Metaphor has been widely discussed within the discipline of Translation Studies, predominantly with respect to translatability and transfer methods. It has been argued that metaphors can become a translation problem, since transferring them from one language and culture to another one may be hampered by linguistic and cultural differences. A number of translation procedures for dealing with this problem have been suggested, e.g., substitution (metaphor into different metaphor), paraphrase (metaphor into sense), or deletion. Such procedures have been commented on both in normative models of translation (how to translate metaphors) and in descriptive models (how metaphors have been dealt with in actual translations). After a short overview of how metaphor has been dealt with in the discipline of Translation Studies.

There are some implications of a cognitive approach to metaphors for translation theory and practice. Illustrations from authentic source and target texts (English and Persian , political discourse) show how translators handled metaphorical expressions, and what effects this had for the text itself, for text reception by the addressees, and for subsequent discursive developments.

As indicated in Dagut’s article, there seems to be “two diametrically opposed views” on the translatability of metaphors (1976:25). On the one hand, there are those who believe that metaphors are untranslatable (Nida, Vinay and Darbelnet seem to be representatives for this view), and on the other hand, there are those who find translating metaphors no problem and believe firmly in the word-for-word method (Kloepfer and Reiss). However, there are also those who choose not to take a stand, as clearly demonstrated by the lack of theory in this field. Lomheim seems to take this approach. He mentions the problem in his book, but presents no opinion.

Peter Newmark definitely takes a stand, which seems to be somewhere in between the two extremes. He has designed ‘A Diagram of Metaphors and Their Translations’ which looks like this:


  • 1. Dead 1. Same Image
  • 2. Cliché 2. Different image
  • 3. Standard 3. Reduce to sense
  • 4. Original 4. Adapt images (extended metaphor)
  • 5. (Metonym) 5. Sense plus image (Mozart method)
  • 6. Simile (weakened metaphor)
  • 7. Deletion (for redundant metaphor)

According to Newmark, a dead metaphor is “where one is hardly conscious of the image” (1988: 106). He adds that this kind of metaphor frequently relays on the universal terms used to describe space and time such as field, line, top, bottom, foot, mouth, arm and so on.Cliché metaphors defined as metaphors “that have perhaps temporarily outlived their usefulness, that are used as a substitute for clear thought, often emotively, but without corresponding to the facts of the matter” (1988: 107). Newmark illustrates this type by the following example: “the country school will in effect become not a backwater but a breakthrough”. Stock or standard metaphor is “an established metaphor which in an informal context is an efficient and concise method of covering a physical and/or mental situation both referentially and pragmatically” (1985: 108), such as:

  • Keep the pot boiling.
  • A wooden face.
  • All that glitters is not gold.
  • I can read him like a book.
  • A sunny smile.

Recent metaphor is a metaphorical neologism often ‘anonymously’ coined, which has spread rapidly in the SL” (1988: 111), such as ‘pissed’ for ‘drunk’, ‘groovy’ for ‘good’, ‘spastic’ for ‘stupid’. Original metaphor: This kind of metaphor contains “the core of an important writer’s message, his personality, and his comment on life” (1988: 112). Newmark deems such metaphors to be a source of enrichment in the target language. Adapted metaphor: Newmark illustrates this type by the following examples: ‘the ball is a little in their court’, ‘sow division’; ‘get them in the door’. It is worth mentioning that no definition to this kind of metaphor has been suggested.

Metaphor translating is neglected in translation studies published in the 1990s (Bell, 1991; Baker, 1992; Hervey and Higgins, 1992; Lefevere, 1992; Neubert and Shreve, 1992; Gentzler, 1993; Hatim, 1997; Hatim and Mason, 1997). Snell-Hornby and (1988-1995) and Campbell (1998) are exceptions; There are “obstacles to reach some kind of theory of metaphor translation” (Alvarez, 1993: 479); There is no need for “a theory of the translation of metaphor” as “there can only be a theory of translation” Mason (1982: 149).

The uniqueness of metaphors appears to be the one thing translation theorists can agree upon, and it seems a bit conceited to maintain that translating a phenomenon held to be so exceptional represents no challenge at all, and can be done by a simple word-for-word rendition. Nevertheless, the view that metaphors are untranslatable also seems a bit too extremist, and my above-mentioned example (“and pigs/donkeys can fly”) appears to contradict this fact. I readily admit that the words “pig” and “donkey” have different connotations, but in this context, the meaning the metaphor conveys ought to be more or less the same.


Alvarez, A. (1993). On translating metaphor. Meta, 38: 3, 479-490.

Bell, R. T. (1991). Translation and translating: Theory and practice. London: Longman.

Campbell, S. (1998). Translation into the second language. Harlow, Essex: Longman.

Crofts, M. (1988). Translating metaphors. ARAL, 11: 1, 47-53.

Dagut, M. B. (1976). Can „metaphor‟ be translated? Babel, 32: 1, 21-33.

Dagut, M. B. (1987). More about the translatability of metaphor. Babel, 33: 2, 77-83.

Dobrzynska, T. (1995). Translating metaphor: Problems of meaning. Journal of Pragmatics 24, 595-604.