Metaphors in linguistic and cultural spaces: Travelling ‘out of English’ in scientific communication

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentation


Colloquium title:
Metaphors in linguistic and cultural spaces: Travelling ‘out of English’ in scientific communication
Perhaps every science must start with metaphor and end with algebra, and perhaps without the metaphor there would never have been any algebra. (Black,1962:242)
Metaphors are central to scientific communication as strongly stated by Black (1962). In today’s global context, science is mostly produced in English, the global lingua franca of science communication (Blenkinsopp and Shademan Pajouh, 2010). Scientific content is first produced in English and then disseminated into other languages mainly via translation (Mary Snell-Hornby, 2000; O'Hagan and Ashworth, 2002). The dissemination process is double in some genres such as popular science articles where the scientific knowledge is contextualised to fit the expectations of a general public. When this scientific context is translated, the metaphors might or might not travel well outside the original linguistic and cultural space where it was first produced. In this colloquium, we look at the different ways translators address the issue of meeting the expectations of the readership in the new linguistic and cultural space (the target text -TT-).
Bearing in mind the central role that metaphor plays in communicating highly scientific concepts to a non-specialist readership (Merakchi and Rogers, 2013, Merakchi, 2017, Semino and Deignan, 2020), we look into how well metaphors travel in scientific and popular science genres from English into Arabic, French and Italian.

Are metaphors in popular science (un)translatable?
A case study of translated metaphors from English to Italian in popular science articles focusing on life sciences
While scientists and academics widely use English as a global lingua franca to spread scientific knowledge, non-specialized readerships interested in science findings commonly depend on translation. Metaphors are ubiquitous and pervasive in popular science discourse. On the one hand, they are employed to establish a more concrete relationship between a specialized term and everyday language; on the other hand, they help engender the reader’s curiosity and call attention throughout the text. This double function reflects the hybrid nature of popular science, which, as communication scholar Nelkin (1987: x) pointed out, shares features of both science and journalism and thus can also be viewed as science journalism.
What happens when metaphors in this hybrid genre have to cross cultural and linguistic borders through a process of interlingual transfer? How is their function conveyed in different cultural and editorial contexts?
Since the lay reader’s perception is deeply rooted in a given cultural context, interlingual transfer of metaphors has generally been seen as problematic and for this reason their untranslatability has often been assumed (e.g., Dagut, 1976). However, a cognitive approach to metaphor translation may challenge this assumption by arguing that most metaphors are translatable (Rojo and Ibarretxe-Antuñano 2013) in the light of ‘conceptual equivalence’ (Manfredi 2017).
This presentation offers a text-focused qualitative analysis of a small corpus of popular science articles in the domain of life sciences, translated from English into Italian. The specific focus is on the feature article in a range of written media, both print and online, from broadsheet newspapers to consumer magazines and specialized science magazines. Its goal it to see how conceptual metaphors are dealt with in target texts, whether different degrees of popularization in the source and target texts seem to influence translation choices and, eventually, whether metaphor translation strategies seem to be related to communicative practices in the Italian editorial context(s).

Metaphors explicitness in translation: A necessity or a choice?
A case study of culturally bound metaphors in popular science articles translated from English into Arabic

This presentation attempts to interpret the findings of my doctoral research in the wider context of translation as a global activity where English is not only the global lingua franca of science communication but is also a global corporate lingua franca (Blenkinsopp and Shademan Pajouh, 2010). Scientific content is first produced in English and then disseminated into other languages mainly via translation (Mary Snell-Hornby, 2000; O’hagan and Ashworth, 2002). As Campbell (2005:29) argues, the context of power should be considered when studying translation into or from English.
The pattern of metaphor explicitation is found to be the preferred translation strategy of culturally bound metaphors in the analysed English/Arabic bilingual corpus of astronomy and astrophysics (circa 150 000 words). Metaphors were found to be made more explicit in the TT, not only by an increase in metaphor signalling as it was anticipated but by combining different translation strategies or what Newmark (1981) calls “couplets”. The most frequently used couplet in the analysed corpus were a combination of literal translation with a note embedded in the text or a footnote explicating the connection between the source and the target domains of the conceptual metaphor.
This increased explicitness could be interpreted as a strategy to compensate for the cultural distance between the ST and TT to minimise miscommunication risk induced by the culture specificity of the metaphor as argued by Becher (2010). However, when taking into account the explanatory nature of the conceptual metaphors used the genre of popular science articles, it could also be argued that favouring the retention of the culture specific metaphors in this genre through explicitation could be an indicator of the influence of the English in the scientific writing in the TL.

Can terminological metaphors always be translated (or should they)? A case study on the criteria of availability and opportunity in English to French translation
This presentation aims at highlighting translation processes as far as metaphors in specialised terminologies are concerned.
Scientific metaphors represent a particular case, insofar as they are both individual creations and expression of a community of use, which validates an image, the use of a term, a name. The cultural charge of these terms is even more crucial if we consider that it is to these terms that we owe the conceptual structure of the domain, the underlying idea that characterizes it, the isotopies that guide its interpretation by users by and the general public.
The fixed nature of metaphors in terminologies represents an additional difficulty for translators: to what extent can this kind of metaphor be translated? How can translators cope with the cultural-bound nature of metaphors in the process of interlinguistic reformulation? Does the influence of English language as a lingua franca in scientific communication represent an additional difficulty for the transmission of specialised ideas and concepts into French?
Which are thus the criteria at the basis of metaphorical terminology translation? Does it depend on availability of source domain in the target language and culture? Is it the result of the opportunity of maintaining the same metaphor in the target language and culture, depending on scientific tradition or on language policies?
Our presentation will focus on the concept of availability of metaphors in different scientific languages and cultures, and on the concept of opportunity as major criteria in translation for terminological metaphors from English to French and Italian. We will base our analysis on a corpus of terminological metaphors in the field of physics and life sciences (Rossi: 2019).

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Blenkinsopp, J., & Shademan Pajouh, M. (2010). ‘Lost in translation? Culture, language and the role of the translator in international business’. Critical perspectives on international business, 6(1), 38-52.
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Deignan, A., & Semino, E. (2019). ‘Translating science for young people through metaphor’. The Translator, 25(4), 369-384.
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Manfredi, M. (2017). ‘Cognitive Linguistics and Translation Studies: Translating conceptual metaphors in popular science articles’. TEXTUS, XXX, 123-140.
Merakchi, K (2017), The translation of metaphors in popular science from English to Arabic in the domain of astronomy and astrophysics, Guildford: university of Surrey, unpublished PhD thesis.
Merakchi, K. and Rogers, M. (2013) 'The translation of culturally bound metaphors in the genre of popular science articles: A corpus-based case study from Scientific American translated into Arabic', Intercultural Pragmatics, 10(2), pp. 341 – 372.

Nelkin, D. (1987), Selling Science: How the Press Covers Science and Technology, New York, Freeman.
Newmark, P (1988) A textbook of translation. New York & London: Prentice Hall.
O'Hagan, M., & Ashworth, D. (2002). Translation-mediated communication in a digital world: Facing the challenges of globalization and localization (Vol. 23). Berlin: Multilingual Matters.
Prandi, M. (2010). “Typology of Metaphors: Implications for Translation”, Mutatis mutandis, 3, 2, 2010, pp. 304-332.
Prandi, M. (2017). Conceptual Conflicts in Metaphors and Figurative Language, London, Routledge.
Rojo, A., Ibarretxe-Antuñano, I. (2013). ‘Cognitive Linguistics and Translation Studies: Past, present and future’. In A. Rojo, I. Ibarretxe-Antuñano (eds), Cognitive Linguistics and Translation, Berlin-Boston: Mouton de Gruyter, 3-30.
Rossi, M., (2019), ‘Métaphores et discours experts : conflit et cohérence à l’épreuve du transfer interlinguistique’. Langue française¸ 204,71-86.

Snell-Hornby, M. (2000).Communicating in the global village: On language, translation and cultural identity. In Schäffner, Ch. (ed.) Translation in the global village. Clevdon, Buffalo, Toronto, Sydney: Multilingual Matters. 11-29.
Period23 Jun 202126 Jun 2021
Event titleResearch and Applying Metaphors 14th conference: Metaphor and space : RAAM14
Event typeConference
LocationVilniaus, LatviaShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • scientific communication
  • metaphor
  • terminology
  • explicitness
  • terminological metaphors