To bring across an idea non-existent in the target language is a perennial challenge to the translator. Nevertheless, translating an item that is present in both the source and target languages may not be necessarily an easier task, for the two languages involved may represent two different ways of conceptualisation. ‘Siblings’, ‘grandparents’, and ‘cousins’ are some of the more widely known examples in the translation between Chinese and English.
In fact, the Chinese translation of ‘landing’ may also present a similar problem from my teaching experience, although it is not often mentioned in translation pedagogical discussions. The word in question, in its architectural sense, refers to the flat area at the top of a staircase or between two flights of steps. In some popular English-Chinese dictionaries, ‘landing’ is usually translated as follows:
Oxford Advanced Learner’s English-Chinese Dictionary (2018), 9th ed:
louti pingtai 樓梯平台, guodu pingtai 過渡平台
Cambridge English-Chinese Dictionary (online):
pingtai 平臺 or guodao 過道
The English-Chinese Dictionary (Lu Gusun ed. 2007), 2nd ed.:
louti pingtai 樓梯平台, louti guodu pingtai 樓梯過渡平台, louti di (huo ding) bu guodao 樓梯底(或頂)部過道
A New Practical English-Chinese Dictionary (Revised and Enlarged) (Liang Shiqiu ed. 1964):
louti dingduan de zoulang 樓梯頂端的走廊; louti jieduan jian de zhujiaotai 樓梯階段間的駐脚臺
Nevertheless, most native speakers of Chinese, I believe, might probably point out that this is not idiomatic because there does not seem to be, as a matter of fact, an equivalent in Chinese in the everyday language. Instead, the area concerned is sometimes referred to as louti kou 樓梯口.
This brings us to the theory of linguistic relativism, which is also known as the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis: whilst the creation of a new idea/item will definitely result in new ways of expressions or even neologisms, the vocabulary of a language shapes the way we see this world.
This example has also thrown light on the use of bilingual dictionaries for translation. Novice translators may tend to stay faithful to the suggested translations provided, perhaps out of the confidence in dictionaries and, more importantly, their lack of confidence in themselves. However, it must be noted that the translations following a lemma (headword) in dictionaries are mostly for reception purposes only. That means, they are meant to assist the user to understand the headwords. For text production, the translator has to turn to the example sentences (if any) for inspiration.