Monash University

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Traversing textual terrains : strategies for translating metaphor in Japanese-English literary translation

Version 2 2017-05-17, 01:39
Version 1 2017-02-08, 04:52
posted on 2017-05-17, 01:39 authored by Tobias, Shani Lyn
Translation is a frequently misunderstood process. Monolingual readers tend to believe that the literary translation they are reading offers a transparent reproduction of the meaning, style and effects of the original. However, those of us who are translators know that this is not so. This thesis highlights the agency of the translator, showing how different translation strategies colour the readers’ reception of the work, creating remarkably different impressions. I take up the case of Japanese-English literary translation and focus on the translation of metaphor, since metaphor is a key literary device and its translation poses particular challenges – including the need to switch between different cultural, conceptual and linguistic frames of reference. Research into metaphor translation strategies has only a short history and focuses mainly on European languages. The much larger linguistic and cultural divide between Japanese and English may require a different mix of strategies to effectively convey the author’s style and imagery. Through a comparative evaluation of the strategies adopted by translators in multiple translations of two well-known short stories: Tanizaki Jun’ichirō’s 刺青 (“Shisei”) and Akutagawa Ryūnosuke’s 羅生門 (“Rashōmon”), I explore the effectiveness of a range of strategies for translating metaphorical expressions. I show that in many cases, domesticating strategies are adopted by translators, such as replacing the source language metaphor with a target language metaphor of a similar sense; paraphrasing by removing the metaphor and translating only its sense; replacing a metaphor with a simile; or deleting the expression altogether. However, although the resulting translation may be smooth and readable, such strategies frequently soften the emotive force of the metaphorical expressions. I argue that the most successful approaches are those that recreate the effect of the original metaphor, often by using more foreignizing strategies that retain the Japanese imagery. My case studies also highlight the need for translators to decipher the intratextual and intertextual network of metaphors and attempt to maintain these sub-texts in their translation. This demonstrates the importance of interpretation in literary translation. I then use the insights gained from these case studies, including the importance of analysing the effect of metaphor and its communicative function in the context of the text as a whole, to develop an optimal translation approach. I apply this approach to the translation of two chapters from a contemporary Japanese novel (容疑者の夜行列車; Yōgisha no Yakōressha by Tawada Yōko to illustrate its potential. My overall conclusions are that the interpretive process requires an in-depth reading and analysis of the source text. This is necessary in order to determine the functions and effects of metaphorical expressions and prioritise those which should be retained. Translation strategies for each source text metaphor should be sensitive to the category of metaphor, its novelty, conceptual basis and cultural connotations. The translation strategy best able to recreate the most important effects should be adopted. This requires the translator to be flexible and willing to make use of compensatory strategies where necessary. Above all, the translator needs to exercise creativity to explore the target language possibilities, formulate innovative solutions and resist the easy option of domestication. To use a metaphor, the translator should be a traveller – crossing from one textual landscape to another and exploring the linguistic opportunities that would enable the effects of the original to be experienced in a new environment.


Principal supervisor

Beatrice Trefalt

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Languages, Cultures and Linguistics

Additional Institution or Organisation

Translation & Interpreting Studies


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Arts

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