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«Cultural Differences in Trademark Translation WANG Jian-ying Qingdao University of Science and Technology, Qingdao, China With the globalization of ...»

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US-China Foreign Language, ISSN 1539-8080

January 2013, Vol. 11, No. 1, 76-83


Cultural Differences in Trademark Translation

WANG Jian-ying

Qingdao University of Science and Technology, Qingdao, China

With the globalization of commerce, especially with China’s entry into the World Trade Organization, the

competition of products among countries has become more and more fierce. Almost all companies and corporations are making every effort to make known their products and services. Before entering the world market, an important thing that should be done is to let foreign customers become familiar with and have a favourable impression of the relevant products and services. Customers choose products according to the quality of the products or the impression they have of the products, the latter of which usually comes from the influence of good trademark translation. Launching products successfully into the target market is to a large extent decided by distinctive sign of some kind which is used by a business to uniquely identify its products and services to consumer Because of different cultures, social environments, and economic conditions, etc., customers in different part of the world have different consumption values, so it is of great importance to take culture into consideration when translating a trademark. Because of the fact that trademarks are mainly described by languages, there are some difficulties in trademark translation. Then, in this paper, except some common knowledge about trademark, the differences between English and Chinese trademarks are shown and some mistranslations are given. In order to avoid the cultural interference in translation, some common skills and some creative skills are discussed. And at the end of this paper, some general principles of trademark translation are provided for good trademark translation.

Keywords: trademark, cultural differences, translation, skills Introduction A trademark is a symbol of a product or service an outcome of the development of the commodity economy.

It is intended to identify the products or services of one seller or one group of sellers and to differentiate them from their competitors. A trademark is a significant feature of the product or service.

The translating of a trademark is a reverse transformation process by decoding the encoded. Trademark translation is “blending in the translator’s feeling and thought, knowledge level, mental state, cultural awareness, living environment and various kinds of related context subjective factors and objective factors”, and trademark translation accords with translated concept of Semiotics. “Translation is a kind of language-communicational activity in a cross-cultural sense; a symbol’s significance should be studied in a certain context of the whole communication process”. American linguist Rosalie mentioned in her essay “Bias-Free Language: Some Guidelines” (1991) said that “culture shapes language and then language shapes culture” (p. 1). She thought language both reflects and shapes societies. That is to say trademark translation is the transplantation of two kinds

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of cultures. In this paper, apart from some general information about brands, the cultural differences between English and Chinese brands are shown and some mistranslations are given. At the end of the paper, some general principles for good brand translation are provided.

Overview of Trademark Definition of Trademark Trademarks are the marks of goods and commercial services. They are a mark that commodity producers, operators, and service providers create to make their products or services different from other similar goods or services. These marks are shown by texts, graphics, or a combination of text and graphic. They often placed on goods or the packaging of goods, or on the premises of a service establishment.

Function of Trademark Trademark has an important effect on trade, acting as a bridge between producers and customers. A good trademark can provide important information about the product, attract consumers, and achieve the aim of promoting products. The most significant usage is to persuade people to buy their products. In order to achieve these purposes, a good trademark usually has informative, aesthetic, expressive, and imperative functions.

Informative function. Informative function is the most important of the four functions of a trademark. This means that a good trademark must be informative. A good trademark usually provides the consumers with some information about the products, such as the functions, values, and characteristics of the product.

First of all, most trademarks let customers know the basic functions of the product. For example, “ ”, and “ ” are common trademark of medicine. “ ” means to recovery of the common cold in Chinese, successfully showing the effect of this medicine for common cold. “ ” means a sweet and clear voice in Chinese, successfully indicating the function of this medicine for one’s throat. “ ” (safeguard) is a trademark for a fancy soap in Chinese, which means people who use this soap will feel it is comfortable on the skin. Some other examples are “ ” (cosmetic), “ ” (cosmetic), “ ” (cosmetic), and “ ” (beverage), from which customers can get some information about the functions of these products.

Secondly, a trademark can reflect some certain characteristics of a product. For example, “ ” (clothing) suggests that this kind of cloth makes people look beautiful, dignified, and graceful.

Thirdly, many trademarks provide information about the values of certain products. For example, “ ” (jazz drum) hints that the drum of this brand is as precious as a pearl.

Finally, trademarks often tell target customers whom the goods are suitable for. For example, “ ” (toy), “ ” (children’s cloth), and “ ” (children’s book) inform people these goods are for children.

Distinguishable function. As commodities, different products or services have different quantities, qualities, and services. Trademarks are like the faces of the products. It is not difficult to see that different trademarks have the same function, which is to distinguish one kind of products or services from another kind.

Trademarks are like a person’s name, but they can do much better than communicate a name, because trademarks are the unique signs of products or services and none of them are repeated. That is to say, when customers read a trademark in a supermarket or in a public place, they can easily, quickly, and clearly tell what kind of product or service the trademark is related to. A trademark assists consumers to know the features of a certain product or


service and the differences between a certain product and other similar products. In a word, customers would seldom make a mistake when they are choosing products or services by reading the trademarks.

Aesthetic function. Aesthetic function refers to trademarks’ ability to create a sense of beauty, and offer the audiences an aesthetic experience. The beauty in form mainly includes phonetic beauty and graphic beauty; the beauty in context generally means semantic beauty and image beauty. The aesthetic function can help people remember the goods easily and achieve the goal of advertising. So a good trademark should be short.

Expressive function. The expressive function means that a trademark should transmit some information about the products or services such as function, characteristic, value and so on. For instance, “Benz” (car) had been translated into Chinese as “ ”, “ ”, “ ”, but the most successful translation was “ ”, which not only sounds like the source trademark “Benz” but also advises people this trademark is about a car.

Imperative function. Imperative function is also called the vocative function. It means that a good trademark should inform people of the value of certain goods, attract consumers, and persuade them to buy. As a consequence, it achieves the aim of promoting goods. A good trademark often tells people the value of the goods, and can persuade people to purchase it. For example, “ ” (computer), which means people can make the connection in their mind. This trademark is very convincing, because it tells people about the value of this kind of computer.

Culture and Trademarks Culture is the effects obtained by individuals or groups from generation to generation, including the knowledge, experience, beliefs, values, behaviors, attitude, meaning, hierarchy, religion, the concept of time, point of view, spatial relation, cosmology, and so on. Every culture in the world both has universality and individuality, every culture has its own characteristics, and every culture coexists equally and cannot replace each other. Language is not only a tool of thinking and communication, but also a reflection of social culture, and it affects people’s thoughts. Because the individuality of each culture is greater than the universality, this kind of difference reflects the high level that of various considerations that trademark translation is bound to give rise to.

Cultural Differences in Language The East and the West have different geographic locations, history, philosophy, and cultural traditions, and because the linguistic form itself is different, there are not many conditions of equivalence in Chinese and English words. During translation, therefore, the translator should not only understood the literal meaning of the words themselves, but also understand the cultural significance of the words. If we ignore the differences between two cultures, using the native language mode of thinking to comprehend the concept of target language culture, we will cause a phenomenon called “cultural aphasia”. This kind of translation will not achieve the required effects, and is very likely to give a bad impression in foreign consumers’ minds, or even destroy the brand. The difficulties in translation caused by cultural differences reflect directly a lack of vocabulary and semantic conflicts. Namely, the cultural information carried by the source language cannot be found in the target language vocabulary, or it is contrary to cultural information in the target language. In general, the following aspects are cultural differences in trademark translation.

English vocabulary vacancies. The cultural information carried by the trademark of the source language, Chinese, cannot be found in English vocabulary. That is to say, there are no peer-to-peer words. This 79


phenomenon is called completely vacancy. Donnson Chen listed more than 200 such words in translating from Chinese to English, for example, “ ” (Kung fu); “ ” (Tai chi); “ ” (Goubuli baozi), etc.. These Chinese concepts do not have equivalence in Western culture and there is no corresponding vocabulary.

Different aesthetic sense and consumer psychology. Different ethnic groups have different aesthetic orientations. For the same thing, one group may consider it very beautiful while another may think it is ugly. In some home-made cosmetics’ instructions, “ ” is translated into “whiten the skin”. Chinese people think white skin is very beautiful, while Western people want their skin to be brown, which represents health. They consider white skin as representing poverty and illness instead of beauty. Who would buy cosmetics based on this aesthetic sense?

English-Chinese Semantic Conflict Semantic conflict occurs when words from the Chinese source vocabulary and the vocabulary of English, the meaning of the same initiative concept (that is the original meaning), but they have diametrically opposed cultural semantics. The cultural semantics of terms are related to national history, religion, customs, knowledge, and psychological factors, which have national colors. For example, we might take the “Butterfly” brand electronic stove. Chinese people see “butterfly” as a symbol of friendship and love. When we see a butterfly we might think of the poignant and moving love story of LIANG Shan-bo and ZHU Ying-tai. But in Western countries, people think butterflies are something very frivolous. In English, a social butterfly is a social beauty (“ ”). If a company uses “butterfly” as their trademark, English speakers will doubt whether the product is good and durable.

The Problems of Trademark Translation in China Some trademarks are translated literally and directly into English, translators are not well aware of the differences in cultures and nations, so the translation is contrary to the English culture. The followings are some major examples of cultural conflicts in trademark translations.

Problems in Literal Meaning Quite often, we find that Chinese words with positive sentiments have just the opposite meaning in English, or they are beyond the understanding of English people, and vice versa. For example, a brand of exported lipstick which is made in China, is named “ ” (Fangfang). In China, “Fangfang” is a nice name which gives people a good impression. The word “ ” is usually used to describe flowers which are beautiful and charming, and girls named “ ” are pretty and elegant. In Chinese, there are many other phrases containing the word “ ”, such as “ ” (beautiful-looking), “ ” (young girl’s age), “ ” (good-smell), and so on. When it is translated into English in Chinese Pinyin, it is “Fangfang”. However, instead of the impression of pretty and beauty, a feeling of terror comes into the English readers’ minds. There is a coincidence that the Pinyin “fang” is the same as the English word “fang”. In English, a “fang” is a long and pointed tooth. In mammals, a fang is a canine tooth, used for biting and tearing flesh. In snakes, it is a venom-injecting tooth. It is easy to imagine that when English ladies read this word, a dog or wolf with long and sharp tooth, or a snake with its poisonous tooth may come into their mind., so who will buy this kind of lipstick?

Another example, “ ” (Langtian) is a toothpaste brand made in China. It is a very popular brand in China and in southern Asia but it fails in the American market. The translation is the key. The trademark “蓝天”


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