Body-Part Metaphors: A Cross-Cultural Survey of the Perception of Translatability Among Americans and Japanese

Toshiyuki Sakuragi, Judith W. Fuller

What kinds of linguistic resources do people utilize when they try to translate metaphors into a foreign language? This investigation of the perception of translatability of body-part metaphors examined the effects of the following factors: the similarity between the human body part and the metaphorical expression (e.g., “eye” in “electric eye”) in appearance and function; the frequency of the use of the metaphor in the native language; and the perceived distance between the first language and the target language. The results of a survey of American (n = 151) and Japanese (n = 116) university students showed that both Similarity in Appearance and Similarity in Function correlated positively with Translatability, while the effect of the former was stronger than the latter. Frequency correlated positively with Translatability for the Americans, although the correlation was weaker when the target language is “distant” (Japanese or Chinese) than when the target language is “close” (Spanish). Among the Japanese, Frequency did not correlate with translatability regardless of the target language.

[Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 32 (4): 381-395, July 2003]