Academic journal article International Journal of Linguistics

Metaphor and Cultural Models in Translation

Academic journal article International Journal of Linguistics

Metaphor and Cultural Models in Translation

Article excerpt


The objective of this paper is to investigate the relationship holding between metaphor and cultural models within the context of interlingual translation. More specifically, the paper seeks to ascertain the extent to which metaphors which are dependent on cultural models are translatable. For this purpose, we draw on the concept of 'experiential equivalence' in the case of metaphor translation and on that of cultural models as intersubjective manifestations of culture in the speaker's mind. By way of elucidation, four Persian poetic texts by Khayyam and their English translations by Fitzgerald are examined in detail. Finally, this paper tries to propose a new definition of metaphor equivalence in translation.

Keywords: Cultural models, Translation, Khayyam, Fitzgerald

1. Introduction

Investigating the nature of the relationship between metaphor and cultural models has been the preoccupation of scholars over the recent years (see, for example; Quinn 1987; Lakoff and Kovecses 1987; Yu 1998; Cienki 1999; Kovecses 2005; Shanghai 2009). Consequently, it is now generally acknowledged that cultural models play a crucial role in the manner in which metaphor is produced and interpreted in both ordinary and poetic language. Germane to this acknowledgement is the indisputable fact that cultural models can pose serious problems when it comes to translating metaphors between languages. A case in point is provided by Fitzgerald's (1942) translation of metaphors occurring in the poems composed by Omar Khayyam (1048-1123), the world-renowned Persian astronomer-poet. However, before we examine the obstacles Fitzgerald ran into on account of the cultural models associated with the poetic language he set out to translate, a brief sketch of Khayyam's poetry is requisite at this stage.

Given its enigmatic nature, Khayyam's poetry has invariably been a controversial issue with various schools. Different, and even contradictory, interpretations, evaluations and classifications of Khayyam's authentic, as well as fake, poems are still unresolved dilemmas in the field of Khayyamian studies (Hedayat 1934; Christensen 1994; Forooghi and Ghani 2008; Dashti 2002). By the same token, Fitzgerald's world-famous translation of these poems has suffered a similar predicament. That is, it has proved a highly disputed topic in translatology in the sense that it has been subjected to commendatory and deprecatory evaluation, respectively (Dad 1994; Yarmohammadi 2004; Farahzad 2006; Shafii 2009; Zare-Behtash 1994).

It is interesting to note that most research work carried out regarding the translations of Khayyam's poetry is founded on either traditional or structuralist approaches. This implies that the research in question restricts itself to the formal aspects of his poetic language without paying any attention to its underlying conceptual structures. The research also treats the poetic metaphors involved as purely ornamental entities. Fortunately, recent years have seen a shift of interest to a new approach (i.e. cognitive linguistics) which provides translation scholars with new insights into the nature and structure of metaphor. As a consequence, Fitzgerald's translation of Khayyam's metaphors can be re-examined within a new theoretical framework. In point of fact, Sadeghi (2011) has deployed cognitive poetics as a literary theory in terms of which Khayyam's poetry can be analyzed.

The assumption underlying this paper is that any investigation of Fitzgerald's handling of metaphor in the process of his translation is bound to benefit from the three major findings of cognitive linguistics: (1) metaphor theory; (2) cultural models theory; and (3) experiential equivalence. Each of these will be taken up in some detail below.

2. Metaphor in Cognitive Linguistics

Cognitive linguistics can be said to have revolutionized the status of metaphor studies. Whereas on the classical views metaphor was merely a marginalized figurative devise regarded as a kind of aberration from normal everyday language use, cognitive linguistics elevated it to a central position where it functions as a building block in day-to-day language, as well as in cognitive-conceptual systems, thus rejecting the classical distinction between the metaphorical nature of poetic language and the literal sense of non-figurative language (Lakoff and Johnson 1980/2003; Lakoff 2006). …

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