The Translation of Chinese and English Idioms
It is well recognized that language and culture are inseparable. On the one hand, language plays a very important role in reflecting and expressing culture. A language is an essential part of the culture of a people and through it the other parts of culture are expressed. So to speak, without language there would be no culture descending from ancient times. On the other hand, since culture is defined succinctly as “the totality of beliefs and practices of a society”1, language is strongly influenced and shaped by culture. Changes in culture often give rise to new characteristics of language.
Both English and Chinese are the languages in the world enjoying the longest history. During the long-term development, they have accumulated a large number of idioms, including the idioms containing figures, which refer to the idioms containing cardinal numbers and ordinal numbers. As an indispensable part of idioms, Chinese and English idioms containing figures are closely related to their own cultures, conveying different cultural features and messages of their own nations. Usually, idioms containing figures reflect their cultural background knowledge with figure connotations. As we all know, figures are typical of the culturally loaded words. Not only do they belong to the digital realm, they are also used in idioms and phrases with cultural connotations. The Chinese and English peoples may have the same or similar concepts for figures, but because of their cultural diversities, they use figures in different ways with connotative meanings.
In the 21st century, with the rapid development of economic globalization, cultural communication and cooperation between nations become more frequent, the research field of Chinese and English idioms correspondingly presents a new tendency. The idioms containing figures, as a crucial part of idioms, have become the main
1Eugene A. Nida, Language and Culture-Contexts in Translating (Shanghai: Shanghai Foreign Language
object for Chinese and other nation s’ scholars to study earnestly. However, since the idioms containing figures are characterized by their concise expressions, rich and vivid meanings, and are often culturally loaded, translators find it a great challenge to translate them between Chinese and English for every figure has its specific connotations in different cultural backgrounds.
This thesis attempts to solve the problem of how to translate Chinese and English idioms containing figures appropriately. It consists of 6 chapters. Apart from Introduction and Conclusion, it contains an overview of idioms, the definition of idioms containing figures, comparison and analysis of Chinese and English idioms containing figures, and translation strategies of Chinese and English idioms containing figures. Through an overview of idioms, the author makes clear some basic concepts of idioms and also attaches importance to this subject research. Then in the part of explaining the definition of idioms containing figures, the author introduces the relationship between figures and idioms containing figures and also gives a definition of idioms containing figures by researching and discussing the definitions that other scholars have put forward. The following part is the comparison and analysis of Chinese and English idioms containing figures. The author mainly analyses the figures’connotative meaning both in Chinese and Western cultures, which aims to find out the cultural differences and make a comparison between Chinese and English idioms containing figures.
The analysis and comparison will be helpful to explore the translation strategies of Chinese and English idioms containing figures. Fortunately, the author figures out some strategies as the theoretical basis of problem solving. The author lists some strategies and applies them to the concrete terms according to their features. Finally, by comparing the different translation strategies, the author presents his own view on the translation of Chinese and English idioms containing figures and offers some advice to the language learners. With the guidance of the principle of “functional equivalence, textual correspondence”, and the author-and-reader-oriented principle, the translation of Chinese and English idioms containing figures will take on a new appearance.
2. An Overview of Idiom
“I diom is a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words”, according to the New Oxford Dictionary of English. As part of culture, idioms play an important role in the development of language. They carry cultural feature and information of different nations. Being characterized by their concise expressions and significant meanings, all idioms derive from their historical origins with distinct national features and are closely related to geographical environment, historical background, religious beliefs, social customs and living conventions. So translators should take their cultural connotations and national characteristics into consideration when translating idioms.
2.1. The Historical Study of Idiom
Generally speaking, the study of idiom can be divided into three stages. As early as in 1925, L. P. Smith published the book named Words and Idioms, which is regarded as the beginning of idioms research. In this book, Smith discussed the sources and structures of idioms, and pointed out the basic characteristics of idioms: an idiom can be defined as a group of words with a meaning of its own that is different from the meanings of each separate words put together. He wrote, “The meaning of an idiom is non-literal; many English idioms are used as ‘expressions of determination, of exasperation, and vituperation’, which contributes to vocabulary studies as being a description of how the peculiar genius of English shows itself in its idioms”1.Besides, a good part of Smith’s account of idioms is devoted to their classification on the basis of their imagery. From the 1930s to 1950s, on the basis of Structuralism Theory, C. F. Hockett emphasized the importance of context understanding in the idioms’identification and interpretation, and explained the underlying structure and semantic features of idioms, which began to standardize the
definition of idioms1. In 1960s, influenced by the Generative Grammar Theory of Chomsky, the study of idioms reached an impasse, but never stopped. Not until B. Fraser, a representative linguists, put forward the Frozenness Hierarchy Theory, in which he admitted that idioms are in fixed expression did this tendency find its outlet, but B. Fraser thought there still exists transformational potential2. Thus, the study of idioms came into public notice again. Since the 1980s, the study of idioms has entered a new stage. Linguists begin to open up the functional approach of idioms in relations environment, exploring the role that idioms play in communication activities, which makes the study of idioms more practical. Among all the achievements, the most prominent one belongs to C. Fernando’s, an Australian linguist, who wrote the book named Idioms and Idiomaticity. In recent years, a growing number of scholars have begun to study the formation of idioms from the perspective of cultural backgrounds. Nida(1993)ever wrote, “Culture knowledge has a far-reaching impact on the study of idioms and their meanings. We will fail to understand the profound meaning of idioms if we don’t take the cultural backgrounds seriously”3. Therefore, we must focus on its cultural connotations while learning a language.
2.2. The Structure and Features of Idiom
Idioms are of special language forms. They have a single semantic unit, structural institutionalization and irreplaceability. More specifically elaborated by McMordie, “Generally, the idiom cannot be changed at will; any word in the idiom can not be replaced by its synonyms, and little does the word order can be changed; any change in the wording and collocation will destroy the idiom, or may make it no sense”4. From McMordie’s point of view, we can see that an idiom has its own structural and semantic features.
Idioms are characterized by their structural stability. An idiom, composed of a group of words, is a set phrase. The structure of an idiom is always fixed, and the words in it can not be departed or separated at will. Because of its structural 1骆世平,《英语习语研究》前言,骆世平著(上海:上海外语教育出版社,2005),Ⅰ-Ⅱ。
invariability, an idiom allows no variation in form under normal circumstances. A speaker or writer cannot normally do any of the following with an idiom: 1. change the order of the words in it, (e.g. * ‘the short and the long of it’); 2. delete a word from it (e.g. * ‘spill beans’); 3. add a word to it (e.g. * ‘the very long and short of it’; * ‘face the classical music’); 4. replace a word with another (e.g. * ‘the tall and the short of it’; * ‘bury a hatchet’); 5. change its grammatical structure (e.g. * ‘the music was faced’)1. All idioms are not grammatically regular2. Therefore, the idiom “face the music”cannot be changed into “the music was faced”, which has changed its grammatical structure.
Semantic unity is another feature of idioms. The meaning of an idiom is a complete and inseparable unit, which should be learned as a whole. That is to say, an idiom can be defined as a group of words with a meaning of its own that is different from the meanings of each separate words put together. The semantic unity of an idiom derives from the transferred meaning, which refers to the figurative meaning and associative meaning. Now that most figurative meaning and associative meaning of an idiom are not transparent, and some even lose the initial meaning of the words, a speaker or writer cannot get the meaning of an idiom just from the meaning of each word in it3.
The structural stability and semantic unity are the most important features of idioms, both of which can be taken as idiomaticity. This is the basic difference between idioms and other words and phrases.
2.3. The Classification of Idioms
In a broad sense, idioms include colloquialisms, proverbs, allusions and slang expressions, etc. According to different group standards, idioms can be divided into many classifications. And each classification has its own merits and demerits, showing some of its characteristics in specific aspects. Generally, the methods of idioms classification can be divided into three kinds: classification by origins, 1Mona Baker, In Other Words: A Course Book on Translation (Beijing: Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press, 2000), 63.
classification by structure and classification by function1. Idioms containing figures are just one kind of idioms, which are classified according to their structures.
3. The Study of Idioms Containing Figures
Idioms containing figures refer to those idioms have cardinal numbers and ordinal numbers in them. As a crucial part of idioms, they have become the main object for Chinese and overseas scholars to study earnestly. In recent decades, an increasing number of scholars have begun to study the translation of idioms containing figures, which presents a bright prospect for development of this field. Yet, in order to learn idioms containing figures well, we should firstly focus on the figures and explore what role they play in idioms.
3.1. Relationship between Figures and Idioms Containing Figures
Figures are often used as calculate symbols in the world. Every country has the need for figures in its counting system. Figures are often used to represent the quantity of things, express the sequence of actions and the scope of size. Rigorous, precise and accurate, figures are widely used in the world of science. However, figures not only belong to the digital realm, they are also used in idioms and phrases with cultural connotations. Influenced by the factors of different nationalities, religions, history and social customs, figures have special associative meaning2. Apart from the fact that figures are regarded as basic tools used in math and scientific experiments, scholars also take them as a kind of culture in the social society, human communication, literary works, customs and conventions. For example, a Chinese copybook for children in old days read: “一二三四五,金木水火土。天地分上下,日月同今古。”Although this old saying was composed of four short verses, amounting to twenty words only, it typically reflected the important role that quantity and figures had played in the social life rather than in the mathematical field3. So to speak, with the development of human society, figures are no longer just applied in the scientific and 1骆世平,23-24 。
mathematical field; they correspondingly well develop themselves too in languages.
Figures, as an important part of language and culture, are embodied with different connotations under different cultural backgrounds. Idioms containing figures are the essence of language, and they reflect the rich cultural deposits and human intelligence. As the combination of idioms and figures, idioms containing figures have their own features. Their cultural connotations are mostly influenced by the implications of figures. People from different cultures may have the same or similar concepts for figures, but because of their cultural diversities, different peoples may attach different connotative meanings to the same figure. Thus, different nations may have a different understanding of the idioms containing the same figure. In some sense, figures play a role of cornerstone in idioms containing figures, so only by having a good knowledge of figure connotations can we know them well.
3.2. The Definition of Idioms Containing Figures
As an indispensable part of idioms, idioms containing figures have been used frequently both in the Chinese and English languages. People may run into them when reading articles, listening to speeches, writing an essay or translating passages. As idioms containing figures are so important, it’s necessary for us to have an idea of what idioms containing figures are.
First of all, let’s review the definitions that have been put forward by previous scholars. According to the China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI), a number of theses on both English and Chinese numerical idioms have been published. There are many definitions of idioms containing figures: Numerical idioms are idioms formed with cardinal numbers, ordinal numbers and other words which have the meaning of number. There are set phrases, colloquialisms, proverbs and slang expressions in English numerical idioms, while there are four-character set phrases, colloquialisms, proverbs and slang expressions in Chinese numerical idioms1. Numerical idioms refer to those idiomatic phrases with numbers. They are not just the simple expressions by numbers, and they possess the specific and profound roots and
heritage of their national culture as well. Numerical idioms are the central core and cream of ethnic culture, and the embodiment of practice of language1. English numerical idioms are set phrases or phrases composed of numeral and other words. They have been used frequently with their original meanings, extended meanings or rhetorical meanings, which makes language performance more rich, vivid and meaningful2. Numerical idioms are an important part of the English and Chinese languages because their concise form and vividness. Like any other kinds of idioms, numerical idioms are usually important components of a sentence, through which the syntactic function can be achieved3.
According to the above definitions of idioms containing figures, we can draw a conclusion: as its name suggests, an idiom containing figures is an idiom having cardinal numbers, ordinal numbers and other words which have the meaning of number in it. It is just one kind of idioms, reflecting strong cultural characteristics with figure connotations. The proverbs, allusions, slang expressions, especially the unique four-character idioms, allegorical sayings and antithetical couplets in the Chinese language, which are all concise and comprehensive, humorous and witty, are good examples of idioms containing figures.
4. Analysis and Comparison of the Chinese and English Idioms Containing Figures
Idioms are conventionalized or institutionalized expressions which are embedded with much cultural information peculiar to the languages they are in. Figures may carry different connotations in different languages. Therefore, as the combination of idioms and figures, idioms containing figures are highly culturally loaded. We can say that much more cultural information is included in such idioms. However, since Chinese and English are two different languages, such idioms are featured with different cultural connotations. Thus, we may firstly analyze the implications of 1池玫,“英汉数字习语的文化心理差异与渊源及其翻译”,《福建农林大学学报》12,(2009):109 。
figures in different cultural backgrounds, and then compare such kind of idioms in the two languages and find their similarities as well as their differences.
4.1. Cultural Connotations of Figures in Chinese
When figures are used in languages, they have an informative function. They carry cultural connotations peculiar to the languages they are in. As Wu Huiying points out, “Chinese literature has countless ties to the figures; the large and wonderful use of figures in literature has become the distinctive feature of certain works”1. Moreover, he regards figures as the miracle of the art garden. In Chinese, the Arabic numbers are widely used. They serve for calculating as well as being a part of language. Here, we mainly probe into the figures used in language and their cultural connotations.
4.1.1. Cultural Connotations of Figures Related to Their Pronunciation
The Chinese language abounds with rich phonograms, among which figures can be the fullest and the most vivid representative. That the Chinese people have a preference for a certain figure usually depends on its pronunciation. For example, the figures “six”, “eight”, “nine” and “four” are closely related to their pronunciation in the Chinese language and culture, and the Chinese people prefer the first three figures to the last one. In the following the author of this paper will approach them in details.
The figure “six”, due to its pronunciation being similar to that of the character“禄”, which means finance and salary, is considered as a lucky figure. Therefore, with “six”, such as “六六顺”in Chinese, everything would go well2. Besides, “溜” is a homonym for “six” for both of them are pronounced liu in Chinese. “溜”has the meaning of doing things smoothly, without a hitch, so many Chinese people turn to “six” when they choose a date for joyous occasion or as a car or phone number3. In some dialects, “six” is associated with the word “路”, such as 168,668-一
路发,路路发(One way money-making to make money all the way)1. Although the figure “six” also has a derogatory sense, such as 六亲不认(to refuse to have anything to do with all relatives and friends), 六神无主(in a state of utter stupefaction), most of the cultural connotations of “six”are commendatory. It is a lucky figure in the Chinese people’s eyes.
Chinese people show special preference to the figure “eight”for its pronunciation. In most Chinese dialects and especially in Cantonese, it is pronounced as “发(fa)”, which means “make a fortune; get rich”. In North China, a saying goes like this “If you want to succeed, don’t stray from eight”. Just like “six”, the figure “eight”has become the top choice for many affairs, because businessmen are obsessed with successful or failure. For example, some stores and restaurants are named “518”-我要发(I will be rich); some companies select the date with “eight” for their opening ceremony, and the opening time will be 8:18 for it sounds 发一发2. It can be seen that the figure “eight” is a good expression for fortune, and it is widely used by the Chinese people.
Another homophonic figure is “nine”which symbolizes smoothness and endurance for it sounds like “久(jiu)”. The Chinese emperors of ancient times usually took the figure “nine” as the symbol of their unchanged and everlasting rule, which is obviously embodied in the building of their palaces. For instance, the Forbidden City in Beijing has the Nine Dragon Wall and 9999 rooms as well. Besides, the quantity of the steps inside the Forbidden City Palace is nine or the multiple of nine3. Apart from its pronunciation, the figure “nine” is endowed with other cultural connotations, such as 九五之尊, which means an emperor belongs to the upper class; Old People’s Day (the ninth day of the ninth lunar month). These two usages show that “nine” is used to express the high status in society.
Unlike the above three figures, “four”is viewed as an unlucky one by most Chinese, because its pronunciation in Chinese is si, which is similar to the
pronunciation of the character “死” meaning “death”. So “four” is not especially well looked upon in China. On campus, no room will be named as Room 214 in most Chinese students’dormitories. and the room number in the second floor just skips right from 213 to 215. Also, the price of an apartment on the fourth floor is usually much cheaper. However, the figure “four” belongs to even numbers, and in this point, “four”can be regarded as a lucky figure. Such as四平八稳(very steady; lacking initiative and overcautiousness), 四通八达(extending in all directions), 四世同堂(four generations under one roof), 四海财源滚滚来(wealth flowing across the four seas).All of these idioms are commendatory. We can see that the figure “four”in Chinese have contradictory cultural connotations.
4.1.2. Cultural Connotations of Figures Related to Philosophy and Religions
From the view of cultural history, religions are often considered to be the core source of a culture. They play a dominant role in the social life and have an invisible impact on the people’s way of thinking. The Chinese culture is greatly influenced by the philosophical Confucianism, Taosim and Buddhism, so are the cultural connotations of figures. Among all the basic figures, “one”, “two”, “three”, “five” and “seven” are the good examples.
In the traditional Chinese culture, “one” is often taken as the symbol of “unity”, “start”, “concise”and “perfect”, and these meanings derive from the Taoism whose founder Laozi expressed in Laotzu, “Tao gives birth to one, one gives birth two, two gives birth to three, and three gives birth to ten thousand things”1. From nothing to something, and something to infinity, the figure “one” plays an important role. In such four-character idioms “一如既往(the same as usual)”, “一心一意(of a mind)”, “言行不一(one’s words are not matched by deeds)”, “一应俱全(all kinds kept in stock)”, the figure “一” has the meaning of “single-mindedness” and “unity”.
According to Taosim, everything is composed of two sides: 阴(Yin) and 阳(Yang). 阴(Yin) is dark, female and negative; while阳(Yang) is light, male and
positive. The two forces, Yin and Yang being combined produce all things. The Chinese people believe everything can be divided into two opposite sides: good and bad, right and wrong, long and short, bright and dark, etc1. That comes to a notion that the figure “two” and even all even numbers are linked to good luck. Therefore, people always pursue “两全其美(make the best of both worlds)”, or long for “好事成双(good things should be in pairs)”.
The Chinese people are inclined to the figure “three”. It is a lucky odd number and widely used in Buddhism. Some Chinese idioms with it originated from the creed of Buddhism, such as 三生有幸(transmigration of death and living). 三生refers to the previous, present and future lives. According to Buddhism, anyone can be reincarnated in a new body. The term means that a person is quite lucky in all his life2. Besides, “three”is used in Buddhism scriptures for generic words, like 三戒(three abstentions), and 三佛(three Buddhas).
The figure “Five” is related to Buddhism as well. 五体投地(five body parts cast to the ground) is just a good example. 五体refers to two hands, two knees and a head. This term indicates that pilgrims show the utmost sincerity to their religion. In addition, “five” has the basic symbolic meaning for 五行(five elements: metal, wood, water, fire, and earth) provided a framework for people in ancient times to classify natural phenomena. Confucianism preaches that “five”implies the concept of “the mean”for it is very close to the path of the golden means of “adopting the middle between two extremes”3.
“Seven” is a mysterious figure in the Chinese culture. It is said that Sakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism, sits silently under the tree of Buddha for forty-nine (seven plus seven) days, and then gains an achievement. Buddhism holds that everything originates from seven primitive elements of nature. In some areas of China, when someone dies, the mourning period should be seven days for “doing the seve ns” is the custom at funerals. From the first seven days after someone passes away to the seventh seven days, there are appropriate rituals for each. This kind of custom is 1安美华,14,18。
related to Buddhism1. Some people don’t like the figure seven because it is associative with “doing the sevens”plus the fact that the seventh month of the lunar year is “ghost month”.
4.1.3. Cultural Connotations of Figures Related to Social Customs
Social custom is another factor affecting the cultural connotations of figures. In general, the Chinese people prefer even numbers to odd numbers. Because even numbers symbolize “fortune comes in pairs” while the character for “odd” in Chinese dan always means “alone”. Take the even number “ten”for example. The Chinese people are fond of taking it to express satisfaction. The term 十全十美(to be perfect in everyway) is always used to describe the pursuit in Chinese. The figure “ten” also appears in the Chinese medicine, cuisine and music, such as 十问(inquire about ten aspects of the patient), 十剂(ten kinds of prescription), 什锦菜(olio), and 十番锣鼓(a kind of folk music)2.
The figure “two” is not only associated with the religions mentioned above, but also related to social customs. When Chinese get married, the quantity of betrothal gifts would be a pair or an even number. For example, chickens or ducks would be written as “four wings of poultry”; g old bracelets would be written “Gold bracelets becoming a pair”; Candles would be written as “Festive candles with double glow”. No place would allow odd numbers3.
4.2. Cultural Connotations of Figures in English
Due to cultural diversity, the same figure may have different cultural connotations between the Chinese and English languages. In English, the implications of figures are closely related to psychology, religions and historical allusions.
4.2.1. Cultural Connotations of Figures Related to Psychology
From ancient times on, there has been a fetishism that influences the British people’s sub-consciousness. They believe that certain figures have mysterious or magic power that may bring them luck or evil. Generally, odd numbers are considered 1刘明阁,257 。
to be lucky in English-related cultures.
English-speaking people believe that “one”is a lucky odd number, and they often put it after hundreds or thousands to emphasize, such as “one hundred and one thanks”; “have one thousand and one things to do”; “different in a thousand and one ways”; “a thousand and one”1. Besides, “one” in English can be pronoun. For example, “the Holy One” and “the Evil One”, from which we can see that “one” is endowed with rich cultural connotations.
Generally, “two” is an unlucky figure in English. Pythagoras believe that “two”means “disorder; disunite; evil”. A lot of English idioms have the number two in them, such as “Two of a trade never agree.” and “When two Fridays come together”2. While here is an exception, “Two’s company, three is alone.” So the cultural connotation of the figure “two”is not unchanged, mostly it may depend on what opinion that the speaker wants to express.
Although the figure “nine”in English is not endowed with as many cultural connotations as that in Chinese, there are a large number of idioms related to it. Here are the examples: A stitch in time saves nine; crack up (flatter/ honor/ praise) to the nine; A cat has nine lives; be dressed up to the nines; on cloud nine. From the idioms, we can guess that the figure “nine”in English may have the meaning of “much or many”.
4.2.2. Cultural Connotations of Figures Related to Religions
The cultural connotations of most figures in English are associated with religions, especially with Christianity and the Bible. According to the Bible, Judas is the thirteenth disciple of Jesus and he betrays Jesus in the Last Supper. As a result, Jesus is handcuffed and later nailed to death on the Cross for the betrayal of Judas. It is the story that causes the evil and unlucky indication of “thirteen” in the English culture3. Just as the Chinese people fear the figure “four”, the English people always avoid the figure thirteenth in their daily lives. For instance, there is no thirteenth floor in a
building. Every month, common people don’t like to arrange important affairs on the thirteenth day.
Other examples are about the figure “three” and “seven”. The mysterious cultural connotations of “three” in English are related to the religious tradition of the Christian Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). Because of this theory, Westerners are fond of the figure “three”. They are used to dividing the quantity or the development process of things into three parts so as to be propitious. They believe that the world is composed of earth, ocean and heaven. It is often said, “The third time’s the charm”. “All good things go by threes” is a saying in the drama of William Shakespeare1. The figure “seven”is used to express happy implications originating from Christianity. According to the accounts in “the Creation”, Jehovah spends seven days creating things2. There are many other expressions with “seven” related to Christianity: seven virtues; seven deadly sins; the seven sacraments; the seven spiritual works of mercy, etc. Besides, the figure “seven”is similar to “heaven”both in handwriting and pronunciation, which is another reason that Westerners are fond of it. For example, “In one’s seventh heaven”means “one is very happy”.
The early Christian symbolists think that the figure “four”is the symbol of evangelist, symbolizing “unity, toughness and stability”. “F our horsemen” originating from New Testament of the Bible, and Revelationre refers to war, death, dearth and plague. Recorded in the Bible, New Testament, Matthew, the story of Noah’s ark tells that only eight people survive by the magic ship, so the figure “eight” means luck3.
The figure “six”and “five”do not seem very welcome to English-speaking people. According to the Bible, “six” is a terrible figure and it is a symbol of demon. Idioms with it are always derogatory. For example, at sixes and sevens; hit sb. for six; six to one; six of the best; six penny; six of one and half a dozen of the other, etc4. It records in the Bible that human ancestors, Adam and Eve, are banished from the Garden of Eden on Friday, so people call it Black Friday. People fear that unfortunate
3成昭伟,周丽红,88, 91 。。