[abstract] numbers, as a special part in the science of linguistics, are words originally used to express quantity or sequence. numbers serve the same calculating function in both chinese and english. but because of the cultural diversity found in the national psychology, religious belief and mythology, numbers are endowed with abundant cultural connotations and associations. and both chinese and english people show different cults, taboos and connotations towards the different or identical numbers so as to generate their own numeral cultures. therefore, in the process of translating numbers, especially ones in the folk language and literary works, translators should make a relatively thorough study of the language and culture both in chinese and english, and consider the discrepancy in the vagueness of numbers respectively before rendering satisfactory translations.
[key words] numbers; chinese; english; comparison; translation
【摘 要】 数字是语言科学中的一个特殊领域，是表示数量或顺序的词类。WWw.relunwen.cOM在汉英两种语言中，数字作为计算功能的意义是一致的。但由于受民族心理、宗教信仰、神话传说等文化差异的影响，数字被赋予了丰富的文化内涵。对不同或相同的数字，汉英有着不同的崇尚或禁忌习俗，以及不同的联想和意义，并由此而孕育出各自独特的数字文化。因此，在翻译数字，尤其在民间语言和文学作品中，要对汉英两种语言与文化有较全面的了解,并充分考虑到英汉数字的模糊语义的差异，灵活运用不同的翻译方法，才能译出形神兼备的作品。
1.1 language, culture and numbers
1.1.1 the relationship between language and culture
culture, a controversial and puzzling question, has been conceptualized from diverse perspectives by generations of linguists and anthropologists. it has no completely standard definitions, however, “culture, in a broad sense, means the total way of life of a people including the patterns of belief, customs, objects, institutions, techniques, and language that characterizes the life of the human community” . as culture is so inclusive, it permeates virtually every aspect of human life and influences predominantly people’s behavior, including linguistic behavior. and language, “the carrier and container of cultural information” , is commonly viewed as a means of communications, means of expressing ideas and emotions of human beings. language, as a reflection of the culture and a mirror of the society, is strongly influenced and shaped by culture. and culture is influenced by many factors, such as language, beliefs, customs, social habits and so on. thus, language and culture, intrinsically dependent on each other, cannot exist without each other. the close relationship between language and culture is readily shown by the fact that culture is transmitted from one generation to the next through language.
1.1.2 the definition of numbers
as far as the relationship between elements of language and culture is concerned, the words relate most tightly to the culture. and numbers, as an important part in language world, have an informative function. but what is number? as oxford advanced learner’s english-chinese dictionary defines, “a number is a word or symbol that represents an amount or a quantity” . numbers are used widely in every aspect of life. without numbers, nothing can get along well in the world. as we know, numbers are grammatically divided into cardinal numbers, ordinal numbers, multiples, fractions and approximate numbers in chinese and english language.
and the concept of numbers stems from the nature, from human beings’ observation and exploration to the objective world, from the realization and generalization to the physical world . a number is the abstract concept that can be considered not only as the word but also as the symbol.
1.2 the purpose of this paper
numbers are created from the interaction of humans’ social and cultural behavior with their ability to conceptualize their outside world. so numbers are not merely mathematical tools, but extended as metaphors in the idiomatic usages with a series of connotations. chinese people and english people show different appetites towards the numbers. so there exist different cultural connotations and extensions between chinese and english numbers. this paper, from diverse cultural backgrounds of numbers in chinese and english, discusses the discrepancy in the national psychology, religious belief, mythology and so on, and generalizes several methods of translation in numbers, especially in literary works, so as to facilitate intercultural or cross-cultural communication.
2. the cultural diversity between chinese and english numbers
all human beings use numbers so that the culture of numbers has come into being. numbers penetrate into every aspect of human life . yet, numbers, which reflect the scales of the material world, have been endowed with rich cultural connotations due to the different cultural backgrounds. as far as chinese culture is concerned, it bears some similarities to the world culture, but it has been laying more stress on the usages of idioms. there are numerous chinese idioms and idiomatic usages with numbers, such as:说一不二，五湖四海，三教九流，一日不见，如隔三秋，三十六计走为上计，三句话不离本行，八九不离十，百战不殆，七零八落，九霄云外，九九归一，十万火急and so forth.
in english-related culture, there are also a large quantity of idioms or idiomatic usages with numbers, such as three sheets in the wind, the upper ten, second to none, two-by-four, four-letter man, catch-22, two-left feet, and so on. besides, odd numbers except13, are favored and adorned by western people. for instance, number “seven” with marked religious colour is used frequently in the scriptures to signify completeness. similarly, multiples of seven are also used in a similar sense of completeness . but in chinese, it is on the other way around. although the discrepancy in the social tradition and the diversity in the numerical culture are universal, there exists a general cult of numbers in both chinese and english. the following part will focus on the cultural sources of number cult or worship from three aspects, that is, national psychology, religion, and mythology.
2.1 numbers and psychology of national culture
in chinese culture, heaven and earth produce everything by the interaction of two existential and powerful forces of the universe, yin and yang. “since numbers were considered a mystical part of the universe, the ancient chinese regarded odd numbers as yang or masculine and even numbers as yin or famine” . “nine”, as the largest single digit, took on the meaning of “ultimate masculinity” and implied the loftiest reverence for heaven. therefore, the number “nine” symbolized the supreme sovereignty of the emperor who was the son of heaven. and the number “nine” (or its multiples) is often employed in the chinese ancient architecture, particularly imperial buildings. ancient palaces were usually designed as nine-section architectural complexes related to the number “nine” in the number or size. take the forbidden city, located in the center of beijing for example. it has a total of 9,999 bays, and the gate tower of tian’anmen has nine by nine bays. thus number “nine” or its multiple is ubiquitous in the architecture of the sacrificial temple. and the nine dragon screen near beihai park has also been connected with number nine. the chinese people show preference to number “nine”, not only on the construction of the building, but also in other fields, such as: annual festival feasts for the royal court of the qing consisted of 99 kinds of foods. and a division of ancient feudal government officials was “nine level”. besides, to celebrate an emperor’s birthday, there were 81 forms of entertainment called the “nine-nine big celebration” to wish the emperor good luck and longevity . by and by, the number “nine” became exclusively reserved and adorned by chinese people, even today.
generally speaking, in chinese culture, even numbers are regarded to be lucky and propitious symbols, which can bring people good luck and fortune, while odd numbers are incomplete. but as far as english people are concerned, this phenomenon is on the other way around. they prefer odd numbers to even ones, such as “three”, “seven”, of course excluding number “thirteen”, as is known to nearly most english-speaking people. when celebrating or sending flowers to friends or relatives, people should take one, three, five, or even more (excluding 13), whereas, people send two or four, six flowers or its multiple when condoling with deceased persons.
but everything has its both sides. for instance, number “four” in chinese has a bad and unlucky association and connotation, though it is an even number. thus, another element that renders numbers good or bad in chinese is the homophony and punning in a many-tone word. number “four” has a similar sound with the chinese character“死”,representing “death”. so a large number of people try every effort to avoid it. the possible omens associated with numbers and sounds of numbers by the chinese are inexhaustible. in contrast, the number “eight” is fortunate because it sounds like“发”，namely, making a fortune. when it comes to the cases like telephone numbers, vehicle license numbers, door numbers, people show special preference to number “eight” or something associated with number “eight”, such as 168(to make a fortune all the way)(一路发)，518(i want to make a fortune)（我要发）and so forth. number nine also has such lucky association due to its sound and punning “eternity”(久). therefore people favor to choose the date related to number “nine” as the wedding day. the 21st century once reported that on 9th, september 1999, 165 pairs of people were married, in the hope of having everlasting love for each other .
but in contrast, english people worship number “four”, which is the symbol of justice, righteousness, power, the fountain of creation, and the key of everything in the world . for instance, to the early people, the cosmos is made four elements: earth, air, water, and fire.
2.2 numbers and religion or philosophy
religion, considered to be the kernel source of a culture, without doubt influences people’s conception of culture, because of its dominant role in most countries. for ancient chinese, “three” stands for the three parts of the universe: heaven, earth, and man. and it is said that there are three creators of the universe, governing the earth and the fairyland. chinese traditional culture has been closely connected with the religions, dominated mainly by philosophical confucianism for over 2000 years. and confucianism has intertwined tightly with taoism and buddhism, whose thoughts bring a profound influence on the culture of chinese numbers. in “laotzu”（《老子》）,laozi expressed that one produces two, two produces three and three produces everything. (道生一，一生二，二生三，三生万物) . therefore, in chinese there arise many idiomatic phrases, like 三教九流，三思而后行，三人行必有我师焉，余音绕梁，三日不绝，一日不见，如隔三秋，and the like. number “three” indicates perfection and completeness. the idiom“三生有幸”expresses that a person is fortunate all his life. here“ 三生”refers to the previous life, present life and next life.
and, christianity, as the mainstream culture, has a strong influence in the cultural connotation of numbers in western countries. the religious tradition of the christian trinity, that is, father, son, and holy spirit, has endowed a mysterious number “three” with divinity and perfection.  the widespread interest of number “three” still remains in the westerner’s mind or thinking today. many things that are particularly complete are stamped with number “three” in the areas like physics, mathematics, philosophy and so forth. there are three completing time, that is, past, present and future. similarly, number “seven”, a number with strong religious colour, is used frequently in the bible, indicating that god spent seven days in creation. at times it has reference to bring a work toward completion, or it can refer to the complete cycle of things as established or allowed by god. there are plenty of idioms or idiomatic usages with “seven” in english culture, such as, the seven virtues, including faith, hope, charity, justice, fortitude, prudence, temperance; the seven deadly sins, saying, pride, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony, avarice, sloth; the seven champions of christendom, the seven days of creation, the seventh heaven, and so on. and, according to the bible, number “six” at times represents imperfection. the number of “the wild beast” is 666 and is called “a man’s number”(re13:18), indicating that it has to do with imperfect, fallen man, and it seems to symbolize the imperfection of that which is represented by “the wild beast”. the number six being emphasized to a third degree (the six appearing in the position of units, tens, and hundreds) therefore highlights the imperfection and deficiency of that which the beast represents, or pictures .
number “thirteen” is regarded as an evil number, standing for “unfortunate”. according to the scripture, judah, the thirteenth comer during the last supper, betrayed jesus. hence, people in western countries avoid “13” in many aspects of life. people avoid a room numbered 13, a seat in the 13th row of an airplane or renting a flat on the 13th floor . and in a few instances periods of judgment or punishment seem to be associated with number “forty”. nineveh was given forty days to repent. the world was flooded for forty days for people’s evil-doing. so forty is a number denoting bad luck to the westerners .
numbers and mythology
mythology associated with numbers in both chinese and english culture has deeply influenced the cultural connotations of numbers. in chinese, the cultural connotations of numbers have connection with the ancient myth. for instance, four character words “三头六臂”originated from chinese myth, narrating a supernatural being. nezha, who takes charge of the justice, has three heads and six arms. he has vastly magic power to transform himself into three at random. accordingly, number “three” is endowed with cultural connotations of magic and power.
and, english cultures have been more strongly affected by the greek and roman mythology, whose gods resemble the character of humans with feelings and desires, happiness and sadness. in roman myth, god “jupiter”, whose power stems from his trident or three-pronged thunder-stick in his hand, governs the others. neptune, the god of the sea, relies on his three-pronged spear, and pluto is a dog with three heads. thus number “three” is lodged with extension of power and divinity. and the number “thirteen”, in accordance with the western myth, is an evil one, which has a similar connotation and symbolization to christianity. it is said that twelve gods were present at a banquet held in heaven in honor of the soldiers sacrificed in the battle. during the dinner, the demoniac rocky, an unexpected person, arrived and killed the son of the head god austin to death. hence, the westerners avoid number “thirteen” just like the plague .
all in all, the function of numbers is not limited in the calculation or mathematics. it is obvious that numbers have gradually evolved throughout the long history of humanity, in response to practical requirements for calculation, forming a special culture of numbers. from the analysis above, we know people show different attitudes and preference towards number. thus, studying the diversity of number cults in english and chinese not only helps us understand their specific cultures better, but also facilitates intercultural communication.
3. vagueness of numbers in chinese and english
vagueness and preciseness are two paradoxical characteristics of human language. numbers, whose basic function is calculation, are integration of notion and symbol. but in most cases, a lot of numbers in idioms do not designate quantities anymore, not to say precise quantities. some numbers in idioms mean small quantities both in chinese and in english . in chinese, 一(one),二or两(two),三(three) are often used to indicate small quantities. for instance,“一本万利”,i.e. a small investment brings a ten-thousand fold profit. so “一” in the set phrase means a small investment or capital. and “略知一二”means “to know a little”. compared to one，two and three, the numbers from four to ten are big numbers relatively, as well as hundred, thousand, ten thousand, million and billion. so these numbers can be used to express large quantities. for instance, in chinese, we have set phrases:三令五申，三番五次，五光十色，五颜六色，千金买笑，千方百计，万目睽睽 and the like. in english, we can see such a sentence “the seventies saw a succession of one-hit wonders who were famous over night and then never heard of again.” here “one-hit wonder” means the success, which lasts a short period of time. and now let’s look at another example: “they won their last game. but one swallow doesn’t make a summer, they are still bottom of the league.” “one swallow doesn’t make a summer” means one can’t be certain that more good things will happen and the whole situation will improve just because one good thing has happen. here, “one swallow” doesn’t strictly refer to “one good thing”, but a small quantity. in english, we can see the proverb “a cat has nine lives”, which means that a cat has a vigorous life. thus, “nine” can also express many.
chinese and english use different counting units. so, in chinese, “万”( ten thousand), and“亿”(a hundred million) are employed to designate a very large quantities, whereas million and billion are used to achieve the same effect in english. for example, in chinese, we say “万分感谢” while in english, “ thanks a million” is substituted.
chinese culture and english culture are quite different from each other. in turn, the differences between them influence the vague meanings of their numbers inevitably. therefore, understanding what the numbers refer to becomes an important factor in translating numbers, especially in literary works.
4. methods of translation for chinese and english numbers
the same numbers in different countries with diverse cultural backgrounds will spark dissenting associations or connotations. in some cases, the target language shares the same association or connotation and linguistic feature with the source language. but in most cases, the source-language numbers or numeral expressions may produce specific culture, which is unknown to the target-language readers. thereby, the translation of numbers is simple on the surface but complicated in essence. translation is here conceived primarily as a process of intercultural communication, whose end product is a smooth and acceptable text in specific situation and culture. so decision-making in the methods of translation depends on the specific context and respective culture background.
4.1 literal translation
literal translation, also called word-for-word translation by cicero, horace and virtually everyone thereafter，is a notion which has been at the heart of most translation controversies for many centuries. as a translation strategy, literal translation clearly has its uses. here, the precise words and word order are followed and translated into the target language wherever possible. and this strategy involves the same meaning for a source language expression and brings about the same impact on the target reader and it can also provide language learners with useful insights into the structure of the target language. surely, literal translation can be employed in the pretext of not causing misunderstanding.
but i survived it somehow, and now that we’re together again i feel as if i’d just risen from the dead! “one day apart seems three autumns. ”—how true that old saying is. 
-- what happened to our red flag?
-- wu shulan has captured it …
-- what wu shulan? don’t tell me she has three heads and six arms! 
as stated above,“一日三秋” or“一日不见，如隔三秋” expresses that a day’s separation seems as long as three years. it is literally translated into “one day apart seems three autumns”, which not only retains the original meaning but is understandable and readable to the target reader. the same is in the case of“ 三头六臂”，originating from the chinese ancient myth about the superhuman, nezha. thus, in the example (2), translating it literally into “three heads and six arms” will give people an expression of vividness and powerfulness. generally speaking, some idioms and proverbs can be translated practically according to the translatability of the source language, to such an extent that the people of target language can assimilate them to fertilize their culture. and, hence it also can retain some of its diversity through literalism and engender a view of translation in which the target language in specific cultural context is paramount.
(3) i love ophelia, forty thousand brothers
could not (with all their quantity of love)
make up my sum…
(4) putting two and two together, as the saying is, it was not difficult for me to guess who the expected marquis was.
(w.thackeray, the newcomes)
the english people like to employ forty or forty thousand to indicate a large quantity, just as the sentences listed in the example (3). we can still understand its meaning even if it is translated into“四万个”. and “putting two and two together” means “guess the truth from what one sees, hears, etc”. so, even if it is translated as the expression above, it is still readable and understandable.
4.2 free translation
free translation is a type of translation in which more attention is paid to producing a naturally reading target text than to preserving the source text wording intact. it is also known as sense-for-sense translation. and according to different texts, different techniques are employed in translation.
4.2.1 meaning translation
in the course of translating, sometimes we find it difficult or impossible to translate literally to get equivalence between the source language and the target language, due to the diversity in the cultural backgrounds and the expressions. in english and chinese language, some idioms or idiomatic usages with numbers carry particular cultural connotations, which have no identical or similar characters in another language. this means the necessity, in order for the intercommunication to be realizable in practice, of free rendering in both source language and the target language.
e.g. (1) 七碟子八碗摆了一桌。
he laid out an elaborate spread. 
when she heard he would come again, she fumed with anger.
ah q waited for him to pause, and then screwed up his courage to speak. 
the set phrase “七碟子八碗”is a dialect, used to describe a substantial meal. and, “七窍”refers to seven apertures in the human head, i.e. eyes, ears, nostrils, and mouth.“七窍生烟”means very angry. and the translation above is appropriate and acceptable to the english people.
(4) seventy times seven did i take counsel with my soul.
(5)everyone sprang to his feet, but the business was over in two twos. (r.stevenson, new arabian nights)
(6)-- are you taking pam out tonight?
-- ah, that’s the sixty-four-thousand dollar question!
as illustrated above, the idiom “seventy times seven” originated from the bible. “not seven times, but, i tell you, seventy-seven times.” (matt, 18:22) . it is a repetition of seven in a number, equivalent to saying “a large number” or “without limit”, but its original meaning is“七十七个次”. and “in two twos” which means immediately can be translated into“转眼间，一下子”. the expression “sixty-four-thousand dollar” started to be used because of a television game show, in which people played games or answered questions to win prizes, the presenter used these words just before he asked the last and most difficult question. so it means the most difficult and crucial.
this method of translation is not always concerned with the words of the original forms, but with understanding the meaning of the text. sometimes more words, sentences or even paragraphs are to be added so as to be understandable.
4.2.2 the technique of replacement
it happens on the premise of not disturbing the original meaning and context. since there exist substantial idioms or idiomatic usages about numbers in both english and chinese, this method involves replacing a cultural specific expression with a target-language expression which is certain or likely to have a similar impact on the target language reader, so that the idiom in the target language conveys roughly the exactly same meaning as that of the source-language idioms.
if popularization remains at the same level forever… will not the educators and those who are educated be six of one and half a dozen of the other?
liao xiangyun eventually succeeded in pulling ji jiaoshu up from the ground with herculean efforts. 
even if mrs. liu had nine lives, she’d never dare offend you. 
in the first sentence, “半斤八两”is a chinese usage. according to the old weighing apparatus, one jin（斤）equals sixteen liang(两) “jin” and “liang” are both units of weighing. so,“半斤八两”means a situation that is good and bad to an equal degree. when translated into english, it can be transferred into the corresponding the english idiom “six of one and half a dozen of the other” on account of duodecimal number system in western countries like english and so on.
such methods of translation can be found in other idioms as following:
人生七十古来稀 the days of our years are threescore years and ten.
二一添作五 go fifty-fifty
一不做，二不休 in for a penny, in for a pound.
a nine day’s wonder 昙花一现
ten to one 十有八九
to be flung to the four winds 抛到九霄云外
at sixes and sevens 乱七八糟
a thousand and one ways 千方百计
4.2.3. the technique of adjustment
in order to be in conformity with the principle of tradition and thinking of the target language, some expressions of numbers should be enlarged or narrowed when translated into another language, because of the different usages in numbers.
xue pan had hastened to register himself as a pupil. his school-going was, needless to say, a pretence—“one day fishing and two days to dry the net” as they say, and had nothing to do with the advancement of learning.
eagles cleave the air,
fish glide in the limpid deep,
under freezing skies a million creatures contend in freedom .
the houses on the northern bank of the river are separated according to the design that has lanes running between every three or four of them and steps leading down to the river bank .
a hundred mountains and no bird,
a thousand paths without a footprint. 
(5) a slave that is not twentieth part of the tithe of your precedent lord…
for the first example,“三”and“两”in the original text designate no precise quantity, but their vague meaning, so when we translate it into english, we can narrow the number just as the above, retaining its original vagueness. and, “万”（ten thousand）is not as frequently used in english as in chinese due to the different unit of counting. similarly, in example (5), translating “twentieth” into “千分之一” is more acceptable to us chinese.
numbers, as an important theme in humanity, are filled with mystery and connotations both in english and chinese since the earliest time. people are surrounded by the rhythm of numbers. but different nations show quite different appetites for numbers due to the different cultural backgrounds. thus, cultural factors necessitate decision-making on translation strategies. it is generally agreed nowadays that literal translation and free translation do not form a binary contrast, and that the most appropriate translation strategy will vary according to the text being translated and the purpose of the translation. the translator should have a relatively thorough understanding of the chinese and english culture in order to convey the correct meaning of numbers, especially their idioms.
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