esposearch - ideal online careers

Loss and Gain of Textual Meaning in Advertising Translation


There is always a need for good translation and therefore there is also a great demand for good translators. In order to become one there is the need to master a number of skills. A good translator is not only able to deal with and then convey textual meaning but also to be sensitive with the socio-cultural implications of the translated text. In other words it not nearly enough to translate and make the reader or audience nod their head in understanding but to make sure that there is a high degree of equivalence between the Source Language Text or SLT to the Target Language Text or TLT (Zequan, 2000) But as we know this is easier said than done and so experts in this field established strategies to achieve this goal. Even so there was a loss in textual meaning because of socio-cultural background of the original English writer and then there was the socio-cultural background that also influenced the Chinese translator.


In order to demonstrate the process of translation the author chose to analyze an English advertising copy translated to Chinese. There is a good reason why the proponent of the study chose this text. First he was able to clearly draw the link between SLT and TLT because of two features found in the advertisement. The advertising copy was both seen in the same country, specifically in Singapore and both was printed in two widely read newspapers. The English equivalent can be found in Life the most widely read English newspaper in Singapore and the Chinese equivalent of the advert can be sen in the most widely circulated national Chinese newspaper Lianhe Zaobao. Therefore, the second aspect of this translation can be inferred in the level of care and skill that was required to translate it because the company who was behind the advertising campaign will do everything in their power not only to translate the message clearly into Chinese but also to create the needed socio-cultural impact so that the target audience will go out and purchase this product. In other words this is not an ordinary translation but a high-quality one and therefore will suit the purpose of this case study.

Nevertheless, even with the utmost care given to the work of translation, the author still made the assertion that a rough translation resulted in a 20% loss in textual meaning. Thus, there was a need to use strategies that will help compensate the meaning loss. In this particular case study the author pointed out the major strategies used are combination, deletion, and addition.

After identifying the strategies that was used for translating the English text to Chinese the author began to breakdown the preliminary steps needed for initial translation and he pointed out that there were twenty five clauses in the English text and that there are 28 clauses in the Chinese text. But in comparing the two sets it was also discovered that textual equivalence was only found in twenty clauses. The eight additional clauses in the Chinese text was created using combination of three clauses, deletion of two clauses and then the addition of seven more clauses in to the TLT; in this way the translator was able to compensate the loss of meaning.

Assessment to the Presentation

One has to appreciate what Liu Zequan was attempting to achieve. He was trying to create a model for comparing works of translation and to determine if the translator was successful in conveying the message from the SLT to the TLT. He did it using a scientific method which uses a mathematical and logical approach. Thus, there was a breakdown of the the advertising copy both in the English and the Chinese language. In this way the author was able to establish the basic method of achieving textual equivalence. Moreover, he was also able to discover what part was combined, added and even deleted.

However, as readers began to see the side-by-side presentation of the 20 clauses that was identified earlier as achieving textual equivalence one is hard-pressed to understand how the Chinese clause – that was supposed to be the translation – could have achieved equivalence in the sense that the translator’s faithfulness to the original text. In other words one can easily be forgiven if he concludes that the Chinese translation was talking about an entirely different things. Consider two clauses identified as SLT and its supposed translation:

Original Clause Translation

other women seem to be more well-endowed in others have a charming chest area

the chest area

these women seem to have it all

others are born beauties

The English text was referring to size of the breast when it makes the judgment whether a woman is well-endowed or not. The Chinese translation says that women should desire a charming chest area. There is nothing there that suggests women, specifically Singaporean women should aspire to have bigger breasts as what the advert would like them to believe. The second clause has the same problem. The English text suggested that after all the success and the riches there are those who still have small breasts and yet on the other hand there are those who are successful and also are well-endowed; this leads to the conclusion that these women seem to have it all. The Chinese text translated the phrase “have it all” as being naturally born beautiful.

The loss of meaning is not only in the failure of the translator to create textual equivalence when it comes to providing the correct pairing of clauses; it means that if there are 25 clauses in the SLT then there must be 25 clauses in the SLT. The loss of meaning is much more serious than that. The translator failed to convey the intended meaning of the English text. This is exacerbated even further if one considers it from the vantage point of the advertising industry. The purpose of the translation was not merely to render an equivalent in the Chinese language but to create an awareness within the mind of the female Chinese reader that there is a need for her to increase the size of her breast so that she will become the object of envy.


The author attempted to created a scientific basis to show the loss of meaning in translated works and therefore he created a breakdown of the translation process beginning with the building blocks which is the clauses. The absence of a hundred percent textual equivalence led him to the conclusion that there was a 20% loss in meaning. However, an analysis of the translated work will make one realize that the translator was not able to faithfully convey the intended meaning of the English text. And much worse the company who hired the translator was not able to achieve their goal of convincing women in Singapore that they need to increase their breast size because the Chinese advert did not discuss specifically the advantage of having bigger breast but was vaguely talking about beauty and the need for women to have figure that others will admire. On the other hand it has to be pointed out that the author recognized the failure of the translator to convey the intended meaning of the text and he said that it was due to the cultural difference between the English speaking world and the Chinese people.


  1. Baker, Mona. 1992. In other words: a coursebook on translation. London and New York: Routledge.
  2. Barnard, Christopher. 1999. Ideology in action: Japanese translation of a Western news source. Paper presented at the 27th International Systemic Functional Conference, Singapore.
  3. Cafford, A., J. R. Martin & C. M. I. M. Matthiessen (eds.) in press. Language typology: a functional perspective. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  4. Chen, Hongwei. 1999. Cultural differences and translation. META XLIV 1, 121-132.
  5. Eggins, Suzanne. 1994. An introduction to systemic functional linguistics. London: Pinter Publishers.
  6. Fairclough, Norman. 1989. Language and power. London: Longman.
  7. Fang, Yan, Edward McDonald & Cheng, Musheng. 1995. Subject and Theme in Chinese: a systemic functional account. In Hasan, Ruqaiya & Peter Fries (eds.), 235- 273.
  8. Halliday, M.A.K. 1994. Introduction to functional grammar. London: Edward Arnold.
  9.  Edward McDonald. in press. A metafunctional profile of Chinese Grammar. In Cafford, A., J. R. Martin & C. M. I. M. Matthiessen (eds.).
  10. Hatim, Basil, & Ian Mason. 1990. Discourse and the translator. London: Longman.
  11. Ho, Chee Lick. 1999. in press. The cultural grounding of Singapore English. In Ooi, Vincent (ed.). Evolving Ideology.
  12. Wang Dongfeng & Shen Dan. 1999. Factors influencing the process of translating, META XLIV 1,78-99.
  13. Zechuan, Liu. 2000. Loss and Gain of Textual Meaning in Advertising Translation: A case study. National University of Singapore.

About the author

we will assist you 24/7

Quick Contact

Keep current with the ESPOSEARCH Blog. Let’s get it written!

EspoSearch Ⓒ 2022 - All Rights Are Reserved