Animal Metaphors: A Challenge for Translators - Part 2

August 28th, 2016

How people perceive certain animals in different cultures is another major challenge.

Animal Metaphors: A Challenge for Translators - Part 2 | One Hour Translation

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2: The Way We Perceive Animals

How people perceive certain animals in different cultures is another major challenge. The cow is a perfect example of this. Cows have been reared for thousands of years around the world for their meat, milk, and skin, and the cow is considered to be of great value to the economy of many countries. In countries like the United Kingdom and the United States, calling a woman a ‘cow’ is a derogatory term. However, if you were to do the same in India you could well be thanked for the compliment! The reason is that, across most of India, cows are considered to be harmless and gentle.

Similarly, depending on which part of the world you’re from, a reference to chickens, camels, wallabies, or even llamas could have a completely different connotation. As you can see, there are vital considerations to be made when translating animal metaphors: some metaphors will have no reference points at all in your target language, and others will have an entirely different meaning. Both of these are challenges for any translator, because when you lose the meaning of a metaphor it means you end up with a gap in communication.

3: Maintaining the Accuracy of Meaning

The point of accuracy comes up very often when discussing the translation of medical terminology, and it’s the same with legal translations. Every possible means must be employed to convey the exact meaning of the source language into the target language, ensuring that the accuracy of meaning is maintained. And it’s exactly the same with animal metaphors: the translator must convey the exact same sentiment by employing every means at their disposal. This is what creates the greatest challenge for translators – achieving relevance in the target language by maintaining the accuracy of the source language.

The following are questions that translators should ask themselves after a thorough perusal of the material –

  • Do I really understand what the author’s trying to convey?
  • Do I need to take into consideration any references to unique cultural concepts?
  • If the answer to this question is yes, does the target language have equivalent comparisons that will convey the same meaning?
  • Could I employ better alternatives to bring out the essence of the source material in the target document?

Being able to answer these questions will give you confidence in the translation process. It’s true that one of the most challenging hurdles faced by translators is animal metaphors. With legal or medical translations it generally comes down to a matter of accuracy; however, with animal metaphors, the translator must convey emotional content across both lingual and cultural barriers. 

We often see similar challenges when translating poetry: the reason the content is so appealing with prose poetry, or poetry, lies in the writer’s use of metaphors and other literary devices, and animal metaphors play a large role in this process. For a translator to preserve the integrity of a document they must maintain an accurate and relevant translation of both the subtle and gross emotions evoked by using animal metaphors.

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