Equivalence / Equivalent Effect by bes0Ttrq




  No two languages are ever sufficiently similar to be considered as representing the same social
                                      reality: Edward Sapir

Equivalence: a complicated and contentious concept. Some initial considerations: Equivalence
needn’t be sameness, isomorphism, but can also be equality of values (‘equi-valence’);
Languages are the same, but ‘values can be the same’.
Nida: ‘Translating consists in reproducing in the receptor language the closest natural
equivalent of the SL message’.

Natural equivalence: Malone, Vinay & Darbelnet: all concerned basically with natural,
linguistic equivalence (cane=dog; cream= (diffuses into) panna/ crema, etc.) and recommend
various strategies to obtain it, from very literal, one-on-one moves to reordering and
modification. Is ‘lentement’ the natural equivalent of ‘slow’? Or should it be ‘ralentir’?

Directional equivalence: Vinay and Darbelnet also look at directional equivalence which is
chosen by the translator and not dictated by the ST, and they give as equivalents of, e.g.
cyclisme not ‘cycling’ but 1) cricket (G.B.) and 2) baseball (US).

These are dichotemised poles: we chose which aspects to render into TL. Directional
equivalence in particular can hide an ideological, domesticating agenda (we linguistically
colonise the French by making them play cricket, etc.). All presumption of symmetry means
we are forgetting Sapir-Whorf, and presuming the world is like ourselves: or, worse,
deliberately making it like ourselves. Solution? Venuti would say resistancy and

Sometimes translation is ‘horizontal’, from SL > TL, and sometimes ‘vertical’ (cf. Nida’s 3-
part transfer diagram), when ST meaning is broken ‘down’ into non-verbal kernels, when we
‘listen to the sense’ (Danica Seleskovitch), ‘deverbalise’, and translate this basic, kernel
meaning, the tertium comparationis, ‘up’ into the new TT.

Nida, Newmark, Koller begin to look less at linguistic equivalents and consider different types
of equivalence in context, e.g. :

    What is the ‘natural’ equivalent of the Spanish bad luck day, Martes 13: -- the literal
     linguistic equivalent, Tuesday 13, or the functional, pragmatic equivalent, Friday 13 in
     G.B. and venerdi 17 in Italy?
    The natural equivalent of dressing in black, as a sign of mourning, in a culture where
     that colour is traditionally white?
    The natural equivalent of (Nida’s famous e.g.) the lamb of God in a culture which has never
     seen a lamb? Etc..


   I. Meaning and equivalence were seminal concepts, central to Translation Studies in ‘50s and
        ‘60s (for 2 decades) - the ‘Linguistic Turn’. Attempts were made too be more systematic
        than simply the ‘free/literal’ binary opposition. Some pairings:

                      Literal/faithful            Free
                      Reader-to-writer            Writer-to-reader
                      Alienation                  Naturalization
                      Foreignization         Domestication
                      Formal                      Dynamic
                      Semantic                    Communicative
                      Äquivalenz                  Korrespondenz

What has to be equivalent? word? Message? Invariant core?
What text unit do we translate?word? phrase ? sentence?

Unit of translation (‘the linguistic level at which ST is recodified in TL’: word? Phrase? Sentence?
Paragraph ? Nida talks of ‘Meaningful mouthfuls of language’;
Vinay & Darbelnet of ‘Lexicological unit’ (e.g. ‘tout de suite = immediately) or ‘units of thought’
(‘all those involved in the disaster’).

II. Jakobson, ‘On linguistic aspects of translation’ (1959)

   1) Intralingual translation, rewording (‘interpretation of verbal signs through other signs in
      the same language’)*, paraphrase: substituting code-units

   2) Interlingual. Interpretation of verbal signs through some other language. Translator
      ‘recodes and transmits messages received from another source. – ‘2 equivalent messages in
      2 different codes’. Translation = ‘substituting messages in one language not for separate
      code-units, but for entire messages in some other language’. (‘interlingual transposition’)

   3) Intersemiotic, transmutation (interpretation of verbal signs through non-verbal sign
      system): novel-to-film, poem-to-music, etc.

Follows Saussure: signifier / signified arbitrary. Equivalence, then? Adequate transference, but
no true equivalence, even with synonyms: e.g. Russian syr, butter/burro, etc. ‘Equivalence in
difference is the central problem of language’ (& translation). Differences centre round compulsory
grammar & lexis: ‘Languages differ essentially in what they must convey, not what they may
convey’: language differences in obligatory grammatical/lexical forms – e.g. gender (‘house’
feminine in most Romance lang.s, neutral in German and English; aspect of verb – Russian
distinguishes between completed action or not, etc.; level of semantic field: fratelli, Geschwister,
siblings, brothers and sisters, hijas (Spanish) if both female, etc.(p.37 Munday) If grammar won’t
translate something, lexis will.

How to decode/recode? How to get equivalence given non-isomorphism of most languages and
cultures: ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’: but if summer is bad? (Albert Neubert);
equivalence of idioms: ‘un’altro paio di maniche – another pair of sleeves – another kettle of fish.
Not linguistic equivalence, but functional. Cf. also ‘Say when?’.


III. Jakobson: Everything is translatable (‘universalist’). Understand ‘ambrosia’ tho’ never
drunk it. Use loans, neologisms, or semantic shifts. In new literary language of Northern Siberian
Chukchees; ‘screw’ = rotating nail; ‘chalk’ = writing soap; ‘watch’ = hammering heart. First
Russian word for ‘plane’ = flying steamship. These ‘do not impede communication, just as there is
no sematic ‘noise’ and disturbance in the double oxymoron ‘cold beef-and-pork hot dog’. (‘On
Linguistic Aspects of translation’ ‘59)

IV. J. functions on level of word. Move towards larger unit of meaning in Eugene Nida:

Towards a Science of Translation (’64); Nida & Charles Taber, The Theory and Practice of
Translation (Leiden, 1969). ‘Translation theory underwent a quantum leap with Eugene Nida’
(Munday) Moves away from idea that a word has a fixed meaning, towards the functional meaning
in context.

Hello: French: ça va? Hallo
       German: wie geht’s? hallo
       Italian: olà, pronto, ciao
       English: hi, hello, how are you
      Italian Ciao.

Phone? Face to face? Arrival or departure?

Like Jakobson, universalist: ‘’Anything which is said in one language can be said in another,
unless the form is an essential element of the message’.

Pragmatic focus on communicative requirements of text receiver and purpose of translation
without losing sight of communicative preferences of original message producer or function of
original text.

V. 3-stage Transfer model (SL – analysis → TRANSFER - RESTRUCTURING →

Nida: ‘It is both scientifically and practically more efficient to reduce the ST to its structurally
simplest and most semantically evident kernels, to retransfer the meaning from SL to
receptor L on a structurally simple level, and to generate the stylistically and semantically
equivalent expression in the Receptor L’ (Nida, ’64).

Borrows from Chomsky’s generative-transformative model (‘kernels’) (Aspects of the Theory of
Syntax). All lang.s have 6-8 deep-structure ‘kernels’ common to all languages, vehicle of meaning.
Basic structural elements out of which language builds its elaborate surface structures.

Translator analyses SL into simplest, structurally clear forms (kernels),
    transfers message mentally at kernel level; reconfigures SL ready for TL;
restructures message in TL, making sure has same impact (cf. ‘pigs’).

Translator transfers / transforms them through
   1. literal transfer
   2. minimal transfer
   3. literary transfer


→ Dynamic equivalence. Munday 41.

BUT: Ambiguity? Different cultures

Nida’s linguistic techniques for disambiguation :

I Semantic structure analysis: to decide what’s core meaning, what’s not.

1. non-correspondence of semantic field.

   A. Spanish email, invitation to conference: ‘we expect you will attend’
Esperar: covers wider semantic field. Hope/want/expect/look forward to.

                ∕          ∕        |       \            \
   1. To wish but not nec. with expectation   2. to wish    3. to wish/require, strong
      expectation 4.to await eagerly
      1. = to hope             2. =to want     3.=to expect         4. =     to look forward

(cf Italian: aspettare. Aspettiamo una vostra risposta. Expecting a baby)

Disambiguate through context or co-text.

Cf. Bassnett ‘spirit’ diagram e.g.

2. to disambiguate 2 homonyms (same form, different meaning).
Monte Cassino: ‘Der Abt ist im Kloster’. Abt (abbot) read as short for Abteilung (battalion), trans.
‘battalion in monastery’, and Allies bombed).

II Hierarchical structuring & componential analysis:

Where the problem is to find word on same level; to examine basic meaning of word and contrast
with other terms in same field.

e.g. family: grandmother, cousin, in-law, according to number, gender, generation, linearity (direct
ancestor or not/male-female): mostly irrelevant in European languages (but NB nipote/nipotino) but
vital in many others.

e.g. generic verb: move → hyponyms : walk run skip hop crawl
                   walk   →             : march, stroll

Analyse into component parts, then decide on the definitions below:

   1.   Kidnap/abduct/hijack
   2.   Table/desk/worktop/bench
   3.   Fond/attached/devoted
   4.   Detached house/semi-(detached house)/flat/maisonette/studio/bedsit


1. a) To steal a person, often for ransom b) remove a person by force or fraud, to kidnap c) to stop
and steal a vehicle; to steal in transit; to force a driver to take a vehicle to the hijacker’s chosen

2. a) an article of furniture consisting of a flat top on legs, pillars or trestles for use at meals, work,
play, etc. b) a sloping or flat table for reading or writing, often fitted with drawers; a pulpit or
lectern c a surface designed to be to be used for working on, or fitted e.g. on top of kitchen units d)
long seat or form with or without a back, a work-table

3. a) foolishly loving (arch.), very affectionate; kindly disposed b) feeling affection or fidelity
towards c) attached as by a vow; strongly attached to; zealous

4. a) a house standing alone, unconnected to other buildings b) a house which is partly separated;
joined by a party wall to one other house only c) a set of rooms for living which are part of a larger
building, usually on one floor d) small apartment on two levels which is part of a larger building but
has its own entrance e) small apartment designed to be lived in by one or two people, comprising
usually one large room for living and sleeping, a bathroom and possibly separate kitchen f)rented,
furnished room with galley-kitchen or incorporated cooking-area.

Bachelor: +human +male –married OR +human +male/female +university degree

III How to assess connotative meaning. St. John’s gospel: Gk. gunai trans. ‘woman’ (King
James), which Nida translates ‘mother’: positive connotation. Posits a cline:

5        4      3  2      1
Good ← ………………………………………→ bad
Strong                   weak

(where to place ‘adolescent/teenager, daughter/girl, domestic animal/pet?)


 Nida’s definition of ‘dynamic equivalence’: ‘A pragmatic focus on the communicative
requirements of the text receiver and purpose of translation without losing sight of the
communicative preferences of original message producer or function of original text’. True?
How does he achieve it?

Nida’s 3-stage Transfer model

A (SL)                                             B (receptor language)
↓                                                             ↑
(analysis)                                         (restructuring)

↓                                                              ↑
X            →           (transfer)         →         Y

A (SL) Hello                                             B Ciao!
↓                                                              ↑
Friendly greeting on arrival                    decision to distinguish: phone?tu/lei etc.


↓                                                         ↑
X           →           (transfer)        →         Y

Chomsky’s generative-transformative model (‘kernels’) (Aspects of the Theory of Syntax). 6-8
deep-structure ‘kernels’ common to all languages. Basic structural elements for all language
production, surface structures. Get kernels from ST structure by reductive back-transformation,
using 4 functional classes of generative-transformational grammar:
     Events (often verbs)
     Objects (often nouns)
     Abstracts (often adjectives, quantities, qualities)
     Relationals (including gender, prepositions, conjunctions)
e.g. ‘creation of the world’: B, world, object, is the goal of A, event, ‘creates’
e.g. ‘la sconfitta del Lazio’: B, Lazio, object,     victim of A, event, ‘loses’

Translator analyses SL into simplest, structurally clear forms (kernels),
             transfers message mentally at kernel level; reconfigures SL ready for TL;
             restructures message in TL, making sure has same impact.

‘Scientific & practical’ (Nida)

Translator transfers / transforms them through
   4. literal transfer
   5. minimal transfer
   6. literary transfer

          1       2           3            4     5     6     7     8
Greek ST: egeneto anthropos, apestalmenos para theou, onoma auto Ioannes
1                 2     3     4    5    6    7       8
Became/happened man, sent from God, name to-him John

Minimal transfer

        1           2          3    4    5     6      7       8
    There came/was a man       sent from God, whose name was John

Literary transfer

         1        2        3      4 5       6      7           8
    There came a man, sent from God, whose name was John
    A man 2, named 6 John 7/8, was sent 3 by 4 God 5 (N.T. in Modern English)
    (Less formal, different effect)

OR: Paradise Lost, VII, 319-321)

Forth flourished thick the clustering vine, forth crept


The swelling gourd: up stood the corny reed,
Embattled in the field.

Literal: rigogliosa fiori la vite a grappoli, striscio fuori
La zucca crescente; si raddrizzo lo stelo di grano
Schierato in campo.

Literary (Lazzaro Papi, 1829):
Di fior s'adoma
La racemosa vite, e lenta striscia
La tumida cucurbita: schierate
Rizzansi in campo Ie granose ariste.

(Baldi, reason for preferring Papi: 'ci è sembrata la piu originale, poeticamente quindi la piu vicina
a Milton, nonostante tutte Ie sue infedeltà letterali')

            Nida: Formal and dynamic equivalence (his equivalent of ‘literal / free’)

‘Since there are, in translating, no such things as identical equivalents, one must seek to find the
closest possible. However, there are fundamentally 2 different types: one which may be called
formal, and another, which is primarily dynamic’. Nida.

Dynamic: based on what he calls equivalent effect, where 'the relationship between receptor and
message should be substantially the same as that which existed between the original receptors and
the message' (Nida '64) TT and TCulture oriented; the foreignness of ST is minimized. 'Dynamic
equivalence in translation is far more than mere correct communication of information' (Nida)
‘A translation of dynamic equivalence aims at complete naturalness of expression, and tries to
relate the receptor to modes of behaviour relevant within the cultural patterns of his own
culture; it does not insist that he understand the cultural patterns of the SL context. ..One of the
modern English translations which perhaps more than any other seeks for equivalent effects is J.B.
Phillips’ rendering of the NT. In Romans 16:16 he quite naturally translates ‘greet one another with
an holy kiss’ as ‘give one another a hearty handshake all round’. During the past 50 yrs there has
been a marked shift … from the formal to the dynamic dimension. (1964)
WHEREAS "Formal equivalence focuses all the attention on the message itself, in both form and
content... One is concerned that the message in the receptor language should match as closely as
possible the different elements in the source language. …

The type of translation which most completely typifies this structural equivalence might be called a
‘gloss translation’ in which the translator attempts to reproduce as literally and meaningfully as
possible the form and content of the original. E.g. a rendering of some Medieval French text into
English, intended for students of early French literature not requiring a knowledge of the original
language. Their needs call for a relatively close approximation to the structure of the early French
text, both as to form (e.g. syntax and idioms) and content (e.g. themes and concepts). Such as
translation would require numerous footnotes to make the text fully comprehensible… 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'.


NB Fawcett’s comment: 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,

Nida: the success of a translation depends on achieving equivalent response. For this there are 4
basic requirements:

   • making sense
   • conveying spirit and manner of original
   • natural, easy form of expression
   • producing similar response

If a conflict arises between content and form: 'correspondence in meaning must have priority over
correspondence in style’.
DISCUSSION of Nida: Virtues: moved from word-for-word, purely linguistic approach to a
receptor-based theory. Vices: Still too focused on word level still (Andre Lefevere, 1993:
Translating Literature.Practice and Theory); ‘equivalent effect’ considered 'impossible to
measure’ (van den Broeck) and 'Inoperant if text is out of TL space and time' (Newmark); How can
it elicit equivalent response in different cultures / times? Qian Hu ('93): difficulty with cultural
references: cf famous ‘hearty handshake’;'Inoperant if text is out ofTL space and time'
(Newmark); Edwin Gentzler (deconstructionist): Nida’s aim to convert all readers / cultures
to dominant discourse of Protestant Christianity.


PETER NEWMARK: Approaches to Translation (’81) A Textbook of Translation (’88):
‘semantic and communicative’.

Much practical good sense and many good examples, but less influential than Nida; prescriptive.
Departs from Nida's receptor-orientation; considers a full equivalent effect 'illusory'; ‘the conflict of
loyalties, the gap between emphasis on source and target language will always remain as the
overriding problem in translating theory into practice’. Instead of Nida’s ‘formal and dynamic’ he
posits semantic and communicative.

Communicative translation: cf. Nida’s dynamic equivalence. To produce on the T reader an effect
as close as possible to that obtained on the readers of the original.

Semantic translation : cf. Nida’s formal equivalence. Attempts to render, as closely as semantic
and syntactic structures of the second language allow, the exact meaning of the original. NOT
literal: it ‘respects context’, interprets, explains (e.g. metaphors)

BUT: ‘The literal is the best approach’:

‘In communicative as in semantic translation … the literal word-for-word translation is not only the
best, it is the only valid method of translation’. (’81).


His objection: there can be no real ‘equivalent effect’: equivalent effect is ‘inoperant if the text is
out of TL space and time’ – e.g. modern translation of Homer? ‘The Scarlet Letter’?. And readers
shouldn’t ‘be handed everything on plate’.

Parameter                   semantic translation                  communicative translation
Transmitter/addressée       Focus on thought processes of the     Subjective, TT reader focused,
Focus                       transmitter; should only help TT      oriented to specific language &
                            reader with connotations if           culture
                            seminal to message
Culture                     Stays within SL culture (cf           Transfers foreign elements into the
                            foreignisation)                       TL culture

Time & origin             Not fixed in any time/local space:      Ephemeral: rooted in own
                          translation needs to be                 contemporary context
                          successively redone
Relation to ST            Always ‘inferior’; ‘loss’ of            May be ‘better’ than ST; ‘gain’ of
                          meaning                                 force v.’loss’ of semantic fidelity
Use of SL norms           If SL norms deviate, this must be       Respect for SL form, but ultimate
                          reproduced in TT; loyalty to ST         loyalty to TL norms
TL form                   More complex, awkward, non-             Smoother, simpler, more
                          normative. ‘other’; detailed,           conventional/referential: tendency to
                          tendency to overtranslation.            undertranslate.
Appropriateness: field of Serious literature, autobiography,      Vast majority of texts: non-literary,
application               personal ‘effusion’, all                technical, informative texts,
                          authoritative statement                 publicity, popular fiction
Evaluation criteria       Accuracy of reproduction of ST          Accuracy of communication of whole
                          meaning & significance                  ST message in TT

Discussion of Newmark: his terms received less discussion than Nida’s, prob because very
similar, and both stress TT reader . Aware that text-type and function of the translation can
decide the type of equivalence. Prescriptive and pre-linguistic, but provides lots of good e.gs.


 Equivalence (Contd.; see also Munday & Hatim, Translation: An Advanced Resource Book)

       “Translation as a practice shapes, and takes shape within, the asymmetrical
       relations of power that operate under colonialism”(Naranjana, 1992).

After Nida. Nida was very influential on German theorists ’70s/80s: Wolfram Wilss, Leipzig
School (Otto Kade, Albert Neuber), & Werner Koller. Nida’s ‘scientific’ approach congenial to
them. Publications in ’79 emphasize ‘science’ of translation: cf.:

Koller: Einführung in die Űbersetzungswissenschaft ’79; ‘Research into the Science of
Translation’ ‘79


Examines concept of ‘Equivalence’ (Aquivalenz) & related term ‘Correspondence’
Equivalence: Langue: equivalence in language systems: contrastive linguistics, (Saussure’s
Langue): identifying false friends, syntax interference, etc.

Correspondence: Parole: specific ST-TT pairs, actual language of those partic texts. Knowledge of
Correspondence is the mark of a good linguist; of Equivalence, a good translator.

Koller basically concerned with Equivalence (Parole). But what /which/where/what level?

Sees equivalence as process constrained by text’s DOUBLE LINKAGE: to ST & TT: a) potentially
conflicting SL/TL linguistic factors, textual & extra-textual, b) communicative conditions on
receiver’s side: historical-cultural conditions in which texts & their translations are produced /

What has to be equivalent? How? ‘Linguistic/textual units of TT are equivalent if correspond to ST
elements in some or all of following:

Koller’s different types of equivalence:

   1. Denotative, referential equivalence: when SL /TL words refer to exactly same thing in real
      world: (Sapir-Whorf!) Koller: some call this ‘content invariance’/tertium comparationis.
   2. Connotative equivalence: SL/TL triggering same associations: Koran, coffee, summer’s
      day, ‘river’ (Hoffman, Lost in Translation).
   3. Text-normative equivalence: different texts behaving in similar or different ways (Reiss,
      Ch. 5)
   4. Pragmatic equivalence: when translation aimed to have same effect on respective readers:
      (Newmark’s communicative, Nida’s dynamic). ‘Say when’ – ‘dimmi se basta’. ‘Chien
      méchant’, ‘beware of the dog’).
   5. Formal equivalence: In purest form, the rare case in which SL/TL signifiers happen to have
      same orthography or phonology: caffé French /Italian. More generally, equivalence of
      form/aesthetics, word-play. S.t. called ‘expressive equivalence’ (expressive form of lang.).
      Nida’s formal, Newmark’s semantic.

   Not all these variables are relevant to every situation: translators have to decide, &
   prioritise: ‘with every text, and every segment of text, the translator who consciously
   makes such a choice (1-5 above) must set up a hierarchy of values to be preserved in
   translation: from this he (sic)= can derive a hierarchy of equivalence requirements. This in
   turn must be preceded by a translationally relevant text-analysis’.

   e.g. from Munday & Hatim, 50-51: ‘I had wanted for years to get Mrs Thatcher in front of my
   camera. As she got more powerful she got sort of sexier’. (Newsweek) TL= Arabic.

   1. formal (NB order inverted from list above) ‘sexier’. No language calques it, as Arabic, e.g.,
   does with strategy: stratiijiiya), tho many European langs do ‘plus sexy, più sexy’ etc.. No
   ‘aesthetic-formal’ features to maintain, so move up equivalence hierarchy:

   2. when 1) impossible, or insufficient → denotative. SL form replaced by TL form referring
   basically to same ‘thing’: something like ‘physically inviting’.


3. for many rhetorical, cultural, linguistic reasons, denotative may not do justice to ‘sexy’.
Might give ‘pornographic’ idea (cf. Arabic). If so, → connotative equivalence, next level,
‘similarity of association’ . Perhaps ‘attractive’.

4. ‘attractive’ in Arabic partly satisfactory, but semantically conveys physical ‘gravity’. So →
next step, text-normative. Text norms go beyond connotations, to sort of language right in that
sort of text., attitude, etc.. Perhaps, then, we should jettison ‘sexy’ completely, and modify
sexual attractiveness to ‘attractive femininity’, perhaps glossing with ‘so to speak’ (cf. original’s
‘sort of’, apologising for being to explicit), akin to saying ‘for want of better word’.

5. Usage isomorphic, effect on ST/TT reader too, so, having catered for similarity of effect /
   reader expectations, (cf. ‘equivalent effect’) we’ve got pragmatic equivalence.




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