Comparison of Chinese and English Animal Words (3)

The cause of the discrepancy
National culture characteristics are a nation’s unique significance, as well as the nationality’s historical culture, the folk custom and the geographical environment, such as cultural color on glossary concept. Animal characteristics are different in thousands of ways. They are often to be used describe the quality and personality of related person or things and make the expression and the image vividly. Because different nation’s culture backgrounds are different, the same animal word arouses different images in different languages, which formed national culture characteristics. In Chinese and English animal glossary this kind of national culture differentce remarkably performs on words like ‘ostrich’ and ‘paper tiger’. ‘Ostrich’ has long and powerful legs, it could run very fast, but when it feels anxious, it will sneak its head in sand, thinking that since it can not see the enemy and the enemy also can not see it, then every thing will go well. So in English there is ‘ostrich policy (鸵鸟政策)’ means ‘policy which does not dare face the reality’. Such national culture characteristic of the ostrich is unique for English but not for Chinese. But in Chinese ‘the paper tiger’ has its unique historical background and the national culture characteristic. In early times it was used to describe the American imperialism and represent its weak essence, but later it expanded to describe person with such essence. The linguist believed that language was established by usage. Chinese and English nation’s manners and customs are different which makes two nationalities’ thinking ways different. For example, to the English and most of the Westerners, ‘the king of the beasts’ is lion. The lion enjoys high prestige and symbols ‘right and fierce’. We can see from such expressions: ‘regal as a lion (狮子般庄严)’, ‘majestic as a lion (狮子般雄伟)’. In English, lion also has the meaning of ‘danger’ like in the idiom ‘a lion in the way (拦路虎)’. Richard I, the kind of England in the late 12th century, was known as ‘lion-hearted’ for his courage and chivalry. It is no wonder, then, that English have chosen the lion as their symbol. To Chinese people, tiger is the king among beasts. Therefore, Chinese people would use ‘tiger (虎 hu)’ to mean ‘courage and bravery’.

Different geographical environment and history
Different countries have different living environment and different living environment gestates diverse cultures. So the cultural connotations of animal words are no exception. For example, because Britain’s fishery, ship-building industry and the marine transportation industry hold great proportion in the economy. In the language expression what they naturally associate are things related with the marine. In English there are many idioms related with the fish. Such as: ‘Drink like a fish (牛饮)’, ‘a big fish (大人物,大亨)’, ‘a dull fish (迟钝汉)’, ‘a poor fish (倒霉的人)’, ‘a cool fish (无耻之徒)’, ‘a cold fish (冷漠的人)’, ‘a loose fish (放荡鬼)’ and so no.
However China is a country living on agriculture. It belongs to inland place where people cannot live without earth. Above 80% of the nation’s polulation are engaged in the agriculture. People’s production and economic activity are mainly attachment on land. So things they usually associate with are always related to land. Therefore, cattle play an extremely important role in ancient agrigultural life. Many Chinese idioms take cattle as metaphor. For example, ‘他壮得像头牛 (He is as strong as an ox.)’. In English this should be translated as ‘He is as strong as a horse’. This is because the Chinese have been using ‘牛 niu (ox)’ in farming for thousands of years while the horse has been used for most farming work in Britain.
Some special animal words, idioms come from historical books and classical works, and fable and story are the important components of them.
For example, we have the English idiom ‘cook one’s goose’. The literal Chinese translation of this idiom is ‘烹某人的鹅’. That’s confusing to the Chinese. Its correct translation should be ‘挫败某人的计划’ or ‘战胜某人’. This idiom comes from an ancient story. English tradition has it that in The Middle Ages, a city was suddenly surrounded by enemies. A resident of the city hanged a goose on a tower to express his scorn for the enemies. But that was a terribly wrong action. The enemies could not stand his shame. Every soldier became mad, and soon they conquered the city. The goose was cooked by the enemy soldier. Later, people use the idiom to mean ‘frustrate somebody’s will’ or ‘destroy or defeat somebody’.
e.g. If we try hard, we will surely cook their goose. 只要我们努力,我们肯定就能战胜他们。
We also have some idioms that come from The Fables of Aesop, e.g.
cherish a snake in one’s bosom 养虎贻患
cry wolf 发假警报

Different traditional culture thought
Difference of the traditional culture thought also reflects the national characteristics inevitably. Chinese traditional philosophy mainly takes the Confucianism as the basic skeleton and mixed with Taoism before 1840. Britain is among the few western countries which have glorious history. The Christianity culture and the western philosophy are the main body of the English culture. For example, the definition of ‘龙 long (dragon)’ in Chinese dictionary is ‘我国传说中的神异动物,有鳞,有爪,有脚,能走能飞,能游泳,能兴云降雨 (Dragon is a mystical animal in the Chinese legend, with scaly skin, claws and legs. It can fly and swim and can creat clouds and rain.)’. For thousands of years in the Chinese culture ‘dragon’ is quite familiar with the Chinese nationality and has the favorable impression. ‘Dragon’ in Chinese is a commendatory word, it has rich national characteristics. In the Chinese culture dragon is not only a symbol of nobleness and mystery, but also a metaphor referring to the emperor with supreme power. Therefore, in ancient China, when the emperor is angry there is an old Chinese saying ‘龙颜大怒 longyan danu’, here ‘龙颜 longyan’ refers to the face of the emperor. And the descendants of the emperor are called ‘龙子龙孙 longzi longsun (the offsprings of the dragon)’. In Beijing, the building style of the Imperial Palace is around the theme of dragon. Dragon is also symbolizing the outstanding people, contains the commendatory meaning as authority, strength, talent and propitiousness and so on. So nowadays in China all the parents cherish the dream of ‘望子成龙 (expecting their children to be the dragons)’, the Chinese connotation is that the parents expect their children to be somebody. However, in the English dictionary, dragon is defined as ‘a mythical monster, usually represented as a large reptile with wings and claws, breathing out fire and smoke’. Because of the influence of the Bible, in the western culture, ‘dragon’ is a symbol of monster without any good connotation. So in western countries, the people become discolored when hearing the word ‘dragon’ since it is often used to refer to the person who is cruel. As a result of the influence of the Christianity culture, in English ‘dragon’ also has the meaning of ‘the sea monster (refers to whale, shark, alligator and sea python and so on)’. English phrase ‘the old dragon’ means ‘king of the monster’. Generally speaking, in English the word dragon has a derogatory sense when it is used to refer to somebody. Collins Cobuzld English Language Dictionary explain: If you call a woman as a dragon, you mean that she is fierce and unpleasant. So ‘亚洲四小龙’ is often tranlated as ‘the four tigers of Asia’, not ‘the four dragons of Asia’.
In English we have some other animal words and expression that are connected with traditional customs:
carry owls to Athens 运猫头鹰到雅典:多此一举 (The reason is that Athens is rich in owls.)
As well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb 一不做,二不休 (The reason is that a former British law had this rule: a person who steals a sheep, whether the sheep is big or not, will be hanged.)
Live like a fighting cock 吃最好的东西:养尊处优 (The reason is that in the past, Englishmen would give their fighting cocks the best food before the game so that they could win the game.)

Different religious beliefs
Since English and Chinese nationalities have different religious beliefs they naturally also have the difference in the aspect of the word connotations. For example, English people all believe in Christianity, they often go to the church to gather together. The church does not like the Chinese temple, there is no food for the mouse to eat and mouse in the church are always hungry. So English has this kind of idiom: ‘As poor as the church mouse’, which is similar with the Chinese saying ‘一贫如洗 yipin ruxi’. Just as we have mentioned above. Britain is an island country, so in English there appear some glossary related to the navigation. The idiom ‘to rain cats and dogs’ originates with the sailor. According to the Northern Europe myth, cat was considered as animal which had huge influence to the weather, whenever the cat jumps madly not as usual, the sailors would say: The cat has a gale of wind in her tail. They have a premonition of the coming storm from the cat’s activity. Therefore there is the idiom ‘to rain cats and dogs’ which means ‘rainstorm’. We have some other idioms that are associated with animals from the Bible:
cast pearl before swine 明珠暗投
separate the sheep from the goats 把好人与坏人分开

Aesthetic value orientations and the social psychology difference
Different faith and values, as well as the aesthetic standards, have had each nationality formed its unique social cutom as well as the national psychology, which reflects in the language.
The same animal words may have a commendatory sense and a derogatory sense in both cultures because of different social psychology and aesthetic standards, which are connected with the two nation’s feeling about the animals. If they like or appreciate this kind of animal, relatively, this animal word will have a commendatory sense. On the contrary, it will have the derogatory sense. Let’s take the dog for example. According to han nationality tradition psychology, the dog is one kind of despicable animal, commonly used to refer to the ugly person, and causes the association of ‘lowly, bad’ and so on. The Chinese actually loathes, despises it from the psychology, commonly use it to refer to the evil persons and the evil deeds, such as ‘狗眼看人低 (act like a snob)’, ‘狗咬吕洞宾,不识好人心 (mistake a good man for a bad one)’, ‘狗嘴吐不出象牙 (a filthy mouth can not utter decent language)’, ‘狗皮膏药 (counterfeit goods)’ and ‘走狗 (evil force, accomplice of the unprincipled person)’. Dog in English nationality actually is one kind of love livestock, the pet and often is treated as ‘man’s faithful friend’. In word ‘dog’ is neutral in its connotation in English. ‘To help a lame dog over the stile’ means ‘to help someone in trouble’, ‘To let sleep dog lie’ means ‘to make no trouble’ or ‘not to disturb someone’.

Some methods of translating animal words
We should strive to know the cultural connotations carried by animal words in these two languages rather than translate the animal words directly. We should replace the symbolic images carried by some animal words in these two languages if necessary. Some sayings involving animal words in the two languages are the same, such as ‘as stupid as an ass (蠢得像驴)’, ‘as fat as a pig (肥得像猪)’. But some are not so simple as they seem to be.

Literal translation
Barking dogs don’t bite 吠犬不咬人
as ugly as a toad 像癞蛤蟆一样丑陋
a wolf in sheep’s clothing 披着羊皮的狼
make a monkey out of somebody 拿人当猴耍
A rat crossing the street is chased by all. 过街老鼠,人人喊打。
Some idioms and expressions that are connected with animals exist just in English or Chinese, but their literal meanings and cultural connotations can be understood by the people of the other nation if they are translated literally.
When the fox preaches, then be aware of your geese. 狐狸说教时,要当心你的鹅。
Don’t count your chickens before they are hatched. 小鸡未孵出,不要急着数鸡数。
set the wolf to keep the sheep 让狼看守羊 (引狼入室)
Every bird likes its own nest. 每只鸟都喜欢自己的窝。(鸟皆爱其巢,人皆爱其家)
A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. 双鸟在林,不如一鸟在手。

These animal words and phrases have their fixed meanings. They have been accepted by the Chinese and we can understand their cultural connotations without explanation.
a dark horse 黑马
a hot dog 热狗
a cowboy 牛仔
a net worm 网虫

We can not always find the exactly equal animal words to correspond in the target language. When this happens, we can use the equivalents in the target language to substitute or replace the animal images in the source language.
the British lion 大英帝国
a literary lion 文学界名人
the lion’s share 最大的部分,最好的部分
We usually substitue the ‘lion’ of English with the ‘tiger’ of Chinese.
to place oneself in the lion’s mouth 置身虎穴
a donkey in a lion’s hide 狐假虎威

Liberal translation
Once bitten, twice shy. 一朝被蛇咬,十年怕井绳。
go for wool and come back shorn 偷鸡不成,倒蚀一把米。
put the cart before the horse 本末倒置
Birds of a feather flock together. 物以类聚,人以群分。
China has been reforming and opening up to the outside world since 1980. During this period, many new animal words have turned up in China. These animal words usually have their special meaning and we had better make sure of their special meaning.
炒鱿鱼 chao youyu dismiss or sack somebody
黄牛 huangniu an illegal dealer in train tickets
蛇头 shetou the head of a criminal group, which move people to foreign countries by illegal means

Tranalation changes as the time changes
In 1072, the movie ‘The Way of the Dragon (《猛龙过江》)’ was released in America, and caused a great sensation in the United States. The Chinese Kungfu in this movie was favored all over the world. The Chinese leading actor, Li Xiaolong instantly became a superstar and the Chinese cultural connotation of dragon became well known by foreigners. In 2001, the Hollywood movie ‘Kiss of the Dragon (《龙之吻》)’ was shown at cinemas and it turned out to be a great success for box-office value. The leading actor of this movie was the famous Chinese movie star: Li Lianjie. In addtion, the Chinese movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (《卧虎藏龙》) got the Best Non-English Language Movie Prize of Oscar in 2001, which broke the record of box-office value of the non-English movies. They directly translated ‘龙’ in the Chinese movie’s title into ‘dragon’, which shows that the Chinese cultural connotation of the Chinese ‘龙’, dragon, with a commendatory sense, has already been accepted by foreigners nowadays, though it was often changed into tiger in English or something like it in the past.
In 2008, the third part of a famous movie Mummy (《木乃伊》) was produced in Xi An, a historically famous city in China. The name of this part is Mummy 3: The Curse of Dragon (《木乃伊3:龙的诅咒》). The Chinese cultural connotation of dargon make another great sensation in the world.

Words are almost never found in isolation. They nearly always have partners together from meaning in certain restricted ways. Through comparison, we know that people in different cultures often entrust language with different implications because of distinct life environment, custom, social institution, religious beliefs and consideration of objective world. Every language obtains life and nourishment from its culture.
It is essential for us to know the connotations of words. Knowing connotations of words can make the world become less mysterious. It will help us get a deeper understanding of a language, being alert in learning not only the denotations of words, but also the connotations and other types of meaning. So we must pay attention to cultural connotations of English and Chinese culture can we understand the cultural connotations of animal words of English and Chinese.

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