Translating Animal Metaphors into Spanish and Other Languages

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Translating Animal Metaphors into Spanish and Other Languages

translation idiomsIdioms are an important part of any language. Thanks to our intimate relationship with animals, there are a large amount of animal-related metaphors in most languages. For example, humans tend to express different emotions by referencing animals. As a result, most of the idioms which include animals are terse but concise, short but comprehensive.

A lot of animal idioms are found in English, Spanish, and other languages. However, since there are great differences in history, culture, geographical environment, literature, customs, religion, and ways of thinking between, for example, Mexico and China, people who speak Spanish would not relate to some Chinese animal metaphors and vice versa.

This disconnect between cultures makes translations very tricky when they contain animal metaphors. An equivalent or even remotely similar metaphor or idiom may not be available in the target language, making it nearly impossible to convey the original text’s meaning in an equally clever, heartfelt way that the target audience can understand. This is where highly skilled translators come into play.

Regardless of the vast differences between animal metaphors among cultures and languages, there is still a general theme that pops up when reading literary works that feature animals. People tend to especially use dogs and cats as a means to express ideas, feelings, or even the weather. Animals often take on human traits, such as language and behavior, in stories and movies; this is known as personification. However, there is no term in English to describe the reverse situation, that is, when humans take on animal traits, although the phenomena certainly exists, as demonstrated in some metaphors such as:

“What a pig! He’s gone through that whole stack of cookies.”

“Come on, Harold, jump! Don’t be such a chicken!”


“He stays out until 3am every night — a real night-owl if you ask me.”

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