are interacting. This made some idioms have the same or similar culture characteristic. Therefore， the idioms are corresponding no matter in meaning， image cultural flavor. In such condition， we could use the source language to translate the target language directly. For example， “失败乃成功之母” “Failure is the mother of success”. In this idiom， we see that it is translated into English directly. “失败” is translated into “failure”， while “ 成功” is “success” and “母” is “mother”. From this idiom， we notice there are some similarities between Chinese and English which made us translate the source language into the target language directly. Look at another example， “祸不单行”， “misfortunes never come singly ”. In this phrase， “祸” is misfortune， “单” is translated into singly. Then the whole phrase is translated misfortunes never come singly. There are some other examples like these. “丢脸”， “lose face”， “来得容易，去得快”， “easy come， easy go”， “以牙还牙”， “a tooth for a tooth”， “披着羊皮的狼”， “a wolf in sheep’s clothing”， “牛市”， “bull market”， “熊市”， “bear ，market”， “破釜沉舟”， “to turn one’s boat”， “火上浇油”， “pour oil on fire”， “水滴石穿”， “constant dropping wears the stone”. All these show the similarities between the two cultures. When do translating， we can translate directly.
2.2 Difference Between Chinese and Western Cultures
We all know that Chinese and English cultures are totally different. All these differences are embodied in the following aspects.
People have to survive and make production in natural environments， so there are lots of idioms related to the natural environment. For example， Britain， as an island country， has a history. Its culture relates to the sea. Once it was famous for its important status in navigation. So many English idioms are related to the sea life， “a sea of troubles”， “无穷的麻烦”， “at sea”， “不知所措”， “hoist your sail when the wind is fail”， “好风快扬帆”， “a kettle of fish”， “乱七八糟”. All these idioms have no relation with sea when they are translated into Chinese. However， China is a typical agricultural country and has a large population involved in agriculture. So there are many idioms about agriculture: “顺藤摸瓜”， “follow the vine to get the melon—hunt for somebody or something by following the traces”， “四体不勤，五谷不分”， “can neither toil with one’s four limbs nor tell the five cereals apart”. These examples sufficiently show the influence made by environment to a nation’s culture and further influence the expression of people.
There are many differences in social customs between Chinese and English languages. The most obvious one is the attitudes towards dogs. Dogs in Chinese stand a lower and humble status. We can find the following idioms like: “狐朋狗党”， “gang of scoundrels ”， “狗眼看人低”， “act as a snob”， “狗嘴里吐不出象牙”， “ a filthy mouth cannot utter decent language”. In these idioms， the word “dog” points to bad things and it has the derogatory sense. We use these phrases to criticize somebody. But， in western culture like England， people always regard dogs as their loyal friends. In English idioms， the dog’s image is often used to indicate human characteristics: “luck dog”， “幸运儿”， “every dog has his day”， “凡人皆有得意时”， “love me， love my dog”， “爱屋及乌”， “big dog”， “大亨，要人”， “sick as a dog”， “病得厉害”. All these idioms don’t have the derogatory sense in Chinese. They are used when praise or glorify some one. Just the small word ‘dog’ has so many differences when translate. If we don’t know the differences and translate directly， we will make a joke. And the readers will be puzzled.
Religious culture has played an important role in peoples’ historical development. It affects not only economy， science， literature， politics but also human thoughts and behaviors for a long time. It is known that most westerners are Christians. And Bible is a classical book they must read. So a lot of idioms from the book begin to influence them and there are some idioms involved in that religion: “God helps those who help themselves”， “自助者天助”， “God sends fortune to fools”， “傻人有傻福”， “power of the keys”， “权利的钥匙”. However， China is a country with many religious. Buddhism and Taoism influence Chinese culture well. There are many idioms from Buddhism， such as “佛要金装，人要衣装”， “as Buddha needs a gilt statue， man needs fine clothes”， “佛靠一炷香，人靠一口气”， “as Buddha needs incense， so man needs respect”， “借花献佛”， “present Buddha with borrowed flowers”， “放下屠刀，立地成佛”， “to throw away one’s butcher knife and become a Buddha”， “万劫不复”， “beyond redemption”.
There are some differences in historic allusion between Chinese and Western culture. When we couldn’t try out the meaning from individual， parts of the idioms， we’d better refer to the relative references. For instance， a “Pandora’s box”， “潘多拉之盒” does not refer to a box， it means the root of disaster， trouble and evil. “东施效颦”， it came from a story: Dong Shi was an ugly woman， who imitated her neighbor， Xi Shi， a beautiful girl， only to make herself all the uglier. So it is equal to blind imitation with ludicrous effect in English. These differences need us attention especially in translating.
3 Approaches of Translating Idioms
In the above， we have discussed the culture similarities and differences between Chinese and English. In the following part， we will mainly focus on the methods of translating. We will discuss what we think are the most useful and common methods for translating Chinese idioms into English.
3.1 Literal Translation
We know that literal translation should deserve our first consideration in the process of translation. We should hold the principle that when misunderstanding occurs in cross-cultural translation， literal translation should be considered as first， for it sticks to the principle of translation—“be faithful to the source” (Juri Lotman.1978). It is often regarded as a desirable way of translating if the translation is intelligible and not unnecessarily verbose. Because of the similarities between Chinese and English， this method is usually used. We can translate the Chinese idioms into English directly. Look at this example. “调虎离山”， to lure the tiger from the mountain. In this idiom， “虎” means tiger and “山” means mountain. These two things exist in Chinese. When translate “调” we use lure， means to attract someone. So the whole phrase is translated as to lure the tiger from the mountain. It uses the literal translation. When read it， we can know the meaning clearly. There is another example. “口蜜腹剑”， to be honey-mouthed and dagger-hearted. In this idiom， “ 口” is translated as mouth. “蜜” is translated as honey and “腹”is translated as heart while “剑” is translated as dagger. Honey is used to decorate mouth and they combine to one word honey-mouthed. Dagger-hearted is also a compound word. It means there is a dagger in someone’s heart. The whole phrase is translated as to be honey-mouthed and dagger-hearted. It also use the literal translation. There are some other examples as follows:
“牢不可破”， to be so strongly built as to be indestructible
“史无前例”， to be without precedent in history
“路遥知马力，日久见人心”， As a long road tests a horse’s strength， so a long task proves a person’s heart.
“初生牛犊不怕虎”， New-born calves make little of tigers.
Although we should try our best to translate Chinese idioms literally for the sake of “be faithful of the source” in certain cases， it is necessary and important to replace the source with an English equivalent idiom for some similarities. The Chinese idiom “破釜沉舟” refers to a historic event: In the late period of the Qin Dynasty in ancient China， the government was so cruel that it aroused the uprising of the people. Xiang Yu， a brave leader of the army fighting against the troops. He ordered all the pots destroyed and all the boats sunk right after they got ashore in order to show his strong determination to fight the war to its end. If translated into English， this expression may be translated into English idiom “to burn one’s boat”， for this English expression is related to a historic event similar to the Chinese one. In 49B.C. Julius Caesar， a general of ancient Rome， in order to show his determination to defeat the enemy， he ordered all the boats burnt after his army crossed the Rubicon River. These two idioms are always related to the same meaning， so the beat translation for “破釜沉舟” is “burn one’s boat”. In this translation， even though there is no image of pot， the basic meaning and image of this idiom are contained. It is easy for readers to understand. Therefore， when translating， if the target language has an idiomatic expression which is similar to the one in source language， we can use this expression to replace the source. There are some other examples:
“海底捞针”， to look for a needle in a bottle
“突飞猛进”， by leaps and bounds
“并驾齐驱”， neck and neck
“改邪归正”， to mend one’s way
“惹事生非”， to wake a sleeping dog
“说曹操，曹操到”， Talk of the devil， and he’s sure to appear.
3.3 Free Translation
As we have mentioned above， there are some kind of idioms which are hardly found in English because of the different culture. They are two-part allegorical sayings. In these expressions， the former part contains a vivid and specific image which usually leads to an abstract but natural conclusion. If these allegorical saying are translated literally into English， all the humor will be totally lost. So when translate these idioms， we should use a new method—“free translation”. Look at the following examples:
“十五个水桶打水，七上八下”， to be in turmoil. In this translation， turmoil means a state of confusion， excitement and anxiety. It has the same meaning with the Chinese version. Just one word is enough to express the whole meaning of this Chinese idiom. So we use free translation to express. Another example， “哑巴吃蚕豆—心中有数”， to understand the whole thing. We know that dumb people cannot speak， but it doesn’t mean it cannot count. So when he eat something， he just count in heart. It describes someone is be know the whole thing. So the translation is to understand the whole thing.
Of course， free translation can be widely used when literal translation is not enough to express the proper meaning and no English equivalents can be found for replacement. Some allusive idioms are usually translated into English by using such method when allusions contained in the idioms are not important enough in explaining. Note the following examples:
“塞翁失马，焉知非福”， A loss may turn out to be a gain. This idiom comes from a historic allusion. An old man lost his horse， but he didn’t feel upset. He thought there might be something good to happen. Fortunately， he got two horses at last. So use “A loss may turn out to be a gain” is appropriate to express the Chinese version. There are some other examples.
“此地无银三百两”， A guilty person gives himself away by conspicuously protesting his innocence.
“罄竹难书”， to numerous to mention
“悬梁刺股”， to be extremely hard-working in one’s study
“初出茅庐”， at the beginning of one’s career
As we know， literal translation is the best way of sticking to the principle of “be faithful to the source”， and free translation is another good way of translating the source language into the target language. So if we combine the two ways together， we will do good translation. And for there are some similarities and differences between these two cultures， so using this method is helpful. Note how this method is used in the following examples:
“不到黄河心不死”， Until all is over， ambition never dies. In this idiom， “黄河” takes a figurative meaning which foreign readers are not familiar with. So “不到黄河” is free translation as “until all is over”， while “心不死” is literally translated into “ambition never dies”. This method can help the target readers to understand the characteristics of Chinese and make them feel easy in reading the translation. More examples of this kind are provided below:
“瞎子点灯白费蜡”， as useless as a blind man lighting a candle
“事后诸葛亮”， to be wise after the event
“视死如归”， to look on death without flinching
“各人自扫门前雪，不管他人瓦上霜”， Sweep the snow from your own front door， leave the frost on the other man’s roof to thaw.
We have discussed so much about the cultural differences between English and Chinese idioms and their translation approaches or methods. Frankly， it is just a starting point of the translation of different aspects of cultural influences in diverse languages. In practice， there are so many fields waiting for us to cultivate. Factually， we can find something useful in the discussion of the practical translation process. If we really understand the complicated structures of key backbones of cultures of diverse languages， we can get a better view of layers of one society. Thus， the difficulties will disappear in our communicative process. The process of translating is not the transition of surface. It is the naturalization of politics， art， science and culture. We should try our best to show the combination between form and meaning of source language. Only in this way， can we translate well and promote the understandings of all nations.
Juri Lotman. 1978. On the Semiotic Mechanism of Culture. New Literary History 4.
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