Mo Yan’s style in using color expressions and Goldblatt’s translation strategies: A parallel corpus-based study

Rongrong DING

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Theses


Mo Yan is one of the most famous contemporary Chinese writers both at home and abroad. Howard Goldblatt is the key English translator who translated Mo Yan’s major works into English. His translations of Mo Yan’s works are widely praised. One distinctive feature of Mo Yan’s language lies in his creative use of color terms.
A 2.3-million-word/character Chinese - English parallel corpus of Mo Yan’s six key novels and their English translations by H. Goldblatt has been compiled for this research. Four Chinese well-known novels totaling 1443,000 words and seven original English novels totaling 810,000 words are used as reference corpus data for comparative studies of color terms. Based on the parallel corpus and by adopting both quantitative and qualitative approaches, this study gives a comprehensive description and analysis of the style of Mo Yan in using color terms and expressions and Goldblatt’s English translations of these terms.
Data analysis shows that Mo Yan uses more color terms and related expressions than other writers both at home and abroad, and this style is consistent in his five of six river novels. The most common color terms in his works are red, black and white. Besides, blue and green are more frequently used by Mo Yan compared with other contemporary famous Chinese writers. Mo Yan is very creative in using colors in his novels to depict human characters, describe scenes and construe the necessary story atmosphere. He successfully applies a variety of colors to describe human body parts especially eyes and face which contributes to the construction and foregrounding of different human characters. There are many cases of deviant collocation of colors in Mo Yan’s works such as green eyes and green face which add special flavor to his works. Apart from using simple color terms, Mo Yan also prefers to use a lot of color compounds which consist of two color morphemes or in ABB forms.
Goldblatt has preserved Mo Yan’s distinctive feature in using colors in translation. For those deviant color collocations, Goldblatt almost renders them literally and maintains Mo Yan’s style in English. Besides, in rendering two word color compounds, more than 50% are rendered into one single basic color terms by Goldblatt. Corpus data analysis confirms that simplification is one main feature of Goldblatt’s translation. What is more, while translating Chinese four-word color idioms or clusters, Goldblatt mainly adopts domestication strategy supplemented by foreignization and has successfully disseminated Chinese culture to target readers. Last but not least, omission is seldom adopted in rendering four-word color idioms or clusters which proves that faithfulness is one important guideline Goldblatt has adhered to in translation.
The comprehensive study of Mo Yan’s distinctive use of color terms and of Goldblatt’s translation help to raise our awareness of the importance of striking a balance between the ontological nature of source texts and translator subjectivity. Besides, data analysis in this study showcases what kind of writing style the westerners prefer and what translation style may contribute to the ‘going-out’ of Chinese literature and culture. Meanwhile, it is believed that considerable bilingual teaching materials can be designed and generated based on the parallel corpus and that these will be valuable for language teaching and translator training. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Education
Awarding Institution
  • The Education University of Hong Kong
  • WANG, Lixun 王立勛, Supervisor
  • CHEUNG, Hin Tat, Supervisor
Award date27 Jul 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Mo Yan
  • Howard Goldblatt
  • Corpus-based translation studies
  • Translation strategy
  • Color terms
  • Theses and Dissertations
  • Thesis (Ed.D.)--The Education University of Hong Kong, 2016.


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