1.0 dissimilar translation techniques that are used to

What Is Equivalence

“The comparison of texts in different languages inevitably
involves a theory of equivalence.” (Leonardi, 2005, p.1). The idea of
equivalence in translation studies has been debated since its conception in the
late 1950s and is still debated today. Many innovative theorists from Vinay and
Darbelnet to Nida to Baker have each discussed their own views on this idea. “Equivalence was meant to
indicate that source text … and target text … share some kind of ‘sameness’.”
(Panou, 2013, p.3)

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is important that we understand the word equivalence
itself. It has more than one meaning in English; for example, it can be used in
mathematics or to describe something technical. It can generally mean that
something is equal to something else, that they share similar characteristics.
In translation it is this broad meaning of ‘equal’ that we need to keep in mind
when we talk about equivalence.

All types of
equivalence and ideas about it seem to be dissimilar translation techniques
that are used to achieve varying levels of likeness. This essay will look at some of the prominent theorists in
translation studies and discuss their opinions on the matter. The idea of what
exactly equivalence is and how it is beneficial or not is viewed differently by
many in this field and can often cause heated debate. Due to the fact that many
theorists have differing opinions on what equivalence is, it can be very
interesting to research their opinions. I will outline some of the ideas put
forward by these theorists and discuss how they differ from the ideas of others
to make clear what the notion of equivalence is and what its proposed
limitations are.

2.0 The Main Theorists and Their Ideas

Perhaps one of
the more famous ideas about equivalence comes from Nida and Taber (1982) where
they discuss their ideas of formal
correspondence, or formal equivalence,
and dynamic equivalence. They
differentiate between these two ideas, saying that formal correspondence will typically distort grammatical and
stylistic patterns in the target language (TL). They suggest that there are not
always direct equivalents but that the translator should make an effort to
always choose the closest equivalent if they are aiming for formal equivalence.
They say that with formal equivalence, the source text (ST) and target text (TT)
will always resemble each other in from and aesthetic.

On the other side
of their theory is dynamic equivalence.
They say that dynamic equivalence is
“far more than mere correct communication of information” (p.25) and that the
main idea behind this type of translation is to elicit the same feeling or
reaction in the TL readership as the original text did in the source language
(SL). It would seem that aiming for dynamic
equivalence is a good technique for a translator to adopt when there are
great differences between source culture (SC) and target culture (TC). Taking
this idea in to account then, it would be much better for a translator to
strive for dynamic rather than formal equivalence when translating a text that
is heavily loaded with culture-specific items (CSIs). (Newmark, 1988, p.89)

I would be in
favour of their idea of dynamic
equivalence if it were always possible to generate the same reaction in one
person as it is in another. I feel that the idea is limited as it is not always
plausible with every type of ST. This opinion is seemingly shared by some
translation scholars such as Broeck (1978) when he says that the response from
reading a text will vary from culture to culture and besides, it is impossible
to detect and record these responses (p.40).

Jakobson is a
theorist who is known for his ideas on three different kinds of translation. Intralingual translation (so,
translation or rewording in the same language), interlingual translation (translation between languages) and intersemiotic translation (translation
between sign systems). He claims that in interlingual
translation there can be no full equivalence between a number of words
(2000, p.114). A good example of interlingual
translation is how greetings are used in English and Italian. ‘Hello’ in
English is used in person or on the phone to greet somebody, whereas in Italian
‘ciao’ is used to greet somebody face-to-face but on the phone ‘pronto’,
literally meaning ‘ready’, is used. They both have the same function if they
were to be translated in to English, it just depends on the situation.

The situation of
the SL is very important when translating, as this can often change what could
be deemed as being equivalent or not. At least this is the case according to
Vinay and Darbelnet (1995). They state that the need for creating equivalence
between texts arises directly from the situation in the ST and that the translator
needs to take this in to account when choosing words for the TT. They propose
that equivalence in translation is when a situation in the TT “replicates the
same situation as in the original, whilst using completely different wording.”
(p.32). This is the ideal method to use when dealing with a lot of tricky
translation items such as idioms, adjectival phrases or the onomatopoeia of
animal sounds. They argue that even if a semantic equivalent of a word or
phrase is found in a dictionary, that is not always relevant to a situation and
that it does not always guarantee a successful translation.

If we take a look
at their idea of applying this to idioms, we can see how it works. The Spanish idiom
’empezar la casa por el tejado’ which literally means ‘to start the house by
the roof’ makes no sense when the equivalent words are put together in English.
The translator would have to try to understand the meaning and situation of why
this phrase was being used in order to work out what a successful translation
would be. In this case it would be ‘to put the cart before the horse’.

I believe this to
be a solid argument in the debate on what equivalence is and what its
limitations are, in that, if the translator does not focus on direct
equivalents for every word, then they will produce a much more natural

The importance of
the situation is an idea seemingly shared by House (1997) as she argues that the
ST and the TT should match in function and that if texts differ on situational
features then they can’t be fully equivalent. She says that a translation can
only be deemed adequate if it matches the ‘textual’ profile and function of the
original text. Something apparently important to House is the way in which a text
interacts with the receiving audience. With this in mind, she defines
equivalence in two ways, stating that translations can either be overt or covert. It is stated that a text that doesn’t directly address the
target audience can be translated overtly as there is no danger of
miscommunication due to the fact that the audience are not directly engaged.
She says that in this case there is no need for the translator to attempt to
recreate the original and that it must “overtly be a translation” (p.189). An
example of this would be a political speech given in London about Brexit that
needed to be translated in to Spanish. There is no need to engage the Spanish
readership directly with this speech as it is a speech aimed at the British
public, encouraging them to feel about or act upon something. The text can be
translated as more of a reported speech article to supply the Spanish people
with information about what is happening within the British culture.

A covert translation on the other hand
needs to appear as though it is the original text, there is no need to point
out that the TT is in fact a translation. A good example here would be a text
that doesn’t directly address an audience, an academic paper or an instruction
manual. The tone of the text is still the same no matter the language and the
function remains. Because these types of texts aren’t specifically addressed to
a target culture audience (House, 1997, p.194) they tend not to include any
features that are specific to a target culture. House’s theory is an
interesting one to me, however the fact that it is limited to the interaction
with the target culture makes me think that it is also limited in scope. There
are many texts where the text-type (Reiss, 2004) is hard to determine and many
that are a hybrid of different types and therefore include many different

One of the most
interesting things that I have read about this debate among theorists is that
there is no such thing as “perfect” equivalence between languages and that
equivalence is always “assumed” (Pym, 2010, p.37). He describes equivalence as
being something that shows equal value across languages. His main argument here
is that equivalence can be brought down to natural
equivalence and directional
equivalence. What he means by natural
equivalence is something that already naturally exists between languages,
some similarity that is not determined by the translator, but that it is already
there and that it is discovered by them. He also suggests that it isn’t affected
by what he calls the “directionality” of a translation (p.7). A great simple
example of this is the word ‘Sunday’ translates from English to Spanish as ‘domingo’
and translates back as ‘Sunday’, there is no variation in the translation of
these two words between English and Spanish.

comes up again when he describes his theory of directional equivalence. What he means here is that a word may
translate as a particular word in one direction, but will not back translate
the same. He says that “translation goes from one side to the other, but not
back again.” (Pym, 2007, p.277). For example, if I decided to translate
‘trasnochar’ from Spanish to English as ‘to stay up late’ I could not guarantee
that somebody else would translate ‘to stay up late’ back to Spanish as
‘trasnochar’ as it is not a natural equivalent between this language pair. The equivalence
is created by the translator and the meaning is assumed, even though it is in
fact a correct translation.

Pym’s ideas about
equivalence seem to be the ones that have the least amount of limitation
attached to them. I say this because as he claims that equivalence is assumed
and is never full, then the translator at least has some freedom when
translating a text and is not confined by a strict set of limitations.

Now we come to
Mona Baker. In her 1992 book In Other
Words, there is perhaps the most detailed theory about equivalence that I
have come across. She describes here varying types of equivalence at different
levels such as word, grammar, text and pragmatic levels. I will explain what
she means by the different levels. At word level, she states the importance of
the single word to the translator as that is what they initially look at when
thinking about translating in order to begin to understand the text. She also
defines the term ‘word’ stating that it is very complex and can often have
different meanings in different languages. She says that when translating a
word that things such as number and gender should be considered (p.11). Grammatical equivalence to Baker draws
attention the number of grammatical categories that are contained across
different languages. She states that differences in grammatical structures can
greatly affect a translation. Things to consider here are voice, tense, aspect
etc. For example, in Spanish there are eight tenses in four different aspects,
therefore that is 32 different ways of expressing a verb. When you compare that
to the English language that contains 12, it is obviously going to be hard for
a translator to find the exact grammatical equivalent for the TT.

Next, she talks
about textual equivalence, which
refers to cohesion and transfer of information from ST to TT. She says that
there are three important factors when dealing with textual equivalence and deciding if you want to keep the text
cohesive across languages; target audience, text type and the purpose of the
translation. Finally, pragmatic
equivalence is described as transferring information that is implied and
not necessarily directly said. She says that the translator’s role here is to
work out what the implicatures mean and translate them for their TL equivalents
as well as possible. This idea of pragmatic equivalence could potentially link
back to Vinay and Darbelnet’s idea of transferring situation and meaning while
using completely different wording, if needed.

A lot of these
theories are proposed with opposing ways of translating. As if each of these theorists
sees both ways as correct and it just depends on the translator and what their
overall aim is. I feel as though all of these theories are slightly limited,
some more than others, in that there always seems to be a contrary idea, and
nobody can agree upon a set one.

As there is some
difference of opinion between the aforementioned theorists about a clear
explanation of equivalence, there are also some who are completely against the
whole idea. Snell-Hornby (1988) says that equivalence is too vague to be a
useful term and that it “presents an illusion of symmetry between languages
which hardly exists beyond the level of vague approximations and which distorts
the basic problems of translation” (p.22). The problem I can see with her issue
with equivalence, is that there are so many different ideas as to what it could
mean that there is plenty to think about. Some of the ideas put forward by the
theorists mentioned above, and others, are very useful to a translator thinking
about equivalence. However, as she points out the term is so vague that it can
be a problem for translators trying to put this in to practice. This vagueness
only supports the idea that the notion itself is limited.

One good thing
that all these theories do, however, is highlight the problems that translators
face when working professionally. The problem of conveying meaning over effect,
for example. This is what Newmark (1981) discusses with his terms semantic translation and communicative translation. He focuses on
the meaning of the original ST and carrying that on to the TT with semantic translation, whereas the main
aim of communicative translation is
to keep the desired effect on the target audience. The difference in Newmark’s
theory is that he says both of these techniques can be used interchangeably in
the same text, it just depends which one best fits the particular sentence or
chapter that is being translated. He also says that literal translation is the
best method when looking at both of these ideas (p.39) and uses a great example
to get his point across. The sign bissiger Hund
and chien méchant, which should be
translated communicatively as beware the
dog! instead of semantically as dog
that bites! and bad dog! so that
the message is communicated effectively (p. 39).

3.0 Conclusion

conclude, the notion of equivalence seems to have caused much debate. There is
a great amount of theories about equivalence in translation and there doesn’t
appear to be a definitive definition. This makes it hard for translators when
aiming to conform to a theory about equivalence as I believe it will always
leave some doubt in their mind whether they have chosen the correct one or not,
because there are so many opposing arguments. The translator is described by Hervey and Higgins (1992) to be the person who bridges
the cultural gap between monolingual speakers of different languages. If, then,
a translator is aiming to be this person and follow their chosen theory of
equivalence, how do they know which is the correct one to follow. All of these
theories assume that any one certain text has a stable or definitive meaning
when this is not the case. It is often difficult for a translator to fully
categorise a text which again brings up an element of confusion. Due to this
reason of non-clarity between the prominent scholars in this discipline about
equivalence, I view the notion of it to be very limited in its usefulness and


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