Examples of Metaphor Translation

2020-07-20 12:02
A few days ago, a Project Manager told me that a book we translated last year was finally published. Upon hearing the news, all the memories about the project came back to me vividly, even though a whole year has passed. This is because the TEP (Translation, Editing and Proofreading) process was full of twists and turns, which could not be easily forgotten. The translation draft was revised many times by linguists either on our side or on the client’s side, including the translator and me as the editor. One of the revisions made by the client that I recall most clearly is about the following sentence:

“Speed is one of the most effective arrows in the disruptor’s quiver.”

Our translation is “速度是颠覆者的箭筒中最有效的一支箭矢。”
The client’s revised version is “速度是颠覆者手中的王牌。”

The source contains two metaphoric images (i.e. “arrows” and “quiver”) and we kept them in our translation. However, the client replaced these images with “a trump card” for “arrows” and “disruptor’s hands” for “disruptor’s quiver”. Why did he do so? To help understand the reason for such revision and thus further improve our future translation, I will, in light of related theories, analyze this and several more examples of metaphor translation taken from my everyday work in this article.

Based on common classification of text types, the book we translated should be considered as technical information but not as literature. For translation of such informative book, it is more important to convey the information it contains rather than to reflect the language forms and images it uses.

According to Munday (as cited in Ye Zi’nan, 2013), there are generally three types of text, and different translation methods should be used for each of them.

Source: A Course in Cognitive Metaphor and Translation, Ye Zi’nan

Munday’s classification of these three text types, namely Informative, Expressive and Operative, is easy to understand.

For example, most of the documents that our company translates are Informative. Literary works, especially poems, are Expressive. Advertisements, slogans, etc., can be considered as Operative.

In the above table, the “Translation method" row indicates that the translation of Informative text should be plain and explicit. In terms of plainness and explicitness, “a trump card in the disruptor’s hands” used in the client’s revision sounds more straightforward than “the most effective arrows in the disruptor’s quiver” in our original translation. Besides, “effective arrows” is a weird collocation in Chinese. These two reasons may justify the client’s substitution of the image “a trump card” for the image “arrows.”

The Functional Equivalence Theory (Nida, 1982) also insists that, in translation, equivalence of language functions is more important than that of language forms. As the book we translated serves as an introduction to the concept of digital disruption for the general population, a widely used expression is more acceptable and easier to understand as far as the audience is concerned.

All in all, for translation of such informative book, readability should be prioritized over language forms, and there is not too much need to retain a metaphor for the sake of metaphor.

In fact, as George Lakoff says in Metaphors We Live By “Metaphor is so ordinary.....”, we can find metaphors everywhere. For example, here is a sentence that I came across in a translated file I reviewed this morning:

“At Cisco Live San Diego, we announced the next chapter of Intent-Based Networking with the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to enable predictive assurance and multidomain integrations to provide end-to-end security, segmentation, and application experience.”

Our translation is: 在圣地亚哥 Cisco Live 大会上,我们宣布基于意图的网络翻开了新篇章,可以使用人工智能 (AI) 实现预测性保证和多域集成,以提供端到端安全、分段和应用体验。
In this example, "announced the next chapter" is a metaphor. We have a very similar expression in Chinese - “turn to a new chapter”, so even though this is also an Informative type of text, we can just keep the metaphor. Optionally, it is also acceptable to discard the metaphor as long as the same meaning is conveyed to the readers.

The metaphors mentioned above are quite obvious, but some other ones may not be that easy to identify.
For instance, last month I edited a translated transcript for a technical video. One of the speakers in the video used the phrase “double-click” frequently. I thought that she did not mean to click something twice based on the context, but most dictionaries I checked give no more other explanations for it.

The on-line Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines double-click as follows:
“Double-click: to choose (something on a computer screen) by quickly pressing a button on a computer mouse or other device two times
“Double-click the icon to start the program.”

This definition does not apply to many sentences that contain the phrase in the video. For example, in the following sentence:
“Just double-clicking a little bit on the FlexConnect over the top, which is highlighted in red, is only because it's not supported today.”
How could someone click something a little bit? It seems to me you can either double-click or not double-click, but you simply cannot “double-clicking a little bit” if the phrase means to press a button twice. Another evidence to support my suspicion is that the speaker did no click anything when she uttered this phrase in the live demonstration. Since I could neither find other definition for this phrase, nor understand the video based on the only definition given by the dictionaries I consulted,
I raised a query to the client: "Does ‘double-clicking’ here mean to click the mouse or is it just used figuratively? Actually, it seems the speaker did not double click anything in the demo. We guess it actually means to double check or to emphasize. Please confirm.”

Two weeks later, the client replied, "It is a figure of speech here - it's a new phrase folks are using - emphasize is correct."

The reply verified our assumption that the phrase “double-click” is a metaphor here, and it is a new usage that has become popular only recently. To avoid confusion, we then translated the phrase as “to emphasize” rather than as “to press a button twice.”

Also in this video, I came across another metaphorical sentence:

“And these will be ships in the night, so my red can't talk to my green.”

For the term “ships in the night”, the following search results are given on Google:

“The idiom [is] at least over 150 years old. It is written in Tales of a Wayside Inn, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1863, where it reads:

“‘Ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing, Only a signal shown and a distant voice in the darkness; So on the ocean of life, we pass and speak one another, Only a look and a voice, then darkness again and a silence.’”

“Ships in the night” is an idiom from Henry Wordsworth ·Longfellow, a famous American poet and educator in the 19th century.  It depicts the scenario of ships meeting each other at sea in the night.
The Wiki dictionary gives the following explanation for this idiom:
ships that pass in the night (plural only)
1. (simile) Two or more people who encounter one another in a transitory, incidental manner and whose relationship is without lasting significance; two or more people who almost encounter one another, but do not do so.  
2. (by extension) Things which have no significant connection or commonality.  
It has three variants:
ships in the night
ships passing in the night
ships that passed in the night

According to the explanation given above, the second entry of Wiki dictionary in particular, the idiom used this example means that the three VNs have no connection with each other so that they cannot communication with each other. It has nothing to do with whether the VNs are operating in night or not though our first assumption is that the idiom in the example means these VNs are operating in night.
If we want to keep the metaphor in our translation, we’d better include the above background information. Otherwise, the Chinese audience would need to pause to figure out the actual meaning of it, which would cause inconvenience to them because the translation shown on the screen is transient and would be replaced quickly by other sentences as the video moves on.

In the broad sense of metaphor, there is another special type called synecdoche. It is “a figure of speech in which a term for a part of something refers to the whole of something or vice versa.” (Wikipedia)
For example:
Also in one of the documents I edited, I ran to the word “hand” in the following sentence:

Policy extension to the data center: Through the use of Cisco’s ACI controller, security policies can be extended to the data center for “core to hand” protection.
Our initial translation was: 将策略扩展至数据中心:通过使用思科 ACI 控制器,可将安全策略扩展到数据中心,以实现“核心到手”保护。

I thought most readers would be confused if we directly keep the image “hand” in our translation.
So I searched on Google, and found a sentence relevant to this context:
“The combination of Mandiant and nPulse, along with its own technology, gives FireEye a broad security framework now that can gather and analyze data from the core of the network to the hand of a user.”

This sentence inspired me that “hand” here must refer to people. But, what kind of people? On networks, the people that account for a majority part and need to be protected are users. Administrators and technical engineers frequently used in the IT related files can also be categorised as users. So to avoid doubt of readers, I replaced “hand” with “users: in our translation.

This article is written to analyze a few metaphors I came across during my recent work. My approach to translating these metaphors can be wrapped up into 3 general rules:
1.Generally, for Informative text, which accounts for a great percentage in my work, it is not necessary to keep the metaphors used in the source. Especially when keeping a metaphor in our translation would impair the readability of it, we should prioritize transmission of meaning over keeping these metaphors, such as “arrows” and “hand” in previous examples.
2.Notwithstanding the foregoing, some metaphoric images (such as “next chapter” in one of the examples) have the same meaning in Chinese, so they can be retained in our translation. In this case, we do not need to seek other images or expressions.
3.In the process of translation, if some phrases do not make sense based on their original meaning or dictionary explanation, we may consider whether they are idioms and whether they are used metaphorically, and verify our assumption by raising a query to the clients or do more research work by ourselves.

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