Equivalence and contemporary equivalence theories
национальный университет технологий и дизайна
The aim of this article is to
review the theory of equivalence as interpreted by some of the most innovative
theorists in this field. The concept of
equivalence is analysed in terms of its importance in translation.
many discussions of the term “equivalence” in translation. The
proponents of this notion such as E. Nida, P.
Newmark, R. Jakobson, M. Bayar and others try to define its nature, types and
also compare its degrees as a crucial subject of research in translation,
whereas other opponents like van den Broek, M. Mehrach and Leuven-Zwart
consider it as an impossible point for the translator
to reach, and a hindering matter in the development of translation theory.
I will try to shed
as much light as possible on theories and writings that have dealt with the
notion of equivalence.
In fact, the increase in
studying equivalence in translation coincides with the birth of a strong wave
of research in machine translation. Leuven-Zwart states:
“It (equivalence) was used then
in its strict scientific sense, to refer to an absolute symmetrical
relationship between words of different languages” [3,p.14 cited by Mehrach].
That is, the aim of
researchers to develop automatic translation led to concentration on the equivalent effects that exist between words from
different languages, hence the growth of equivalence studies.
The Russian-born American structuralist R. Jakobson
is considered to be one of the earliest theorists who were occupied by the
study of equivalence in meaning. Jakobson claims that there is ordinarily no
full equivalence between code units [4,p.36]. He
also points out that the problem of both meaning and equivalence is related to
the differences between structures, terminology, grammar and lexical forms of
languages. Jakobson states that equivalence in difference is the cardinal problem
of language and the pivotal concern of linguistics [4,p.37].
In his work on
Bible translation, Nida concentrates on studying meaning in both its semantic
and pragmatic natures. He breaks with the old stories, which regard the
meanings of words as fixed and unchanged, to give meaning a more functional
nature. For him, words get their meanings according to the context and can be
changed through the culture in which they are used. Needless to say that Nida
distinguishes between many types of meaning: linguistic meaning, referential
meaning and emotive meaning [4,p.38].
Besides, Nida’s concept of
meaning in translation is, to some extent, influenced by N. Chomsky’s theory
of “generative transformational model”. The latter theory focuses on the
universal features of human language. For Chomsky, each language is composed of
a deep structure that undergoes the process of transformations and a surface
structure produced by these transformations and is subject to phonological and
Nida’s theory of
translation is characterized by the distinction between two types of
equivalence: formal equivalence and dynamic equivalence. For formal
equivalence, the translator focuses on the message itself, that is, its form
and content, and there should be a close similarity between the source text
(ST) and the target text (TT) message [5,p.159]. In the same context, J.
Munday, points out that “gloss translation” with scholarly “footnotes” are the
most typical of formal equivalence as they allow the student to understand the
source culture language and customs [4,p.41].
paramount importance to the notion of “naturalness”. He claims that the main
aim of “equivalent effect” is to achieve the closest natural equivalent to the
source language. Actually, “naturalness” as a basic keyword in Nida’s theory
relies on the adaptation of grammar, cultural references and lexicon of the ST.
It goes without saying that Nida privileges the preservation of the text
meaning on its style since it allows the translator to create the same equivalent effects.
The other figure of
translation theorists who devotes a great deal of research to the notion of
equivalence is W. Koller. He distinguishes between five types of equivalence:
denotative equivalence refers to the case where the ST and the TT have the same
denotations, that is conveying the same extra linguistic facts; connotative
equivalence, also referred to as stylistic equivalence, is related to the
lexical choices between near synonyms; text normative refers to text types,
i.e., the description and analysis of a variety of texts behaving differently;
pragmatic equivalence, also called communicative equivalence, is oriented
towards the receptor of the text, as he should receive the same effect that the
original text produces on its readers; formal equivalence, may also be referred
to as expressive equivalence, is related to the word-for-word rendition of
forms, aesthetic and stylistic features of the ST [4,p.47]. It goes without
saying that Koller devotes a large part of his research to the examination of
the relation between equivalence and correspondence.
“equivalence” continues to be a central issue for many years. Theorists and
scholars try to define it as a way to enhance its role in translation.
Translation equivalence occurs when the SL (source language) and the TL (target language) texts or items
are related to the same relevant features of situation substance.
Some scholars use
the term “text-bound equivalence”, while others work on “functional
equivalence”. M. Baker also devotes her work to equivalent types and argues
that equivalence is always relative in the sense that it is influenced by many
linguistic and cultural factors [1,p.6].
Besides we can
distinguish between formal equivalence, semantic equivalence, cultural
equivalence and pragmatic equivalence. Formal equivalence designates an area of
correspondence ranging around the word, even though involving lower units such
as the phoneme or the morpheme. In a bottom-up approach to translation,
equivalence at word level is the first element to be taken into consideration
by the translator. In fact, when the translator starts analysing the ST
he looks at the words as single units in order to find a direct equivalent term
in the TL.
equivalence relies on the preservation of many semantic criteria: denotation,
connotation and propositional content. So, words which do not have the same equivalent meanings can be
translated by “explanatory expressions” as a way of compensation.
equivalence aims at the reproduction of whatever cultural features the ST holds
into the TT. These vary from things specific to the geographical situation, the
climate, the history, the tradition, the religion, the interpersonal behaviour to any cultural event having an
effect on the language community [2,p.177].
It is clear from
this definition that cultural equivalence consists of the rendition of the SL
cultural features into the TL in a way that helps the reader understand these
foreign cultural features through his own cultural ones. Actually, cultural
equivalence can be easily reached in case the cultural words under translation
are universally known. However, this can be diminished with cultural
differences that languages may have.
tends to reproduce the context and text goals of the SL. It subsumes all of the
semio-pragmatic-communicative layers of communication.
Examples of these
semiotic and communicative dimensions are genre, field, mode, tenor, text type
and translation purpose. Pragmatic equivalence refers to implicatures and
strategies of avoidance during the translation process. Implicature is not
about what is explicitly said but what is implied. Therefore, the translator
needs to work out implied meanings in translation in order to get the ST
message across. The role of the translator is to recreate the author’s
intention in another culture in such a way that enables the TC reader to
understand it clearly.
scholars oppose the idea of equivalence in translation as a form of linguistic
synonymy, ensuring that the latter does not exist even with words of the same
language. Besides, van den Broek rejects terms like similarity,
analogy, adequacy, invariance and congruence, and the implications they may have
Sometimes the term
“equivalence” is redefined by the concept of “true understanding”. Besides it
not only distorts the basic problem of translation, but also obstructs the
development of a descriptive theory of translation. M. Mehrach also considers
equivalence as an impossible aim in translation. He corroborates his saying by
the idea that no two languages share the same linguistic structures, and social
or cultural aspects. Instead, he proposes the use of the term “adequacy” as a
reference for the “appropriate” translation, that is, “a translation that has
achieved the required optimal level of interlanguage communication under certain
given conditions” [3,p.16].
It is clear from the above
conflicting views and theories that the notion of equivalence is arbitrary and
relative as well. It is, in fact, difficult to determine since no one could
objectively define the point at which the TT becomes equal to the ST. The
notion of equivalence is undoubtedly one of the most problematic and
controversial areas in the field of translation theory. The term has caused,
and it seems quite probable that it will continue to cause, heated debates
within the field of translation studies. This term has been analysed,
evaluated and extensively discussed from different points of view and has been
approached from many different perspectives. The first discussions of the
notion of equivalence in translation initiated the further elaboration of the
term by contemporary theorists. Even the brief outline of the issue given above
indicates its importance within the framework of the theoretical reflection on
translation. The difficulty in defining equivalence seems to result in the
impossibility of having a universal approach to this notion.
Baker M. The Routledge
Encyclopedia of Translation Studies, Part II: History and Traditions. London
and New York: Routledge, 1997.
– pp. 320.
Bayar M. To
Mean or Not to Mean. Kadmous
cultural foundation. Khatawat for publishing and distribution. Damascus, Syria,
2007. – pp.
Mehrach M. Towards a Text-Based Model for Translation
Evaluation. – Ridderkerk:
Ridden print, 1977. – pp.
Munday J. Introducing Translation Studies, Theories and Applications.
London and New York: Routledge, 2001.
– pp. 222.
Nida Eugene A. Toward a Science of Translating: With Special
Reference to Principles Involved in Bible Translating. Leiden: E. J.
Brill, 1964. – pp.331.