To Foreignize or To Domesticate
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Abstract1: Domesticating translation and foreignizing translation are two 
different translation strategies. The former refers to the translation 
strategy in which a transparent, fluent style is adopted in order to minimize 
the strangeness of the foreign text for target language readers, while 
the latter designates the type of translation in which a target text deliberately 
breaks target conventions by retaining something of the foreigness of the 
original. But what is the translation practice like in China? Do translators 
tend to use foreignizing methods or domesticating ones? What are the factors 
that affect their decision making? This paper tries to find answers to 
the questions by looking into the translation of English metaphors into 

Key words: domesticating translation; foreignizing translation; metaphor; 

language reader 

1. Introduction 

"Domesticating translation" and "foreignizing translation" are the terms 
coined by L. Venuti (1995) to describe the two different translation strategies. 
The former refers to the translation strategy in which a transparent, fluent 
style is adopted in order to minimize the strangeness of the foreign text 
for target language readers, while the latter designates the type of translation 
in which a target text "deliberately breaks target conventions by retaining 
something of the foreigness of the original" (Shuttleworth &Cowie, 1997:59). 

The roots of the terms can be traced back to the German philosopher Schleiermacher’s 
argument that there are only two different methods of translation, " either 
the translator leaves the author in peace, as much as possible, and moves 
the reader towards him; or he leaves the reader in peace, as much as possible, 
and moves the author towards him" (Venuti, 1995: 19-20). 

The terms "foreignization" and "domestication" may be new to the Chinese, 
but the concepts they carry have been at least for a century at the heart 
of most translation controversies. Lu Xun (鲁迅) once said that "before 
translating, the translator has to make a decision : either to adapt the 
original text or to retain as much as possible the foreign flavour of the 
original text" (Xu, in Luo, 1984: 315).  

But what is the translation practice like in China? Recently I have read 
two articles which show completely conflicting views on this question. 
In his article entitled "Chinese and Western Thinking On Translation", 
A. Lefevere makes a generalization based on his comparison of Chinese and 
Western thinking on translation,  

When Chinese translates texts produced by Others outside its boundaries, 
it translates these texts in order to replace them, pure and simple. The 

take the place of the original. They function as the original in the culture 
to the extent  

that the original disappear behind the translations. (Bassnett & Lefevere, 

However, Fung and Kiu have drawn quite different conclusions from their 
investigation of metaphor translation between English and Chinese, 

Our comparison of the two sets of data showed that in the case of the English 

the image often than not retained, whereas with the Chinese metaphors, 
substitution is  

frequently used. [...] One reason perhaps is that the Chinese audience 
are more familiar with  

and receptive to Western culture than the average English readers is to 
Chinese culture. (Fung, 1995) 

The above conflicting views aroused my interest in finding out whether 
the Chinese tend to domesticate or to foreignize when they translate a 
foreign text. In what follows I shall not compare translation by Western 
and Chinese translators, but rather look into the translation of English 
metaphors into Chinese. 

2. What is Metaphor? 

The Random House Unabridged Dictionary (second addition) defines metaphor 
as "a figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something 
to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest a resemblance." 
While according to BBC English Dictionary, "metaphor is a way of describing 
something by saying that it is something else which has the qualities that 
you are trying to describe."  

Peter Newmark defines metaphor as "any figurative expression: the transferred 
sense of a physical word; the personification of an abstraction; the application 
of a word or collocation to what it does not literally denote, i.e., to 
describe one thing in terms of another. [...] Metaphors may be ’single’ 
-- viz. one-word -- or ’extended’ (a collocation, an idiom, a sentence, 
a proverb, an allegory, a complete imaginative text" (1988b:104).  

Snell-Hornby rejects Newmark’s concept of the "one-word metaphor" in favour 
of Weinrich’s definition that "metaphor is text" (1988:56). She believes 
that a metaphor is a complex of (at least) three dimensions (object, image 
and sense), reflecting the tension between resemblance and  

disparity" (1988: 56-57).  

This paper will follow the idea that "metaphor is text" which includes 
an idiom, a sentence, a proverb and an allegory. 

3. What has been said about the translation of metaphor? 

"In contrast to the voluminous literature on metaphor in the field of literary 
criticism and rhetoric, the translation of metaphor has been largely neglected 
by translation theorists" (Fung, 1995). In his article "Can metaphor be 
translatable?", which is regarded as an initial discussion of the subject, 
Dagut says, 

"What determines the translatability of a source language metaphor is not 
its ’boldness’ or ’originality’, but rather the extent to which the cultural 
experience and semantic  

associations on which it draws are shared by speakers of the particular 
target language"  


Snell-Hornby takes metaphor translation in the light of the integrated 
approach. She says that 

The sense of the metaphor is frequently culture-specific, [...] Whether 
a metaphor is  

’translatable’ (i.e. whether a literal translation could recreate identical 
dimensions), how  

difficult it is to translate, how it can be translated and whether it should 
be translated at all  

cannot be decided by a set of abstract rules, but must depend on the structure 
and function of  

the particular metaphor within the text concerned ". (1988: 56-9) 

van den Broeck conceives the treatment of metaphors as a functional relevancy 
to the communicative situation (1981). Mary Fung also considers translating 
metaphor as a communicative event which is both interlingual and intercultural 

Different from the semantic, cultural and functional perspectives mentioned 
above, Newmark holds a more pragmatic approach. Drawing on his practical 
experience, he proposes several procedures for translating metaphor: (1) 
Reproducing the same image in the target language; (2)  

Replacing the SL image with another established TL image; (3) Replacing 
the metaphor by simile; (4) Retaining the metaphor and adding the sense; 
(5) Converting the metaphor to sense; (6) Omitting the metaphor if it is 

Discussions of the subject, especially those written in Chinese, are also 
pragmatic rather than theoretical. In E-C Translation Coursebook (1980 
) which is the most widely used translation textbook in China, Zhang Peiji 
(张培基) and his co-compilers summarized three popular methods for translating 
metaphors: (1) Literal translation (similar to Newmark’s first procedure); 
(2) Replacing the SL image with a standard TL image (similar to Newmark’s 
second procedure); (3) Converting the metaphor to sense (Same as Newmark’s 
fifth procedure).  

Based on the methods suggested by Zhang and his colleagues, Guo Zhuzhang 
(郭著章) proposes five in A Practical Coursebook in Translation Between 
English and Chinese (1996, revised edition): (1) Literal translation plus 
explanation; (2) Literal translation plus meaning; (3) Adapting the metaphor; 
(4) Using Chinese couplets to render the English metaphor; (5) Replacing 
the SL image with a TL image.

4. How Are Metaphors Translated? 

The above methods, envisaged as guidelines for the translation students 
as well as the practical translators, are quite exhaustive of rendering 
the metaphor. Which of the methods of translation are actually domesticating 
and which ones foreignizing? In the following section I will cite some 
examples of metaphor translation from two translation textbooks, two dictionaries 
and two articles as the source for the analysis. 

4.1 Examples 

Examples are cited from: (1) E-C Translation Coursebook (1980) by Zhang 
Peiji (张培基) et al., (2) A Practical Coursebook in Translation Between 
English and Chinese (1996, revised edition) by Guo Zhuzhang (郭著章) et 
al., (3) The English-Chinese Dictionary (1993,Unabridged) by Lu Gusun (陆谷孙,chief 
editor), (4) Longman English-Chinese Dictionary of English Idioms (1995) 
by Li Yinhua (李荫华) et al. (revisers of translation), (5) "Free translation, 
literal translation and word-for-word translation" (1981) by Feng Shize 
(冯世则), and (6) "Pragmatics and translation" (1994) by He Ziran (何自然). 

Example 1 

But I hated Sakamoto, and I had a feeling he’d surely lead us both to our 

但是我恨阪本,并预感到他肯定会领着咱们去见祖先。 (Zhang,1980: 12)。 

(My back translation: But I ... he’d surely lead us to see our ancestors.) 

Example 2 

Hitler was armed to the teeth when he launched the Second World War, but 
in a few years, he  

was completely defeated.  


(Zhang,1980: 13) (Back translation: Hitler was armed to the teeth ...) 

Example 3 

He walked at the head of the funeral procession, and every now and then 
wiped away his  

crocodile tears with a big handkerchief. 

他走在送葬队伍的前头,还不时用一条大手绢抹去他那鳄鱼的眼泪。 (Feng , 1981) 

(Back translation: He walked ... his crocodile tears ...) 

Example 4 

Among the blind the one-eyed man is king.  

山中没老虎,猴子称霸王。(Guo & Li, 1996: 183) 

(My back translation: The monkey reigns in the mountains when there is 
no tiger there.) 

Example 5 

Talk/Speak of the devil (and he will appear). 

说到曹操,曹操就到。(Lu, 1993: 463) 

(My back translation: Talk of Caocao, and he will appear.) 

Example 6 

Peter does annoy me, coming around here all the time. Oh, talk of the devil! 
That’s probably  

him at the door now. 

彼得真令我讨厌,老是到这儿来。哦,说鬼鬼到!在门口的可能就是他。(Li , 1995: 

(My back translation: ... Oh, speak of the devil, and he will appear.) 

Example 7 

One boy is a boy, two boys half a boy, three boys no boy. 

一个和尚挑水吃,两个和尚抬水吃,三个和尚没水吃。 (Zhang, 162) 

(My back translation: One Buddhist monk carries water for himself, two 
monks carry water  

together, three monks have no water to drink.) 

Example 8 

Every family is said to have at least one skeleton in the cupboard. 

据说家家户户至少也有一桩家丑。(Feng, 1981) 

(My back translation: Every family is said to ... family scandal.) 

Example 9 

A skeleton in the cupboard/ closet 

衣柜里的骷髅, 见不得人的事儿 (He, 1994) 

(My back translation: a skeleton in the closet, something not fit to be 

Example 10 

To carry coals to Newcastle 


注:"纽卡索" 是英国的一个产煤中心地,运煤到此是多余的事。 (Zhang, 1980:163-4) 

(My back translation: To carry coals to Newcastle, making an unnecessary 

Example 11 

The teenagers don’t invite Bob to their parties because he is a wet blanket. 

青少年们不邀请鲍勃参加他们的聚会因为他是一个令人扫兴的人。(Zhang, 1980: 

(My back translation: The ... because he is a disappointment.) 

Example 12 

She was born with a silver spoon in her mouth; she thinks she can do what 
she likes. 

她生长在富贵之家,认为凡事都可以随心所欲。 (Zhang, 1980: 163) 

(My back translation: She was born in a wealthy family....) 

Example 13 

He who keeps company wtih the wolf will learn to howl" 

近朱者赤,近墨者黑。 (Guo, 1996: 183) 

(My back translation: He who touches vermillion will be reddened, and he 
who deals with  

ink will be blackened.) 

Example 14 

Great men are not always wise. 

人有失手日,马有失蹄时。(Guo, 1996: 182-3) 

(My back translation: Men will make mistakes, horses all stumble.) 

4.2 Analysis 

The analysis is based on the following five common translation methods: 
(1) Literal translation (retaining the same image in the target language); 
(2) Replacing the SL image with a standard TL image; (3) Literal translation 
plus sense and explanation; (4) Converting the metaphor to meaning; (5) 
Using Chinese couplets to replace the English metaphor. 

Metaphors in examples 1, 2, 3 and 6 are translated literally. The aim of 
literal translation is to retain the national or local colour, the original 
images as well as the foreign expressions so as to enrich the target language 
. (Zhang, 1980: 161). "To his ancestors" (Example 1) "去见祖先" , is a 
euphemism for "to die". This expression is vivid and easy for the ordinary 
Chinese reader to understand. "Armed to the teeth" (Example 2) "武装到牙齿" 
sounds a bit exaggerating but very impressive. The image of a person armed 
to the teeth is so picturesque that it is hard for the target language 
reader to forget. This literal translation has been widely accepted since 
New China was established.  

"A more common procedure for translating metaphors is to replace the SL 
image with another established TL image, if one exists that is equally 
frequent within the register" (Newmark, 1988: 109). The proverbs in examples 
4,5, and 7, are all adapted into Chinese versions, replacing the SL images 
with TL images which are familiar to the Chinese reader. These Chinese 
images are widely different from but similar in sense to the original ones 
. Perhaps it is all right to render the proverb in example 4 "among the 
blind the one-eyed man is king" literally into "盲人之中单眼汉为王", because 
the meaning as well as the image is clear. But the proverb "One boy is 
a boy, two boys half a boy, three boys no boy" is a concept rather than 
an image, if it is translated literally, it would be wordy and may not 
be able to impress the Chinese reader as strongly as the converted version. 

There has been some arguments about the translation of the metaphorical 
saying "Talking of the devil, and he will appear". Some (Zhang, 1980; Lu, 
1993) believe that it is acceptable to convert it into "说到曹操,曹操就到" 
because this figurative expression is known to all, while others (Guo, 
1996; Li, 1995) think that Caocao is a national figure in the Chinese history 
who represents certain features of the Chinese culture. If the original 
text is about western culture and western people, it would be inappropriate 
to bring CaoCao into the scene. Perhaps that is why Li and his colleagues 
decided to translate it literally into "说鬼鬼到" ( Example 6).  

The translation method applied to metaphors in examples 8, 11 and 12 is 
"free translation" (the usual Chinese term) or in Newmark’s words, converting 
the metaphor to sense. To the Chinese reader, the image of "a skeleton 
in the cupboard", may mean ugly, horrible and frightening; "a wet blanket" 
is merely a blanket which is soaked with water, and "a silver spoon" is 
just a spoon different from a china spoon. They may not be able to understand 
the referential meanings these images carry in the metaphors. Most probably 
for this reason the metaphors are all converted to sense, to more general 
expressions, "family scandal" (家丑) , "a disappointment" (令人扫兴的人) 
and "a wealthy family"(富贵之家) which are abstract concepts rather than 
concrete images. Snell Hornby is right in saying that "as an abstract concept, 
metaphor might be universal; in its concrete realization however, being 
closely linked with sensuous perception and culture-bound value judgments, 
it is undoubtedly complicated by language-specific idiosyncrasies" (1988: 

The metaphor in Example 9 is the same as that in Example 8, but is treated 
differently. Actually, there has been some arguments about the translation 
of this metaphorical phrase. In an article written in 1981, Feng Shize 
says that if the English idiom "skeleton in the cupboard" is translated 
literally into "衣柜里的骷髅", the Chinese reader might not understand 
what it means, so he suggested to render it to sense. In another article 
written later in the same year, Xu Shigu (徐世谷) does not subscribe to 
Feng’s opinion. He argues that if the first translator of the metaphor 
"the crocodile’s tears" thought in the same way as Feng, the Chinese reader 
would not have been able to understand the image, neither could the expression 
be able to get into the Chinese vocabulary. Xu proposed translating it 
literally plus meaning or explanation. But it took a long time for people 
to accept the "skeleton" image:. In the English-Chinese Dictionary (unabridged) 
, the standard dictionary of this kind in China, the translation of the 
metaphor is nearly the same as Feng’s. It was not until 1992 had the "the 
skeleton" image been directly brought into the Chinese culture, although 
with a brief interpretation to reveal its implied meaning (see Example 

The translation of "To carry coals to Newcastle" indicates another common 
problem. Zhang and his colleagues translate this metaphor literally into 
"运煤到纽卡?quot; and then add the referential meaning "多此一举" (making 
an unnecessary move). Still they assume that it can not be understood completely 
because the reader may not know what "Newcastle" means, so they suggest 
making a note to identify this place rich in coal. 

In the last two examples, we see that "He who keeps company with the wolf 
will learn to howl" is turned into "近朱者赤,近墨者黑" (He who touches 
vermilion will be reddened, and he who deals with ink will be blackened); 
"Great men are not always wise" becomes "人有失手日,马有失蹄时" (Men will 
make mistakes, horses all stumble). There is a change of image and references 
in both translations. Antithetical couplets are a special feature in the 
Chinese culture. When the Chinese couplets are used to render the English 
proverbs, the translated version often bring in more images than the original 
although the philosophy of the proverb remains the same. 

5. Findings and implications 

Are SL culture specific expressions replaced purely and simply or are they 
more often than not retained in Chinese translations? My investigation 
shows neither. From the above examples of metaphor translation and analysis, 
we can see that methods 1 and 3 ( literal translation; literal translation 
plus sense and explanation) are practiced with the concept of foreignization. 
The translator "deliberately breaks target conventions by retaining something 
of the foreigness of the original" (Shuttleworth &Cowie, 1997:59). The 
translator’s choice, in Venuti’s words, is an ethno-deviant pressure on 
target language values "to register the linguistic and cultural difference 
of the foreign text, sending the reader abroad" (1993: 20). 

Methods 2, 4 and 5 (Replacing the SL image with a standard TL image; Converting 
the metaphor to meaning; using Chinese couplets to replace the English 
metaphor.) are domesticating strategies, in which "a transparent, fluent 
style is adopted in order to minimize the strangeness of the foreign text 
for target language readers" (Shuttleworth &Cowie, 1997:59). 

Then what makes the translator decide on the domesticating or foreignizing 
strategy? My research shows that  

(1) When the basic metaphorical concepts of SL and TL communities correspond, 
as in "to our ancestors" and "armed to teeth", the original image or flavour 
is most likely to be retained.  

(2) When they come cross SL historical, geographical or folk heritage in 
cultural-specific metaphors as such "to carry coals to Newcastle" and "a 
skeleton in the cupboard/closet", the Chinese translator would try very 
hard to find suitable solutions for them. The best solution so far is to 
retain the original image or cultural -specific features with the support 
of interpretations so that the implications of the story generally accepted 
by members of the culture eventually get cross to the TL reader. 

(3) The TL reader’s response is still a significant criterion and the main 
consideration in metaphor translation. When the associations of an image 
in the SL is lacking in the TL, for  

instance, "to be born with a silver in one’s mouth", "a wet blanket", the 
translator tends to adapt the metaphor into idiomatic target language expressions. 

(4) When translating the English metaphor, particularly those embedded 
in proverbs, such as "He who keeps company with the wolf will learn to 
howl" and "Great men are not always wise", the Chinese translator, more 
often than not, seeks for an equivalent expression (e.g. a Chinese couplet) 
to replace the original, although the equivalence is sometimes far from 

6. Conclusion 

On examining the translation of metaphor and the discussion of some of 
the problems involved, I have realized that different methods of translation 
are changeable rather than fixed, contingent rather than eternal. Whether 
to use foreignizing or domesticating strategy depends on different factors 
such as the importance and the contextual factors of the SL text, the consideration 
of referential accuracy, the reader’s acceptability and the "pragmatic 
economy" (Newmark, 1988b: 110). I believe there are special problems involved 
in the translation of metaphor, but the theory of the translation of metaphor 
is justifiable within the general theory of translation. To sum up, in 
translation practice, there is no foreignization without some degree of 
domestication, by the same token, there is no domestication without some 
degree of foreignization. 


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