Equivalence and Translation

When a translator attempts to translate a text from one language (source) to another language (target), s/he should first of all understand and comprehend the source text and then translates it to the target language. Therefore, the full awareness of the source and target text for finding accurate and appropriate equivalence can help translators in rendering of the contents of the text for reader.

    Leonardi (2000) believes that equivalence is the central issue in translation although its definition, relevance, and applicability within the field of translation theory have caused heated controversy, and many different theories of the concept of equivalence have been elaborated within this field in the past fifty years.

    The study of equivalence in translation shows how translators accurately render text in the process of translating it from source language (SL) into target language or vice versa. According to Halverson (1997), analogies between the equivalence concept and a concept of scientific knowledge as it is and has been studied within the philosophy of science are highly informative in representing the philosophical issues involved in equivalence, translation, and knowledge. He also believes that rather than rejecting the concept as undefined or imprecise, it is in the interest of the field of translation studies to consider the origins and manifestations of this ‘imprecision’ in order that we may be better informed and less inclined towards theoretical oppositions.   

Therefore the translators, by finding equivalence in translation can show the tentative nature of their claiming and invite the readers, as intelligent individuals, to join and decide which translation is accurately render the ideas, concepts and words of  original text. 

Equivalence as a challenge

According to Halverson (1997, p.207-210) equivalence is defined as” a relationship existing between two entities, and the relationship is described as one of likeness/ sameness/ similarity/ equality in terms of any of a number of potential qualities”. Proponents of equivalence based theories of translation usually define equivalence as the relationship between a source text (ST) and a target text (TT) that allows the TL to be considered as a translation of the ST in the first place. Equivalence relationships are also said that is between parts of ST and parts of TL, in fact the above definition of equivalence is not unproblematic. Pym (1992, p.37) has pointed to its circularity: equivalence is supposed to define translation, and translation, in turn, defines equivalence. Unfortunately, a few attempts have been made to define equivalence in translation in a way that avoids this circularity (Dorothy1998).

      Theorists who believe that translation is predicated upon some kind of equivalence have usually concentrated on the developing typologies of equivalence, focusing on the rank (word, sentence or text level) at which equivalence is said to obtain or on the type of meaning (denotative, connotative, pragmatic, etc.) that is said to be held constant in translation.

Snell – Hornby suggests that the applicability of an equivalence concept in translation studies exist at the level of terminology and nomenclature. In Wilss approach (1982 p.68) on the other hand, translation equivalence was “an empirical phenomenon which carries with it problems which presently can be solved, if at all, only for each individual translation text”.

       Numerous scholars, including Eugene Nida (1964), Roman Jakobson (1959), John C. Catford (1965), Juliane House (1977), Peter Newmark (1988), Vinay and Darblenet (1995) addressed the subject of translation equivalence (TE) using either the linguistic approach or the functional approach. Their common approaches were that to provide the rules of TE and then to use samples drawn from texts to support the rules. In other words, the focus of their TE studies gave priority over practice and to fixed norms over dynamic principles.

      Newmark (1988  p. 62) examined the translation equivalence concept from perspective that swung “between literal and free, faithful and beautiful, exact and natural translation, depending on maybe the bias is in favor of the author or the reader, the source or target language of the text”. He clarified that “communicative translation attempts to produce in its readers an effect as close as possible to that produced in the readers of the original” and that “semantic translation attempts to render as closely as the semantic and syntactic structure of the second language, the exact contextual meaning of the original”.

     G. Jager (1989, p.33), from the Leipzig school of translation, presents his view about the importance of dealing scientifically with the concept of translation equivalence, more specifically in relation to the possibility or the need of using this concept for practical goals of the so called automatic translation against the background of modern conceptions of translation theory which attempt to understand universally the linguistic exchange. Here arises inevitably the question about the general meaningfulness of research on the discovery and description of equivalence relations. In fact, it is possible according to Jager we use translation equivalence for practical goals of the automatic translation against this modern conceptions of translation theory that deals with linguistic exchange or is it important to explore and describe the equivalence relationship in translation. 

     J.House (1997 p.57) expresses his point of view about translation equivalence as follows: “the notion of equivalence is the conceptual basis of translation and, to quote Catford, ‘the central problem of translation practice is that of finding TL (target language) equivalents. A central task of translation theory is therefore that of defining the nature and conditions of translation equivalence’ (1965 p. 21) .After with the awareness of the concept of translation equivalence, in the next section we study different taxonomies and typologies of equivalence which are presented by renowned and famous theoreticians.

      Nida (1969 p.68) argued that there are two different types of equivalence, namely formal equivalence which in the second edition by Nida and Taber (1982) is referred to as formal correspondence and dynamic equivalence.

Formal correspondence ‘focuses attention on the message itself, in both form and content’. Nida and Taber make it clear that there is not always formal equivalence between language pairs. They therefore suggest that this formal equivalence should use wherever possible if the translation aims at achieving formal rather than dynamic equivalence.

     The uses of formal equivalence sometimes have serious implications in TT since the translation will not be easily understood by the target audience (Fawcett 1997).  Nida and Taber themselves said that ‘typically, formal correspondence distorts the grammatical and stylistic patterns of the receptor language, and hence distorts the message, so as to cause the receptor to misunderstand or to labor unduly hard’.

      Dynamic equivalence is defined as a translation principle according to which a translator seeks to translate the meaning of the original in a way that the TL wording will create the same impact on the TL audience as the original wording have created upon the ST audience. They also said that ‘Frequently, the form of the original text is changed; but as long as the change follows the rules of back transformation in the source language, of contextual consistency in the transfer, and of transformation in the receptor language, the message is preserved and the translation is faithful’ (Nida and Taber, 1982, P.200). Only in Nida and Taber’s edition it is clearly stated that ‘dynamic equivalence in translation is far more than absolute correct communication of information’.

      Catford (1965 p.58) defines translation equivalence clearly different from that stated by Nida since Catford had a preference for a more linguistic based approach to translation and this approach is based on the linguistic work of Firth and Halliday. His main task in the field of translation theory is the introduction of the concept of types and shifts of translation. Catford proposed very broad types of translation in terms of three criteria:

1.  The extent of translation (full translation vs. partial translation).

2. The grammatical rank at which translation equivalence is established (rank bound translation vs. unbound translation).

 3. The level of language involved in translation (total translation vs. restricted translation). 

This study will refer to only the second type of translation, since this is related to the concept of equivalence. In rank bound translation an equivalent is sought in the TL for each word, or for each morpheme encountered in the ST. In unbound translation equivalences are not tied to a particular rank, and we may additionally find equivalences at sentence, clause and other levels. House (1977) is follower of semantic and pragmatic equivalence and says that ST and TT should match one another in function. House suggests that it is possible to specify the function of a text by determining the situational dimensions of the ST.

      In fact according to her theory, every text itself is placed within a particular situation which has to be correctly identified and taken in to account by the translator. After the ST analysis, House believes that if the ST and the TT differ significantly on situational features, then they are not functionally equivalent and the translation is not of a high quality in fact, she represent that ‘a translation text should not only match its source text in function, but it should employ equivalent situational – dimensional instrument to achieve that function’. House’s theory of equivalence in translation seems to be much more flexible than Catford’s. In fact she gives example, uses complete texts and more importantly, she relates linguistic features to the context of both source and target text (Leonardi 2000).

Roman Jakobson (1959 p.54) in his study of equivalence gave new perspective to the theoretical analysis of translation since he introduced the notion of ‘equivalence in difference’. On the basis of his semiotic approach to language he suggests three kinds of translation.

1- Intralingual (within one language, i.e. rewording of paraphrase)

2. Interlingual (between two languages)

3- Intersemiotic (between sign systems)

      Jakobson claims that, in the case of interlingual translation, the translator makes use of synonyms in order to transfer the ST message. This means that in interlingual translations there is no full equivalence between code units.

     According to his theory, ‘translation involves two equivalent messages in two different codes’. Jakobson also says that from a grammatical point of view languages may differ from each other to a greater or lesser degrees, but this does not mean that translation can not be possible, in other words, the translator may face the problem of not finding a translation equivalent. He also says that ‘whenever there is deficiency, terminology may be qualified and amplified by loanwords or loan translations, neologisms or semantic shifts and finally by circumlocutions’.


  Catford, jhon c.(1965). A linguistic theory of translation: an essay        

   on applied linguistic, p.7-59, London: Oxford University press. 


 Crystal, D. (1995). Translation equivalence, p.68-120,        www.davidcrystal.com/DC_articles/Religion8.pdf


Collins English Dictionary. (1994), p.526, Glosgow : Hyper Collins .   


 Crookall ,D. & R.L.(1990) . Oxford. Linking language learning and simulation/ gaming. Simulation, gaming and language learning. New York: Newsbury House Publishers. 


Chung-ling, Sh. (2005). Using trados’s winalign tool to teach the translation Equivalence Concept, www.accurapid.com/journal/36 edu .htm 


   Fawcett, P. (1997). Translation and language: linguistic theories         

 explained, Manchester: St Jerome publishing.


Gerzimisch-Arbogast, H. (2001):”Equivalence prameters and                                                            

 evaluation”. Meta, V46, N2, P.227-242.







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