comparison of texts in different languages inevitably involves a
theory of equivalence. Equivalence can be said to be 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.
there is deficiency, terminology may be qualified and amplified
by loanwords or loan translations, neologisms or semantic shifts,
and finally, by circumlocutions
aim of this paper is to review the theory of equivalence as interpreted
by some of the most innovative theorists in this field-Vinay and
Darbelnet, Jakobson, Nida and Taber, Catford, House, and finally
Baker. These theorists have studied equivalence in relation to the
translation process, using different approaches, and have provided
fruitful ideas for further study on this topic. Their theories will
be analyzed in chronological order so that it will be easier to
follow the evolution of this concept. These theories can be substantially
divided into three main groups. In the first there are those translation
scholars who are in favour of a linguistic approach to translation
and who seem to forget that translation in itself is not merely
a matter of linguistics. In fact, when a message is transferred
from the SL to TL, the translator is also dealing with two different
cultures at the same time. This particular aspect seems to have
been taken into consideration by the second group of theorists who
regard translation equivalence as being essentially a transfer of
the message from the SC to the TC and a pragmatic/semantic or functionally
oriented approach to translation. Finally, there are other translation
scholars who seem to stand in the middle, such as Baker for instance,
who claims that equivalence is used 'for the sake of convenience¡Xbecause
most translators are used to it rather than because it has any theoretical
status' (quoted in Kenny, 1998:77).
Vinay and Darbelnet and their definition of equivalence in translation
and Darbelnet view equivalence-oriented translation as a procedure
which 'replicates the same situation as in the original, whilst
using completely different wording' (ibid.:342). They also suggest
that, if this procedure is applied during the translation process,
it can maintain the stylistic impact of the SL text in the TL text.
According to them, equivalence is therefore the ideal method when
the translator has to deal with proverbs, idioms, cliches, nominal
or adjectival phrases and the onomatopoeia of animal sounds.
regard to equivalent expressions between language pairs, Vinay and
Darbelnet claim that they are acceptable as long as they are listed
in a bilingual dictionary as 'full equivalents' (ibid.:255). However,
later they note that glossaries and collections of idiomatic expressions
'can never be exhaustive' (ibid.:256). They conclude by saying that
'the need for creating equivalences arises from the situation, and
it is in the situation of the SL text that translators have to look
for a solution' (ibid.: 255). Indeed, they argue that even if the
semantic equivalent of an expression in the SL text is quoted in
a dictionary or a glossary, it is not enough, and it does not guarantee
a successful translation. They provide a number of examples to prove
their theory, and the following expression appears in their list:
Take one is a fixed expression which would have as an equivalent
French translation Prenez-en un. However, if the expression appeared
as a notice next to a basket of free samples in a large store, the
translator would have to look for an equivalent term in a similar
situation and use the expression Echantillon gratuit (ibid.:256).
Jakobson and the concept of equivalence in difference
Jakobson's 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' (1959:232),
he suggests three kinds of translation:
(within one language, i.e. rewording or paraphrase)
(between two languages)
(between sign systems)
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' (ibid.:233). Jakobson
goes on to say that from a grammatical point of view languages may
differ from one another to a greater or lesser degree, but this does
not mean that a translation cannot be possible, in other words, that
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' (ibid.:234).
Jakobson provides a number of examples by comparing English and Russian
language structures and explains that in such cases where there is
no a literal equivalent for a particular ST word or sentence, then
it is up to the translator to choose the most suitable way to render
it in the TT.
seems to be some similarity between Vinay and Darbelnet's theory of
translation procedures and Jakobson's theory of translation. Both
theories stress the fact that, whenever a linguistic approach is no
longer suitable to carry out a translation, the translator can rely
on other procedures such as loan-translations, neologisms and the
like. Both theories recognize the limitations of a linguistic theory
and argue that a translation can never be impossible since there are
several methods that the translator can choose. The role of the translator
as the person who decides how to carry out the translation is emphasized
in both theories. Both Vinay and Darbelnet as well as Jakobson conceive
the translation task as something which can always be carried out
from one language to another, regardless of the cultural or grammatical
differences between ST and TT.
be concluded that Jakobson's theory is essentially based on his semiotic
approach to translation according to which the translator has to recode
the ST message first and then s/he has to transmit it into an equivalent
message for the TC.
Nida and Taber: Formal correspondence and dynamic equivalence
argued that there are two different types of equivalence, namely formal
equivalence¡Xwhich in the second edition by Nida and Taber (1982) is
referred to as formal correspondence¡Xand dynamic equivalence.
correspondence 'focuses attention on the message itself, in both form
and content', unlike dynamic equivalence which is based upon 'the
principle of equivalent effect' (1964:159). In the second edition
(1982) or their work, the two theorists provide a more detailed explanation
of each type of equivalence. Formal correspondence consists of a TL
item which represents the closest equivalent of a SL word or phrase.
Nida and Taber make it clear that there are not always formal equivalents
between language pairs. They therefore suggest that these formal equivalents
should be used wherever possible if the translation aims at achieving
formal rather than dynamic equivalence. The use of formal equivalents
might at times have serious implications in the 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' (ibid.:201).
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 TC 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, 1982:200).
easily see that Nida is in favour of the application of dynamic equivalence,
as a more effective translation procedure. This is perfectly understandable
if we take into account the context of the situation in which Nida
was dealing with the translation phenomenon, that is to say, his translation
of the Bible. Thus, the product of the translation process, that is
the text in the TL, must have the same impact on the different readers
it was addressing. 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' (ibid:25).
using a linguistic approach to translation, Nida is much more interested
in the message of the text or, in other words, in its semantic quality.
He therefore strives to make sure that this message remains clear
in the target text.
Catford and the introduction of translation shifts
approach to translation equivalence clearly differs 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 concepts of types and
shifts of translation. Catford proposed very broad types of translation
in terms of three criteria:
extent of translation (full translation vs partial translation);
grammatical rank at which the translation equivalence is established
(rank-bound translation vs. unbounded translation);
levels of language involved in translation (total translation vs.
refer only to the second type of translation, since this is the one
that concerns the concept of equivalence, and we will then move on
to analyze the notion of translation shifts, as elaborated by Catford,
which are based on the distinction between formal correspondence and
textual equivalence. In rank-bound translation an equivalent is sought
in the TL for each word, or for each morpheme encountered in the ST.
In unbounded translation equivalences are not tied to a particular
rank, and we may additionally find equivalences at sentence, clause
and other levels. Catford finds five of these ranks or levels in both
English and French, while in the Caucasian language Kabardian there
are apparently only four.
a formal correspondence could be said to exist between English and
French if relations between ranks have approximately the same configuration
in both languages, as Catford claims they do.
the problems with formal correspondence is that, despite being a useful
tool to employ in comparative linguistics, it seems that it is not
really relevant in terms of assessing translation equivalence between
ST and TT. For this reason we now turn to Catford's other dimension
of correspondence, namely textual equivalence which occurs when any
TL text or portion of text is 'observed on a particular occasion ...
to be the equivalent of a given SL text or portion of text' (ibid.:27).
He implements this by a process of commutation, whereby 'a competent
bilingual informant or translator' is consulted on the translation
of various sentences whose ST items are changed in order to observe
'what changes if any occur in the TL text as a consequence' (ibid.:28).
as translation shifts are concerned, Catford defines them as 'departures
from formal correspondence in the process of going from the SL to
the TL' (ibid.:73). Catford argues that there are two main types of
translation shifts, namely level shifts, where the SL item at one
linguistic level (e.g. grammar) has a TL equivalent at a different
level (e.g. lexis), and category shifts which are divided into four
which involve a grammatical change between the structure of the
ST and that of the TT;
when a SL item is translated with a TL item which belongs to a different
grammatical class, i.e. a verb may be translated with a noun;
which involve changes in rank;
shifts, which occur when 'SL and TL possess systems which approximately
correspond formally as to their constitution, but when translation
involves selection of a non-corresponding term in the TL system'
(ibid.:80). For instance, when the SL singular becomes a TL plural.
was very much criticized for his linguistic theory of translation.
One of the most scathing criticisms came from Snell-Hornby (1988),
who argued that Catford's definition of textual equivalence is 'circular',
his theory's reliance on bilingual informants 'hopelessly inadequate',
and his example sentences 'isolated and even absurdly simplistic'
(ibid.:19-20). She considers the concept of equivalence in translation
as being an illusion. She asserts that the translation process cannot
simply be reduced to a linguistic exercise, as claimed by Catford
for instance, since there are also other factors, such as textual,
cultural and situational aspects, which should be taken into consideration
when translating. In other words, she does not believe that linguistics
is the only discipline which enables people to carry out a translation,
since translating involves different cultures and different situations
at the same time and they do not always match from one language to
House and the elaboration of overt and covert translation
(1977) is in favour 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 is in itself is placed within a particular situation which
has to be correctly identified and taken into account by the translator.
After the ST analysis, House is in a position to evaluate a translation;
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'
to House's discussion is the concept of overt and covert translations.
In an overt translation the TT audience is not directly addressed
and there is therefore no need at all to attempt to recreate a 'second
original' since an overt translation 'must overtly be a translation'
(ibid.:189). By covert translation, on the other hand, is meant the
production of a text which is functionally equivalent to the ST. House
also argues that in this type of translation the ST 'is not specifically
addressed to a TC audience' (ibid.:194).
(ibid.:203) sets out the types of ST that would probably yield translations
of the two categories. An academic article, for instance, is unlikely
to exhibit any features specific to the SC; the article has the same
argumentative or expository force that it would if it had originated
in the TL, and the fact that it is a translation at all need not be
made known to the readers. A political speech in the SC, on the other
hand, is addressed to a particular cultural or national group which
the speaker sets out to move to action or otherwise influence, whereas
the TT merely informs outsiders what the speaker is saying to his
or her constituency. It is clear that in this latter case, which is
an instance of overt translation, functional equivalence cannot be
maintained, and it is therefore intended that the ST and the TT function
theory of equivalence in translation seems to be much more flexible
than Catford's. In fact, she gives authentic examples, uses complete
texts and, more importantly, she relates linguistic features to the
context of both source and target text.
Baker's approach to translation equivalence
have been assigned to the notion of equivalence (grammatical, textual,
pragmatic equivalence, and several others) and made their appearance
in the plethora of recent works in this field. 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 the translation process,
including all different aspects of translation and hence putting together
the linguistic and the communicative approach. She distinguishes between:
that can appear at word level and above word level, when translating
from one language into another. Baker acknowledges that, 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 analyzing the ST s/he looks at the words
as single units in order to find a direct 'equivalent' term in the
TL. Baker 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 might 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 as number, gender and tense (ibid.:11-12).
equivalence, when referring to the diversity of grammatical categories
across languages. She notes that grammatical rules may vary across
languages and this may pose some problems in terms of finding a
direct correspondence in the 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, when referring to the equivalence between a SL text
and a TL text in terms of information and cohesion. Texture is a
very important feature in translation since it provides useful guidelines
for the comprehension and analysis of the ST which can help the
translator in his or her attempt to produce a cohesive and coherent
text for the TC audience in a specific context. It is up to the
translator to decide whether or not to maintain the cohesive ties
as well as the coherence of the SL text. His or her decision will
be guided by three main factors, that is, the target audience, the
purpose of the translation and the text type.
equivalence, when referring 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.
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 analyzed,
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.
It should be noted that House's model of situational dimension is
adapted from Crystal and Davy's model elaborated in 1969. House gives
an extensive explanation of the reasons which motivated her to change,
and sometimes omit, some of the information given by Crystal and Davy.
Further details can be found in House (1977:38-41), or in D. Crystal
and D. Davy, Investigating English Style (London: Longman, 1969).
Mona (1992) In Other Words: a Coursebook on Translation, London: Routledge.
John C. (1965) A Linguistic Theory of Translation: an Essay on Applied
Linguistics, London: Oxford University Press.
Peter (1997) Translation and Language: Linguistic Theories Explained,
Manchester: St Jerome Publishing
Juliane (1977) A Model for Translation Quality Assessment, Tubingen:
Dorothy (1998) 'Equivalence', in the Routledge Encyclopaedia of Translation
Studies, edited by Mona Baker, London and New York: Routledge, 77-80.
Roman (1959) 'On Linguistic Aspects of Translation', in R. A. Brower
(ed.) On Translation, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, pp.
Eugene A. (1964) Towards a Science of Translating, Leiden: E. J. Brill.
Eugene A. and C.R.Taber (1969 / 1982) The Theory and Practice of Translation,
Leiden: E. J. Brill.
J.P. and J. Darbelnet (1995) Comparative Stylistics of French and
English: a Methodology for Translation, translated by J. C. Sager
and M. J. Hamel, Amsterdam / Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
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