Metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them. For example, “The high-rise garbage repository is a metaphor for both accomplishment and failure”(Richard Sever) or “All the world’s a stage”(Shakespeare).
Either in English speaking countries and China, metaphor can be traced from the old old ages. Specifically, Chinese and English languages possess different metaphors based on their respective culture. Understanding the differential metaphorical extensions between the two languages, English to Chinese translators could improve the quality of their Chinese translations, and also move on to an upper level of appreciating the differences between these two languages and cultures. Really meaningful, isn’t it?
In my opinion, metaphor beautifies languages. for example, “雨后春笋” equals to “spring up” in English, meaning a fast speed. If we simply put something grow at a fast speed in a literal work, it would be quite plain and less attractive. However, if we attach the four-character Chinese phrase before a verb, it embellishes the process and unfolds an image before us.
We can imagine how fast it is. In the application of translation, identifying and matching metaphors could far be easy as both English and Chinese have their own symbol system of metaphor. In English, the word “chicken” is often used for describing someone cowardly and fearful, such as “Don’t be a chicken”, while in Chinese, mouse has the similar meaning and usage, like “胆小如鼠”.
Therefore, we could match these two words to give a vivid and clear image to local readers even in translated article. Or, do you know the meaning of phrase “carry coals to Newcastle”？Without the background information, it is hard for Chinese translators to figure out the exact meaning.
As Newcastle is an industrial city where coal can be seen all around, carrying coals to Newcastle is useless and will get less in return. In Chinese, can we put it with “多此一举” or “徒劳无功”?
Also in Chinese, we could locate quite a number of metaphors known to natives, many of which are originated from traditional story and I will not spare more words on this part. However, could you find the Chinese equivalents for the following English phrases with historical or cultural context, “meet one’s Waterloo”, “the milky way”, “be all Greek to her”, “someone’s face be the moon”, “be a rock”, or the sentence “Hollywood has always been an irresistible, prefabricated metaphor for the crass, the materialistic, the shallow, and the craven” (Neal Gabler)?
If you still remember the history lesson about Napoleon (the French emperor) in high school, it might be not that hard to understand the phrase “meet one’s Waterloo”. Just like Napoleon met his final defeat in the Battle of Waterloo (June 18, 1815), someone meeting his Waterloo faces with final and crushing defeat. But “the milky way” is generated from another way.
In some Greek myth, Queen Hera fed the strong warrior Hercules by dripping milk on the road leading into the palace in the universe; hence, it refers to the galaxy. As to “be all Greek to her”, it means something is incomprehensible or unintelligible to someone, as mysterious as Greek writing.
The mentioned phrases or sentences with metaphor are just the tip of an iceberg, more interesting and shining language are waiting for you to explore while translating.