Idioms Similes and Metaphors in Spanish Translation

Idioms similes and metaphors belong to a category of language forms that many linguists and translators have characterized as 'untranslatables'. In the first place, these language forms share an indissoluble relation with the culture from which they spring; in the second place, they demonstrate an ambiguous relationship between the literal and the true meanings. For these reasons, normal translation methods, like word-for-word translation, are usually of no avail, and translators must aim for what is known as 'dynamic equivalence'. The latter can simply be explained as similarity in effect and impact. Apart from idioms similes and metaphors this category of language forms also include proverbs, word plays and linguistic 'folklore'.

List of Techniques

Some of the techniques, arranged in decreasing order of significance, which can be applied to metaphors in Spanish translation, are as follows:

  1. Retain the source language metaphor in the target language if the context, the objects of comparison, and the concept illustrated by the comparison permits it.
  2. Change the metaphor into a simile to make the comparison explicit. Locate an object in the target language that symbolizes the concept illustrated by the comparison in the source language. Follow it up by locating a simile or metaphor that uses that object in the target language.
  3. Select a different metaphor altogether in the target language keeping in mind the aim of 'dynamic equivalence'.
  4. Retain the metaphor, and also attach an explanation for purposes of explication.
  5. Abandon the metaphor or the simile for a translation of its meaning in the target language. Spanish translators should try one solution after another until they find one that achieves the same or equivalent effect in Spanish translation. However, it is important to remember that as one gives up one technique for the next in the above scale, the Spanish translation loses in quality, in effectiveness and elegance. It moves farther and farther from the original.

Can Be Translated Literally

Idioms too cannot be translated literally because their meanings are different from and more than the total sum of the words that form the idiom. The literal translation of the Spanish idiom ‘a ciencia cierta´ would read ‘to science correct´ which is meaningless. The correct translation would be 'with complete certainty'. Problems in Spanish translation of English idioms consist of syntactical differences between the two languages. For example, idioms in English are often compound words while idioms in Spanish are nouns combined together with the help of prepositions.

The Spanish translator should use the help of special dictionaries for the Spanish translation of English idioms, like the 2001 Spanish and English idioms (2001 idioms series) by Eugene Savaiano and Lynn W. Winget. Similar help in translating proverbs can be found from dictionaries like Dictionary of Proverbs, Sayings, Maxims & Adages: Spanish/English and English/Spanish by Delfin Carbonell Basset. In the Spanish translation of proverbs, apart from dynamic equivalence, translators should also aim at capturing the euphony, that is, the sound and the rhythm of the proverb.


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