Thinking on equivalence in translation helps to deepen our understanding of the nature of translation. Equivalence, at the abstract level, is a rather necessary and important term in the field of translation studies (Edwin Gentzler 1993 p.58). Theoretically, according to him equivalence is attainable and equivalence takes the form of different subcategories that are realized at different layers of translation, because this term usually comes with modifier. Certainly, nothing but the abundant practice of translating and the study of obvious problems occurring in translation would be enough for a theory relating to equivalence.

    Broek (1981 p.33) also redefines the term equivalence by the concept of “true understanding”. Another scholar M. Mehrach (1997 p.44) also considers equivalence “an impossible aim in translation”. He supports his saying by the idea that no two languages share the same linguistic structures, social or, cultural aspects. Instead, he proposes the use of the term ‘adequacy’ for the ‘appropriate’ translation, that is,” a translation that has achieved the required optimal level of interlanguage communication under certain given conditions.”

    Hervey and Higgins (1995 p.75) believe that the principle that a translation should have an equivalence relationship with the source language text is problematic. For supporting their idea, they say that there are three main reasons that an exact equivalence or effect is difficult to achieve. Firstly, it is impossible for a text to have constant interpretations even for the same person on two occasions. According to them before one could objectively assess textual effects, one would need to have referred to a rather detailed and exact theory of psychological effect, a theory capable, among other things, of giving an account of the aesthetic sensations that are often important in response to a text. Secondly, translation is a matter of subjective interpretation of translators of the source language text. Thus, producing an objective effect on the target text readers, which is the same as that on the source text readers is an unrealistic expectation. Thirdly, it may not be possible for translators to determine how audiences respond to the source text when it was first produced.

According to Kong (2009 p.56) equivalence is at least a functional and effective term for us to describe and analyze translation or to tolerate the heated controversy in this field and find a way out of the complex dilemmas in the practical translating that is unresolved. And according to him the theory on equivalence actually did, do or will do offer us a theoretical basis to examine the variety of translation methods created.

According to Monia Bayar (2007 p.223) equivalence consists of seven degrees: optimum translation, near –optimum translation, partial translation, weaker and stronger translation, poor translation, mistranslation and zero equivalence/non-translation. Each degree has specific characteristics that distinguish them form each other which are explained in the following:


Optimum translation

     It refers to the highest level of approximation to the ST. Mona Bayar (2007 p.163) defines it as “the closest equivalence degree attainable, given the circumstances, the linguistic and extra linguistic resources actually available to the translator.” In other words, a TT may reach the optimal degree when it preserves the ‘ super ordinate goal’ of the ST. Additionally according to her, the TT is said to be optimal when it looks semantically and grammatically well-formed, with sentences that cohere to each other to provide the ST goal and preserve its content, and also when the TT is readable and easy to understand by receptors.


Near – optimum translation  

    Near optimum translation refers to the case where the ST super ordinate goal and sub-goals are cohesively and coherently rendered to the TT, but do not reach the readability of the optimal degree from a textual point of view. 


Partial translation  

    Partial translation refers to the case in which the ST is partially rendered to the TT, that is, the translator partially translates the text’s superordinate goal. According to her statement, in this type, it should be stated that the readability and correctness of the TT do not mean its preservation of the ST, because the TT might be read fluently, without conveying the ST goal.


Weaker and stronger translation

   By Using Monia Bayar’s words, some translations are called weaker translations because they reproduce the ST goals in’ weaken terms’ if compared to original, whereas, others are named strong versions for their use of stronger terms in their rendition of ST goals. 


Poor translation  

    In poor translation, readability is the core of the problem. Though the TT may or may not save the ST super ordinate goal, it is read with great difficulty by the receptor. In other words, poor translation occurs when the translator unable to transfer the ST goals into a readable TT and in an obvious way that helps the reader grasp them easily. 



    In mistranslation the TT neither is readable nor keeps the superordinate goal of the ST. 


Zero equivalence or translation

    Zero equivalence occurs when there is no one –to one equivalent between the ST and the TT. According to Bayar, this happens when the translator deals with texts that contain many culturally bound words or expressions.

In general according to Bayar, equivalence in translation can be measured by degrees that range from optimal equivalence to zero equivalence. These degrees might be measured by the levels of nearness or distance from the ST ‘superordinate goal’. While optimal equivalence is considered as the highest level in equivalence, or the most nearest degree from the ST, zero equivalence is related to the lowest degree of equivalence or the most distant degree from the ST goal. 

    Additionally, some development in equivalence research is also established by the work of the Monia Bayar (2007). In her book To Mean or Not To Mean, Bayar distinguishes between formal equivalence, semantic equivalence, cultural equivalence and pragmatic equivalence. For her, formal equivalence” creates an area of correspondence ranging around the word, lower units such as the phoneme or the morpheme”. She also states that transliteration, categorical correspondence such as the correspondence of ‘ noun to noun, verb to verb’ between ST and TT and textual correspondence such as length, stylistic aspects, meter, rhythm and rhyme, are all instances of  ‘ formal equivalence’. 

    For the semantic equivalence, Bayar (2007) says that this type relies on the preservation of many semantic criteria: denotation, connotation and propositional content. According to her, words which do not have the same equivalent meanings could be translated by’ explanatory expressions’ as a way of compensation. 

For the third type, ‘cultural equivalence’, Bayar (2007) considers it to be the most difficult and controversial kind of equivalence, since it is related to ‘human identity’. She defines it as follows:

‘Cultural equivalence aims at the reproduction of whatever cultural features the ST holds into TT. These vary from things specific to the geographical situation, the climate, the history, the tradition, the religion, the interpersonal or inter community social behavior, to any cultural event having an effect on the language community’. 

    It is clear from this definition that ‘ cultural equivalence’ consists of the rendition of the SL cultural features into a TL in a way that help the reader understand these foreign cultural features through his own cultural ones. Actually, ‘cultural translation’ can be easily reached in case the cultural words under translation are universally known. However this can be decreased with cultural differences that languages may have.

   As far as ‘pragmatic equivalence’ is concerned, Bayar (2007) points out that this type tends to reproduce the context and text goals of the SL. She also shares the same idea with Hatim and Mason (1990 p.236-8) that “pragmatic equivalence subsumes all of the semio-pragmatic-communicative layers of communication”.


 Another famous and renowned model of equivalence is presented by Koller (1989).  According to Koller (1979, p.187-91; 1989, p.100-104), equivalence is commonly established as follows: 


1. Referential or denotative equivalence, when the source language (SL) and target language (TL) words supposedly referring to the same thing in the real world. 


2. Pragmatic equivalence, when the SL and TL words having the same effect on their respective readers.


3. Formal equivalence, when the SL and TL words having similar orthographic or phonological features. 


4. Connotative equivalence, when the SL and TL words triggering the same or similar associations in the minds of native speakers of the two languages.


5. Text normative equivalence, when the SL and TL words are being used in the same or similar contexts in their respective languages.


     Other scholars such as Newman (1994) emphasize that not all the variables in translation are relevant in every situation and those translators should decide which considerations should be given priority at any one time, thus establishing a kind of functional equivalence.

Kade (1968 p.68) and other translators (Arntz 1993, Hann 1992) on lexical equivalence, in particular in the area of terminology, combine the above qualitative distinctions with a quantitative aspect that categories equivalence relationships according to following categories:


1- One – to – one equivalence; when a single expression in the TL for a single SL expression is used.


2- One – to – much equivalence; when more than one TL expression for a single SL expression is used.


3- One – to – part – of – one equivalence; when a TL expression covers part of a concept designated by a single SL expression.


4- Null equivalence; when there is no TL expression for an SL expression.


     Popovic (1976 p.76) in his definition of translation equivalence (TE) distinguishes four types of equivalence as presented follow:

 1- Linguistic equivalence, where there is similarity on the linguistic level of both SL and TL texts, i.e. word for word translation.


2- Paradigmatic equivalence, where there is equivalence of ‘the elements of paradigmatic expressive axis, i.e. elements of grammar, which Popovic sees as being a higher category than lexical equivalence.


3- Stylistic (translational) equivalence, where there is functional equivalence of elements in both original and translation aiming at an expressive identity with an invariant of identical meaning.


4- Textual (syntagmatic) equivalence, where there is equivalence of syntagmatic structuring of a text, i.e. equivalence of form and shape.

   As a whole, most non professional translators are not aware of the importance of finding equivalence strategies at word level in the process of translating and they may sometimes even do not know the meaning and usage of different kinds of equivalence strategies, thus, especially in translation of scientific texts or words they may face a problem in finding better equivalent for the scientific texts which may lead them to a mistranslation. So, the models of finding equivalence should be taught to the translators in the beginner stages to improve their quality of their translation in general.







        Hatim, B. (1997). Equivalence and translation, In M. Baker (Ed.), The routledge encyclopedia of translation studies, (pp.67-238). London & New York: Routledge.    


Hervey, S. and Higgins, I.(1995). Thinking Spanish translation: a course in translation method: Spanish into English, (p.71-77). London; New York: Routledge.


Hartman, R.R.K and Stork, F.C (1972).  Selected essay on translation equivalence. Tubingen press.


Kenny, D. (1998).’ Equivalence’, in the routledge encyclopaedia                     

 of translation studies, edited by Mona Baker,London and new york :      Routledge,pp.77-80


Leuven-Zwart, K. van. 1989 and 1990. Translation and the original: similarities and dissimilarities, I and II, Target 1.2 p 151–81 and Target 2.1, p. 60—95.





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