Literal translation vs Free translation


校园英语·下旬 2018年9期

【Abstract】This article analyzes the differences between literal translation and free translation in English, and explores the different cultural connotations they have. First, I took two movies as examples to illustrate that different ways of translation can lead to different understandings and even cause misunderstandings. Then, I use my hometown local snacks “Jiu Niang Yuan Zi” and “Dan Qing Yang Wei” as examples. We need to use the appropriate translation to make local snacks to show the local culture.

【Key words】literal translation; free translation; food culture; Western culture


There is no doubt that Chinese and Western cultures have great difference in their way of thinking and language expression. So, English translation has become a bridge to solve the cultural exchange. However, there also have distinctions between literal translation and free translation in cultural exchanges, each of them contains different cultural connotations.

In the documentary Sky Ladder, the artist, Cai Guoqiang, translates “Huo Yao” into “fire medicine”, instead of “gunpowder”. From the word “gunpowder”, we can see that it has been widely used in the war for its lethality and deterrence. It is a symbol of hot weapons and violence. But in Mr.Cais heart, “fire medicine” is an art that creates beauty, not violence. This translation gives the initial meaning of “fire medicine”: a chemical that can be burned by sparks and flames. This is exactly why Mr.Cai uses fire medicine to achieve his explosion art.

As for Ang Lees film title “Drink, Eat, Man, Woman ”, he uses a literal translation method to explain the title, which belongs to Chinglish. In my opinion, western audiences may not be able to understand the true meaning of the title, they just understand it literally thinking this movie is about some peoples stories about food. Actually, this title is from Confucius, one of the Chinese famous thinkers, it means “Dining and intercourse between male and female are the most basic and important requirement”, refers to the human nature. Western audiences are not much familiar with Chinese culture. Hence, they will not try to understand the connotation of the title. They only consider it as a gourmet movie.

As can be seen from the above two examples, there is indeed a great difference between literal translation and free translation. Different ways of translation can lead to different understandings and even cause misunderstandings. Literal translation conveys the original meanings and reflects the original styles. Free translation can make sentences more natural and smooth. We ought to choose the appropriate translation according to the actual situation, enable the East and West people can understand each others language and culture.Meanwhile, there are also some cases in my hometown, Taizhou, to show the proper use of literal translation and free translation.

As we all know, local snacks and local culture has a very close relationship.Therefore, food culture has played a significant role in cultural exchanges, we need to use the appropriate translation to make local snacks to show the local culture. “Jiu Niang Yuan Zi” is a kind of snacks in Taizhou, some people translate it into “Sweet Custard”, which belongs to free translation. Although this translation is correct, but I think it is more appropriate to translate it into “Glutinous Rice Dumpling in Sweet Rice Wine”. It is named based on raw materials. Hearing the name, we seem to feel the smell of wine and glutinous rice. It has a fragrance of wine and glutinous rice. When westerners hear that, they can directly know what it is and its characteristics.

The other tasty snack is “Dan Qing Yang Wei”, it also has two translations. One is the “Sweet Pudding”, this name reflects the western style, because pudding is a British traditional food. Thus, this name is not suitable to use in the cultural exchange, which does not give expression to the cultural characteristics of the region. However, it is also called:“Egg White Sheep Tail”. This translation uses a method combining shape and raw material. The name says it all: This snack is made of egg white, and its shape likes a sheeps tail. In this way, the name not only retains the shape of the snack, but also makes people know what to eat.

In general, if you choose to use literal translation and free translation in an advisable way, the translation can convey the correct meaning what we really want to say, reflect the countrys culture, and will avoid misunderstandings.


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