By: Alireza Sadeghi Ghadi, MA Student of Translation, Fars Science and Research University, Iran


Dr.Amir Marzban, PHD in TEFL, Faculty Member of Ghaemshar Azad University, Iran 


Therefore, many studies have been focused on the nature, interlingual and

intertextual, empirical and theoretical notion of equivalence in recent years

(Catford 1965, 1994, Pym 1992, Koller 1979, Toury 1980, Hutchins and Somers

1992, Arnold 1994). The domain of equivalents covers linguistic units such as

morphemes, words, phrases, clauses, idioms and proverbs (Baker 1992).

Through using finding equivalence strategies, the translators also attempt to

improve the chance of persuading their readers by making better their qualities

of translation (Neubert 1985).


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 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


The study of equivalence in translation shows how translators accurately

render text in translation 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 with

in the philosophy of science are highly informative in painting out the

philosophical issues involved in equivalence, translation, and knowledge. He

also believes that rather than dismissing the concept as ill – defined 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 antagonism.

Therefore the translators, by finding equivalence in translation can show the

tentative nature of their assertions, invite the readers, as intelligent individuals,

to join and decide which translation is accurately render the ideas, concepts and

words of original text.

Historical Background

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 to hold between parts of

ST and parts of TL the above definition of equivalence is not unproblematic.

Pym (1992, p.37), for one, 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 (Dorothy, 1998).

Theorists who maintain that translation is predicated upon some kind of

equivalence have, for the most part, concentrated on 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, “though

even here reservations are called for”, In Wilss approach (1982) 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 approach was to set 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) examined the translation equivalence concept from

perspective that swung “between literal and free, faithful and beautiful, exact

and natural translation, depending on whether the bias was to be 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 allow, 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 globally the linguistic exchange, there arises

inevitably the question about the general meaningfulness of research on the

discovery and description of equivalence relations. Undoubtly we would give an

affirmative answer to this question and here we bear in mind specially a

demanding test case for the science of translation: automatic translation”.

J.House (1997) 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)” (p.25). 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.

Typologies of Equivalence

Nida (1969) 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 assert 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 such a way that the

TL wording will trigger the same impact on the TL audience as the original

wording did upon the ST audience. They argue 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 is it clearly stated that ‘dynamic equivalence in translation is far more

than mere correct communication of information’.

Carford (1965) defines translation equivalence clearly different from that

adopted 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 contribution 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 us 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).

We will refer to only the second type of translation, since this is the one that

concerns 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 in favor of semantic and pragmatic equivalence and argues that ST and TT

should match one another in function. House suggests that it is possible to

characterize 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

substantially on situational features, then they are not functionally equivalent,

and the translation is not of a high quality in fact, she acknowledges that ‘a

translation text should not only match its source text in function, but employ

equivalent situational – dimensional means to achieve that function’. House’s

theory of equivalence in translation seems to be much more flexible than

Catford’s. In fact she gives authentic 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) in his study of equivalence gave new impetus to the

theoretical analysis of translation since he introduced the notion of ‘equivalence

in difference’. On the basis of his semiotic approach to language and his

aphorism ‘there is no signatum without signum’ he suggest three kinds of


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 get the ST message across. 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 goes on to say that from a grammatical point of view

languages may differ from one another 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 acknowledges

that ‘whenever there is deficiency, terminology may be qualified and amplified

by loanwords or loan translations, neologisms or semantic shifts and finally by

circumlocutions’. An extremely interesting discussion of the notion of

equivalence can be found in Baker (1992) who seems to offer a more detailed

list of conditions upon which the concept of equivalence can be defined. She

explores the notion of equivalence at different levels, in relation to translation

process, including all different aspects of translation and hence putting together

the linguistic and communicative approach. She distinguishes between:

Equivalence that can appear at word level which is used in this

study and above word level, when translating from one language

into another.

 After dealing with the difficulties implied in the lack of

2-Gramatical equivalence, when referring to diversity of grammatical

categories across languages.

She notes that grammatical rules may vary across

3- Textual equivalence, when referring to the equivalence between a SL text

and a TL text in terms of information and cohesion.

 In terms of textual equivalence, she proposes following classification of

strategies to solve textual equivalence.

4- Pragmatic equivalence, when referring to implicatures and strategies of

avoidance during translation process.

She believes that the role of the translator is to recreate the author’s intention in

another culture in such a way that enables the TT reader to understand it clearly.

Another famous and renowned model of equivalence presented by Koller

(1989). At various levels, and loosely following 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 scholar, Newman (1994) stress that not all the variables in translation

are relevant in every situation and those translators must decide which

considerations should be given priority at any one time, thus establishing a kind

of functional equivalence.

Popovic (1976) in his definition of translation equivalence (TE) distinguishes

four types of equivalence as presented follow:

1- Linguistic equivalence, where there is homogeneity 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.

Interlingual and Intertextual Equivalence

In earlier work on equivalence, theorists made a distinction between

hypothetical mapping between elements of abstract language systems (at level of

langue) on the one hand, and actual observable mappings between elements of

real ST and TT (at the level of parole) on the other. Catford (1965, p.27) used

the term formal correspondence and textual equivalence respectively to refer to

the two categories. Koller (1979, p.183-184) made a similar distinction when he

differentiated between korrespondez, formal similarity between language

systems, and Aquivalenz, equivalence relations between real texts and


Koller then went on to present Aquivalenz as the real object of enquiry in

translation studies. Similarly, Toury (1980, p.24-6) charts the evolution of the

notion of translatability from interlingual phenomenon to an intertextual one.

While relationships established at the level of langue are now largely seen as the

concern of comparative linguistics, formal correspondence continues to have

pride of place in machine translation, where linguistic – knowledge – based

systems using direct or transfer architecture often rely on mapping between the

formal structures of two language.

Indeed Catford’s translation shifts bear real similarities to notions of complex

transfer in machine translation (Hutchins and Somers 1992; Arnold et al. 1994).

Thus Koller (1979) and Pym (1995, p.157-8) believed that the general view

in translation studies soon came to be that equivalence was a relation between

texts in two different languages, rather than between the languages themselves.

They also mention that this step liberated translation studies from debates on

interlingual translatability based on entire language systems with their entire all

their unactualized meaning potential. Such debates had centered on in

compatibilities between the worlds inhabited by speakers of different languages

and on the structural dissimilarities between languages (Dorothy, 1998).

Dorothy also believes that once attention was focused on texts and utterances,

many of the potential multiple meanings and functions of words and structures

in a language system could be eliminated by reference to their context and co

text, making translation not only more tractable, but also more realistic. In the

next section we investigate equivalence from empirical and theoretical concept

that plays important role in this article.

Equivalence as an Empirical and a Theoretical Concept

The narrowing down of the scope of the term equivalence to an intertextual

relation still left plenty of room for competing notions of the concept. Toury

(1980 p. 39) identified two main used of the term: first, equivalence could be ‘a

descriptive term, denoting concrete objects – actual relationships between actual

utterances in two languages (and literatures), recognized as TT and ST – which

are subject to direct observation’. This definition regards equivalence as an

empirical category which could be established only after the event of translation.

Toury contrasted this approach with equivalence as ‘a theoretical term, denoting

an abstract, ideal relationship, or category of relationships between TT and ST,

translations and their sources’. This dichotomy can be problematic, however.

For one, it may not be psychologically plausible. From the translator’s point of

view, it is not clear whether a real distinction can be made between what one

intends to write, and what one actually writes.

Furthermore, equivalence as a theoretical term, a prospective and often

descriptive notion, is responsible for acquiring a bad name for equivalence in

some quarters in translation studies (Dorothy 1998). Gentzler (1993 p.4), for

example, contends that standards of translation analysis that rely on equivalence

or non – equivalence and other associated judgmental criteria ‘imply notions of

substantialism that limit other possibilities of translation practice, marginalize

unorthodox translation, and impinge upon real intercultural exchange’. Newman

(1994, p. 4694), on the other hand, describes translation equivalence as ‘a

commonsense term for describing the ideal relationship that a reader would

expect to exist between an original and its translation’. Newman’s equivalence is

clearly prospective and ideal, although empirical approaches also feature in the

analysis. Pym also speaks about equivalence as a fact of reception and about the

socially determined ‘expectation’ that TT should stand in some kind of

equivalence relation to their ST.

Hutchins and Somers (1992, p.317-22) believe that while Catford view of

textual equivalence may say very little about the nature of equivalence, the

approach has found application in areas such as example and statistics based

machine translation and, more recently, in translation memory system, where

previously translated ST and their TT are stored with a view to recycling old

translations, should the system recognize new input for which it already has an

equivalent target rendering.

Equivalence as an empirical phenomenon has seen perhaps its most powerful

manifestation to date Toury’s (1980, 1995) work. Where as other theorists might

ask whether two text are equivalence according to some predefined, prescriptive

criterion of equivalence, Toury treats the existence of equivalence between TT

and ST a given. This equivalence postulate them allows him to state that ‘the

question to be asked in the actual study of translations (especially in the

comparative analysis of TT and ST) is not whether the two texts are equivalence

(from a certain aspect), but what type and degree of translation equivalence they

reveal’. Toury’s approach and subsequently koller’s (1995, p.196), makes

appeal to historical, relative notion of equivalence.

Non – Equivalence at Word Level

Non – equivalence at word level means that the target language has no direct

equivalence for a word that occurs in the source text. There are many factors to

cause the problems of non – equivalence. Baker (1992) categories some of the

problems of non equivalence at word level which is presented in the following:

1. Culture – specific concepts

2. The source language concept is not lexicalized in the target language

3. The source language word is semantically complex

4. The source and target language make different distinctions in meaning

5. The target language lacks a superordinate term

6. The target language lacks a specific term (hyponym)

7. Differences in physical or interpersonal perspective

8. Differences in expressive meaning

9. Differences in from

10. Differences in frequency and purpose of using specific forms

11. The use of loan words in the source text

12. Differences in propositional meaning

Due to importance of this section, researcher will explain some of the problems

which are presented in table by Baker. According to her cultural – specific

concepts are those SL words may express a concept that is totally unknown in

the target culture. They may have something to do with a religious belief, social

custom, or even a type of food. For example, in Persian we have Ashura, Jihad

as a religious word which is unknown in most of the other languages. The

second category is SL concept is not lexicalized in the target language which

means that the SL word may express a concept that is known in the target

culture but simply not lexicalized. Landslide has no exact equivalence in many

languages, although it only means over whelming majority. Another Baker’s

category is that the SL word is semantically complicated which means that a

single word can some times express a complex meaning than a whole sentence.

The other is that the TL lacks a super ordinate or a hyponym which means

that the TL may have specific word (hyponym) but no general words (super

ordinate), and vice versa. For example under “house”, English has a variety of

hyponyms which have no equivalence in many languages such as Persian, for

example in English we have: “bungalow”, cottage, croft, chalet, hut, manor,

lodge and so on.

Differences in expressive meaning is another problem of non – equivalence

at word level mentioned by Baker which mean that there may exist a TL word

which has the same propositional meaning as the SL word, but may have a

different expressive meaning. Words like homosexuality provide good examples

Homosexuality is not inherently pejorative word in English, although it is often

used in this way. On the other hand, the equivalence expression in some other

languages is inherently more pejorative and would be quite difficult to use in

neutral context without suggesting strong disapproval.

Equivalence in English and Persian

Karimi (2006) believes that translator should not always find one – to – one

categorically or structurally or structurally equivalent units in two languages,

that is, sometimes two different languages carry the same function. For example,

the verb happened in English sentence he happens to be happy equals the adverb

etefaghan (by chance) in the Persian sentence: u etefaghan khoshhal ast.

Safarzadeh (1995) stated that the translator for finding equivalence should

finding out the meaning of an SL linguistic form, should ask himself / herself

what the linguistic form is in another language TL for the same meaning to be

encoded. Ziahosseini (1994) believes that to render a satisfactory translation, the

translator needs to be acquainted with phonological, pragmatic, religious and

cultural systems of both SL and TL to find standard equivalence to the TL


Some examples of equivalents in Persian and English

1. Coal in English may equal zire in Persian and Newcastle in English may

equal Kerman (a city in Iran), hence taking coal to Newcastle = zire be Kerman

bordan (Karimi 2006)

2. Sometimes a multiple meaning term in English may have several equal terms

in Persian and vice versa. (Karimi 2006).

For example depression in English equals kesadi (in Engish may have several

equal terms in Persian and vice versa.

For example depression in English equals kesadi (in economy), afsordegi (in

psychology) and frooraftegi (in dissection). Or the term Tabaghah in Persian

equals: 1 class 2. Layer 3-floor 4- category in English.

3. The word khordan (to eat) in Persian collocates with many other words, in the

examples: sarma (cold) khordan, chaie (tea) khordan, zamin (ground) khordan,

ghaze (food) khordan. Its equivalents in English are: To eat (for food), 2) To

drink (for tea) 3) To fall (for ground) 4) To catch (for cold) respectively

(Ziahosseini 1994).

4. The Persian word Raies collocates with:

1- edarah (office) 2- deneshgah (university) 3- dadgah (court) while in English

parenthetical words are collocated by 1) boss 2) chancellor 3) magistrate(Karimi


5. A three part compound word in English may be translated into a single word

in Persian: daughter in law = aroos (zia hoseini 1994)

6. A simple Persian word maybe translated into a compound form in English and

vice versa: hound (sag shekari), asa (walking stick), divan (complete works) and

so on (Hozhabr Nejad, 1994, p.305).

7. The perfect future tense in English may be translated into present perfect or

simple future tense in Persian (Modiri, 1942). I shall have written =

Neveshteham/ Khaham nevesht.


In other words, a translator should achieve a similar effect on the target text

receiver as the source text has on the source text receiver. However, between

languages with greater cultural differences, it may not be easy to achieve this.

Investigating equivalence in ST and TT is a good way to appraise the

meaning of original and translated version. Then by comparing them one can

notice how much of the meaning is transferred in the process of translation and

how much is lost; and the quality of translation in the realm of meaning as far as

of equivalence is concerned is being revealed.

According to above examples, we can conclude that due to religious, cultural

and literary factors, it is difficult to find a standard equivalent in one language

for another. Nevertheless, awareness of different theories which are presented by

famous theoretician can help us to find appropriates equivalence in translation of

different texts such as: scientific, literary and so on.

1. Adding

2. Deleting

3. Producing different lexical chains

4. Reordering

5. Explicitation

6. Rechunking (re organizing or renumbering paragraphs, sentences)


languages and this may pose some problems in terms of finding a direct

correspondence in TL. In fact, she claims that different grammatical structures

in the SL and TL may cause remarkable changes in the way the information or

message is carried across. These changes may induce the translator either to add

or to omit information in the TT because of the lack of particular grammatical

devices in the TL itself.

Amongst these grammatical devices which might cause problems in translation

Baker focuses on number, tense and aspects, voice, person and gender.

equivalence at word level, Baker (1992, p.26-42) proposes the

following classification of strategies to solve non-equivalence at word


1. Translation by more general word (superordinate)

2. Translation by more neutral/ less expressive word

3. Translation by cultural substitution

4. Translation using a loan word

5. Translation by paraphrase using a related word

6. Translation by paraphrase using unrelated word

7. Translation by omission

8. Translation by illustration

9. Translation by loan word plus explanation

Baker’s word level is the first element to be taken into consideration by the

translator. In fact, when the translator starts analyzing the ST, s/he looks at

the words as single units in order to find a direct ‘equivalent’ term in the TL.

Bake gives a definition of the term “word” since it should be remembered

that a single word can sometimes be assigned different meanings in different

languages and be regarded as being a more complex unit or Morpheme. This

means that the translator should pay attention to a number of factors when

considering a single word, such a number, gender and tense. She also

proposes the following classification of strategies to solve non-equivalence

above word level such as: collocations, idioms and fixed expressions.

1. Resourcing

2. Using an idiom of similar meaning and form

3. Using an idiom of similar meaning but differing form

4. Paraphrase

5. Omission

6. Compensation

7. Rewording

8. Translation by paraphrase using unrelated words

9. Translation by illustration
















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