Metaphors of Translation
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METAPHORS OF TRANSLATIONTan Zaixi aa Hong Kong Baptist University , Hong KongPublished online: 05 Jan 2009.
To cite this article: Tan Zaixi (2006) METAPHORS OF TRANSLATION, Perspectives: Studies in Translatology,14:1, 40-54, DOI: 10.1080/09076760608669016
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09076760608669016
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METAPHORS OF TRANSLATION
Tan Zaixi, Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kongthtan@hkbu.edu.hk
AbstractThe study described in the present article investigates Chinese and Western metaphors of
translation that have appeared since antiquity and which illustrate the central role of metaphors in descriptions of translation. The article discusses more than 270 Chinese and English language metaphors from descriptive as well as diachronic and synchronic points of view. It analyses the issues metaphors give rise to, and offers in-depth analyses and discussions of how metaphors can provide us with insights on the ways in which we see translation.
Key words: Chinese-English; metaphors of translation; history of translation; images of translation; Western metaphors; Chinese metaphors.
IntroductionFrom the very beginning of discussions on the nature of translation, meta-
phors have been part of the vocabulary that translation scholars and translators used for describing translation work.1 Among the earliest metaphors of transla-tion in the Western tradition were Ciceros pronouncement in De optimo genere oratorum (46 B.C.) that he translated as an eloquent orator and not as a literal interpreter (ut interpres), and Philos comparison of the translators of the Sep-tuagint to prophets and priests of my mysteries in his De vita Mosis (20 B.C.). The earliest figurative uses of language on translation in the Chinese tradition included the famous fourth-century Buddhist translator Kumrajvas compari-son of translating to feeding someone with masticated food (. My translation) and that a translation was a bottle of diluted wine, a view held by his contemporary, Dao-an (. My translation. Dao-an 382).
Throughout the centuries different forms of metaphors have been used in translational discourse, in both China and the West. In this article, the term metaphors of translation is the term used for a broad semantic spectrum in which any form of comparison, be they metaphors or similes, are used to de-scribe translation or aspects related to it. It comprises the act, the process or the product of translation, as well as the role of the author, the translator, the recipi-ent, and so on.
However, despite their widespread use in translational discourse, metaphors of translation have not attracted much attention as the object of specific and sys-tematic study. Nevertheless, the very use of metaphors for translation or trans-lation-related issues, illustrates that metaphors are created for some underly-ing reason and that they thus relate to fundamental issues about the nature of translation, its principles, and the approaches and methods adopted in the act of translation.
In metaphors in which translation is compared to painting and drawing (e. g. Bruni 1424; Dryden 1685; Fu 1951), users clearly consider translation as an art where resemblance in spirit is much more important than resemblance in form. When the translator is compared to a prophet (Philo 20 B.C.), a morn-
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2006 Tan ZaixiVol. 14, No. 1, 2006
ing star (Herder 1766-1767), or a bridge (Goethe 1824; Wang 1979) and so on, the users emphasise that translation primarily aims at or leads to the intro-duction of new ideas, new knowledge, or new patterns of thought and culture. In the same fashion, when the translator is compared to a slave or a servant (e.g. Pasquier 1576), or a lying matchmaker (e.g. Lu 1935; Mao 1934), or when some type of translation is compared to a beautiful but unfaithful woman (Mnage 1690 [?], cited in Tan 2004: 88), this implies that translations should be absolutely faithful to the source texts, that the translator is not trustworthy, and that no compromise is possible between the faithful and the beautiful.
The purpose of the present study is to explore metaphors of translation in a systematic way. Employing comparative as well as diachronic and synchronic approaches, the study analyses Chinese and Western metaphors of translation, classifies them, and discusses their implications at various linguistic and socio-cultural levels. At the end, I shall summarise the conclusions, especially in terms of their significance to the overall appreciation of the Chinese and Western tra-ditions of translation, as well as our understanding and vision of the develop-ment of Translation Studies in the 21st century.
The typology of metaphors of translationThe term metaphors of translation, then, refers to figures of speech used
about translation. They imply that translation, translators, etc, are compared to something else, be it an activity or a phenomenon. Since metaphors make use of analogy and images in describing translation, they often reveal much more about the activity than does plain, non-metaphorical language.
In a narrow sense, one can only term statements which involve the use of im-ages for comparison as metaphors of translation, such as the images as paint-ing, drawing, etc. cited above.
Here, I shall, however, use the term whenever the description or definition of translation comprises some kind of comparison, no matter whether there is any image involved or whether the comparison is explicit or implied. Thus, when it is said that translation is an art, this is a metaphor about the nature of translation although art is not an image in itself. But of course, it involves a presupposition, namely that translation is not an art form in the same way as painting, music, and drama.
The distinction is difficult: according to dictionary definitions, art means the creation or expression of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreci-ated primarily for their beauty or emotional power (The Oxford Dictionary of English); it refers to that ideological form of human society which includes literature, painting, sculpture, architecture, music, ballet, drama, film, folk art forms, etc.(Xiandai hanyu cidian [Modern Chinese Dictionary]). Therefore, pro-vided literature is defined as an art form, and we equate literary translation with literary creation or re-creation, then the expression Translation is an art is not a metaphor about translation, but merely a statement about an indisput-able fact. But if, conversely, one is mainly thinking of such visual or audio-vis-ual arts as painting, sculpture, dancing and music when one uses the term art, then the statement Translation is an art can be treated as a metaphor of translation.
Tan. Metaphors of Translation. 41
Using the broader definition, the study in hand has included more than 200 books and articles in English and Chinese that contain metaphors. This has yielded 270 metaphors of translation; 156 are from English sources and 114 from the Chinese language, including some based on Chinese translations of metaphors that originated in the West.
The English material also comprises statements from other Western languages such as French, German, and Latin. Therefore many of the Western metaphors included here are not only from se