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Equivalence. Theory & Text Analysis

Asist. drd. Cristina UNGUREANU

Universitatea din Piteşti

This paper is a study of the translating process which includes the problem of equivalence between texts and the extent to which it is desirable or even possible to “preserve” the semantic and / or stylistic characteristics of the source language text in the course of translating it into target language text.

The 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.

The aim of this paper is first 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.
Vinay and Darbelnet and their definition of equivalence in translation
Vinay and Darbelnet view equivalence-oriented translation as a procedure which “replicates the same situation as in the original, whilst using completely different wording”. 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, clichés, nominal or adjectival phrases and the onomatopoeia of animal sounds. With 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”. However, later they note that glossaries and collections of idiomatic expressions “can never be exhaustive”. 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”. 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.
Jakobson and the concept of equivalence in difference
Roman 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”, he suggests three

kinds of translation: intralingual (within one language, i.e. rewording or paraphrase), interlingual (between two languages), 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 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”. 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.

Nida and Taber: Formal correspondence and dynamic equivalence

Nida 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', unlike dynamic equivalence which is based upon 'the principle of equivalent effect'. 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. 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 TC audience as the original wording did upon the ST audience.

Catford and the introduction of translation shifts

Catford's 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:

a. The extent of translation (full translation vs partial translation);

b. The grammatical rank at which the translation equivalence is established (rank-bound translation vs. unbounded translation);

c. The levels of language involved in translation (total translation vs. restricted translation).

We will 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.

House and the elaboration of overt and covert translation

House (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'.

Central 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'. 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'.

Baker's approach to translation equivalence

New adjectives 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:

• Equivalence that can appear at word level and above word level, when translating from one language into another.

• Grammatical equivalence, when referring to the diversity of grammatical categories across languages.

• Textual equivalence, when referring to the equivalence between a SL text and a TL text in terms of information and cohesion.

• Pragmatic equivalence, when referring to implicatures and strategies of avoidance during the translation process.

Text Analysis

“Lică nu stătea niciodată sub cerdac, nici în cârciumă, ci în odaia de alături, în care erau o masă măricică, câteva scaune de paie şi două paturi pentru drumeţii care se întâmpla să mâie peste noapte la Moara cu noroc. Chiar în această odaie îşi petrecea cârciumarul ziua, cu nevasta şi cu copiii, fiindcă odaia în care se culca el era în cealaltă parte a hanului, cu ferestrele la deal, câtă vreme aici ferestrele erau spre drum, încât şezând la masă, putea să vadă cu o privire şi cârciuma, şi drumul, şi locul de dinaintea cârciumei. Astă dată însă Lică nu intră drept în odaia aceasta, ci se opri sub cerdac şi prinse vorbă cu oamenii, întrebând pe fiecare dintre dânşii de unde vine, unde merge şi în ce treabă umblă. Într-un târziu, el îl trase apoi pe Ghiţă la o parte şi-i zise încet: - Când vine jidovul pentru bani?

Arândaşul? răspunse Ghiţă tot mai încet, gândeam să mă duc eu la el.

Da, arândaşul. Nu te duce, grăi Lică. Lasă-l să vină el.Am o vorbă cu dânsul.

Deşi ei vorbiseră încet şi mai ales Lică părea a voi să păstreze taină despre cele ce vorbeau, el rosti cuvintele “jidovul”, “arândaşul” destul de tare, pentru ca oamenii de sub cerdac să le poată auzi, apoi privi cam speriat împrejurul său şi adause:

Dar să intrăm în casă.

Intrând, Lică îsi aruncă biciul pe masă, un semn că voia să petreacă în draga sa voie. Fusese certat cu Buză-Ruptă şi cu Săilă Boarul, Răuţ îi împăcase şi acum voia să se cinstească cu dânşii. Peste puţin sosiră trei ţigani la cârciumă, unul cu vioara, altul cu clarinetul şi al treilea cu ţimbala: Lică îi puse pe laiţa din cârciumă şi le porunci să cânte.”

(Ioan Slavici, Moara cu Noroc)
“Lică never sat under the verandah nor in the pub, but in the next room in which there were a biggish table, several straw chairs and two beds for the travellers who happened to put up at the Mill of Luck and Plenty for the night. In this very room, the publican used to spend the day with his wife and children, since the room in which he slept was at the other end of the pub, with the windows overlooking the hill, while here the windows overlooked the road, so that when he sat at the table, Ghiţă could see at a glance both the pub and the road and also the place in front of the pub.

This time, Lică didn’t go straight into this room, but he stopped under the verandah and he began to talk with the people. He asked each of them where he had come from, where he was going to, and what his business was. Presently he pulled Ghiţă aside and said to him slowly: “When is the Jew coming for the money?”

“The leaseholder? Ghiţă said even more slowly. I have been thinking to go to his place myself.”

“Yes, the leaseholder. Don’t go! Lică said. Let him come. I have a word with him”. Although they had been speaking slowly and especially Lică seemed to be willing to keep the secret of what they were talking about, he uttered the words “the Jew” and “the leaseholder” rather loudly so that the people under the verandah could hear them, then he looked around him a little scared and added: “Let’s go into the house, shall we?” Entering, Ghiţă threw his whip onto the table, a sign that he wanted to have an extremely good time. He had been on bad terms with Buză-Ruptă and Săilă Boarul, and Răuţ had reconciled them and now he wanted to have a glass with them. After a while, three gypsies arrived at the pub, one with the violin, another one with the clarinet and the third one with the cymbal. Lică made them sit on the wooden bench in the pub and ordered them to play.

(I. Slavici, The Mill of Luck and Plenty)

Every linguistic phenomenon is not only grammar, or only vocabulary, or only style. For one and the same word, phrase or sentence may be looked upon from all these points of view. Here are some of the difficulties or problems one could encounter when dealing with the concept of equivalence or non-equivalence:

From the very beginning, I would like to make obvious the fact that problems of difference in translation, determined by the actual purport of the sentence, arise out of the fact that negation is expressed quite differently in the two languages. For example, in English, it is almost unacceptable to use two negative words in the same clause while in Romanian there are no such rules, i.e. one can use as many negative words as one wants. In this text, “never” is put in front of the main verb in order to emphasize the negative aspect of the statement. One could have made the negative statement more emphatic by using “never” followed by “did” (e.g. “never did he sit”). The idea is that, this construction would imply a possible differentiation of nuances, involving quite an unpleasant stylistic effect.

The word “cerdac” may be translated into English by two synonyms “porch” or “verandah” because they both have the same meaning: “an open area with a floor and a roof, often made of wood, fixed to the side of a house on the ground floor”. I chose the word “verandah” for this translation, since the difference is that the word “porch” having this meaning is used in American English.

Instead of the word “pub” I could have used the word “inn” which represents a small pub or hotel especially one in the countryside, built in an old-fashioned style. The conclusion is that the word “cârciumă” is better rendered by “pub” taking into consideration Slavici’s style.

Special attention should be paid to the elliptical Romanian construction “cu ferestrele la deal” which implies a translation by paraphrase using a related word. This strategy tends to be used when the concept expressed by the source item is lexicalized in the target language but in a different form, and when the frequency with which a certain form is used in the source text is significantly higher than would be natural in the target language. It is the case of English, more precisely of the – ing form used for binding clauses. English obliges us to be very explicit and to translate it as “ferestrele care aveau vedere catre deal”. That’s why I rendered it by “windows overlooking the hill”, “overlooking” functioning as part of an attribute.

Although they never have a full lexical value, prepositions shouldn’t be let apart, since they raise a lot of problems when being compared to the Romanian ones. For example, the simple preposition “în” has as its English equivalent a compound one. “Into” implies the idea of penetration, of crossing some border or movement towards some place.

When speaking about the sequence of tenses, one remarks a huge difference between Romanian and English language. And direct object clauses are indeed an ample field of application of the rules of sequence of tenses proper. Nevertheless, the constraints of sequence of tenses apply only in connection with some of these clauses, namely those which are subordinated to a “past” tense in the main clause, that is when we have to do with “reported speech” proper. So, in this text one can find the past tense in the regent clause both in Romanian and English; it is the English subordinate clause that represents the major problem, and not the Romanian one which favours the present tense “întrebă pe fiecare dintre dînşii de unde vine”. A past tense in the main English clause must be followed by another past tense in the subordinate clause: to express the idea of simultaneousness, the preterite is followed by another preterite “he asked each of them what his business was”, to express the idea of antecedence, the past perfect is used in the subordinate clause “he asked each of them where he had come from”. As it can be seen the prepositions “to” and “from” are removed from the nouns and pronouns they ought to precede; the fact of being placed at the end of the sentence brings them a certain amount of prominence and helps the English language accomplish the stylistic effects.

The term aspect fully corresponds to the respective grammatical category, showing the manner in which the action denoted by the verb takes place within the framework of duration. Since there are no continuous aspect forms in Romanian, English continuous forms are rendered in Romanian by “indefinite” aspect forms, the translation being the same for the English indefinite aspect forms. So, the Romanian “vine” is rendered by a continuous aspect form “is coming” whose reference is to an action in the future.

When speaking about the Romanian structure “să mă duc la el” one has to realize that it can’t be translated simply by * to go to him; English requires translators to be very explicit; in this context, the idea is that one has to go to somebody’s house; that’s why the right translation is “to go to his place”.

By using the Accusative with the Infinitive construction “he made them sit”, a construction which is not to be found in our language, I suggested the idea, rather ambiguous in Romanian, that another person performed the respective action not the subject.

The expression of modal meanings can vary widely from language to language. Modality or modal meanings have to do with the attitude of the speaker to the hearer or to what is being said with such things as certainty, possibility and obligation. The expression of modal meaning can take quite a different form in each language. For example, English tends to use expressions, like the one in this text, “Let’s go into the house, shall we?” in directing the actions of others, in controlling talks and in making polite requests that have the force of commands.

Generally speaking, problems of differences in translation, determined by the actual purport of the sentence, arise also out of the fact that the subject is almost present in English sentences. This is due to the almost total loss in inflexions in contemporary English and creates difficulties for translators into languages whose structure is different – for instance Romanian in which the presence of the subject (especially when repeated or when expressed by a personal pronoun) seems incongruous or clumsy, if it does not, moreover, bring about unwarranted emphasis.

I think, that there is a real consensus about involving a perfect selection of words, correct morphology, syntax and punctuation, in order to secure a perfectly solid context fitting the respective literary production. Besides, there are the stylistic effects which are involved. Two or more words or utterances can have the same propositional meaning but differ in their expressive meanings. Therefore, the degree of expressiveness is reduced in English because of the impossibility of rendering such words as “dânsul”, “să mâie”, “laiţă” implying the same stylistic effect.

“Parliament consists of the Sovereign, the House of Lords and the House of Commons. The Sovereign formally summons and dissolves Parliament and generally opens each new annual session with a speech from the throne. The House of Lords is made up of hereditary and life peers and peeresses, including the law lords appointed to undertake the judicial duties of the House; its main function is to bring the wide experience of its members into the process of law-making.

The House of Commons consists of 659 salaried members elected by universal adult suffrage. It is in the House of Commons that the ultimate authority for law-making resides. The party which wins sufficient seats at a General Election to command a majority of supporters in the House of Commons forms the Government; its leading members are chosen by the Prime Minister to fill ministerial posts. The party which wins the second largest number of seats becomes the official Opposition.

Parliament’s main functions are debating, passing legislation and examining the actions of the Government. Most of this work is carried on through a system of debates which is much the same in both Houses except that in the House of Commons all speeches are addressed to the Speaker who is elected at the beginning of each new Parliament to preside over the House and enforce the rules of order. The Speaker is a member who is acceptable to all shades of opinion in the House. In carrying out his duties he is required to be impartial: he cannot debate or, as a general rule, vote on a measure, and he sees that all points of view have a fair hearing”.

(from Britain in Brief)

From the very beginning one should notice the fact that the source language word “Parliament” expresses a concept which is quite different in the target culture, although there is the same translation “Parlament”.

In the United Kingdom Parliament is the supreme legislature, comprising the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The origins of the Parliament are in the 13th century; but its powers were not established until the late 17th century. The powers of Lords were curtailed in 1911 and the duration of Parliament’s was fixed at 5 years. But any Parliament may extend its own life, as happened during both world wars.

Another phrase that held my attention is “House of Lords”. It is very easy to translate it by “Camera Lorzilor”, but what does it mean to Romanians? Is there any connotation? Well, it couldn’t be for us since we are not at all acquainted with this kind of structure, while in England this authentic structure has a powerful tradition.

The House of Lords is made up of hereditary and life peers and peeresses. Peerages are in the United Kingdom holders in descending order of the titles of duke, marquess, earl, viscount and baron. Some of the titles may be held by a woman in default of a male heir. Since 1963 peers have been able to disclaim their titles, usually to enable them to take a sit in the House of Commons, where peers are disqualified from membership.

In the House of Lords, the Lord Chancellor presides. The Lord Chancellor is the United Kingdom state official, originally the royal secretary, today a member of the cabinet whose office ends with a change of government. The Lord Chancellor acts as Speaker of the House of Lords and may preside over the Court of Appeal and is head of the Judiciary.

In our country the peers never existed. It is a culture-specific concept. A native couldn’t understand this notion because in our history and legislative system there were only notions such as: logofăt, paharnic, pivnicer, spătar, vistier etc. Great writers like Costache Negruzzi in “Alexandru Lăpuşneanul”, Mihail Sadoveanu in “Fraţii Jderi”, Barbu Ştefănescu Delavrancea in his trilogy “Apus de Soare”, “Viforul”, and “Luceafărul” offered us the chance to remember them.

The next step which is to be taken in our translation is the discussion about the House of Commons which seems a little bit closer to our understanding the idea of Parliament. The House of Commons consists of 659 salaried members elected by secret universal adult suffrage. The Sovereign opens each annual session with the speech from the throne, is session is one year longer. The problems in the House of Commons are addressed to the Speaker, who is a member proposed by the government after consulting with the Opposition. The source language word, i.e. Speaker , expresses a concept which is totally unknown in the target culture. The concept in question is concrete and is often referred to as “culture-specific”. Speaker has no equivalent in many languages, such as Russian, Chinese, Romanian, etc. It is often translated into Russian as “chairman”, which does not reflect the role of the Speaker of the House of Commons as an independent person who maintains authority and order in Parliament. As fas as the Romanian language is concerned, one must not leave the word as such, its proper translation being “preşedintele Camerei Comunelor”.

Following the course of the text, we reach “the parties” which are in fact “partidele politice”. There is not perfect equivalence between these two notions. Usually, there are two great parties in Britain.

The Conservative Party is one of the historic British parties, the name replaced Tory, in general use from 1830. Traditionally, the party of londed interest broadened its political base under Benjamin Disraeli’s leadership in the 19th century. The other important British political party is the Liberal Party, the successor to the Whig Party with an ideology of liberalism.

A translator cannot appreciate the full meaning of a unit unless s/he also considers the circumstances involved in the original communication – i.e. the "communicative context". We have to consider such issues as: subject matter, the author's intention in writing the unit, the readership, when/where the text was written, the wishes of the client for whom the translator is working.

"Subject matter" is important in SL decoding since the translator will be unable to decode accurately that which s/he does not fully understand:

SL Text: "...,l'OMC inclut les centres opérationnels d'exploitation du réseau, et en particulier la création des abonnés"

Gist-Translation: "..., the OMC includes the network's operations centres, and in particular the creation of subscribers"

Regardless of mother-tongue, the translator is unlikely to be able to determine the meaning of "création" unless s/he is familiar with the subject of "GSM mobile telephony". After all, the message conveyed by the language alone is that the OMC creates/makes subscribers itself, or in some way finds new clients – neither interpretation is correct!

Only if the translator has the subject-specific knowledge to hand can s/he make the correct interpretation:

TL Text: "..., the OMC includes the network's operations centres: it is this part of the network which is responsible for setting up subscription data for new subscribers"

The author's intention is of paramount importance in deciphering meaning and interpretation - if we know why the SL author has chosen a given unit, we then have the necessary Universal Semantic Representation data to set about trying to replicate his/her intention in the TL. Consider the following extract:

SL Text: "Le radio-téléphone GSM représente une technique d'avenir... Il paraît pourtant difficile d'imaginer ce que donnerait le fameux sketch du '22 ... Asnières'"

Gist-Translation: "The GSM cellular phone exemplifies future technology... Yet it seems difficult to imagine what the sketch '22 à Asnières' would make of it (i.e. the mobile phone)"

The author makes here reference to a 'humorous' television sketch - "le 22 à Asnières" - which was broadcast in the 1960s. The sketch itself illustrated (with irony) how backward telephone technology was in France by showing telephone users going through a telephone exchange, and asking to be connected to a destination number, such as "22 Asnières".

The author's intention in using this sentence is to suggest that a sketch such as "22 à Asnières" could not be performed today since GSM technology is now so advanced.

A literal translation would serve no purpose since it would not convey the author's intention - "22 à Asnières" would be meaningless to the average English speaker.

Consequently, to convey the author's intention, the translator could use means recognisable to English speakers:

TL Text: "The GSM cellular phone exemplifies future technology... How things have changed since the days when you had to go through the operator to be connected to a destination number"

The cultural context of a given item is another essential factor in determining meaning and interpretation. After all, words only have meanings in terms of the total cultural setting. The translator therefore has to look to the larger cultural context for important clues to interpreting the significance of the unit:

To conclude, translation must take into consideration the linguistic, semantic and pragmatic context. Most translation theorists insist on the need to consider all the relevant situational contexts and the relevant social and cultural contexts. Translation always involves cultural translation, because cultures not only express ideas differently, but also they shape concepts and texts differently.

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Bell, Roger, Translation And Translating: Theory And Practice Harlow: Longman, 1991.

Catford, John C., A Linguistic Theory of Translation: an Essay on Applied Linguistics, London: Oxford University Press, 1965

Georges,P and Thies.R (1994) "Les Services d'Athentification et de confidentialité dans le GSM" Systèmes et Sécurité 3.3 89-101.

Jakobson, Roman, 'On Linguistic Aspects of Translation', in R. A. Brower (ed.) On Translation, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1959, pp. 232-39.

Kenny, Dorothy, 'Equivalence', in the Routledge Encyclopaedia of Translation Studies, edited by Mona Baker, London and New York: Routledge, 1998, 77-80.

Oprescu, Simona, Limba Engleză Pentru Studenţii Facultăţilor De Drept Şi Jurişti, ed. Oscar Print, Bucureşti, 2000.

Venuti, Lawrence, The Translation Studies Reader, ed. Routledge, London, 2000.

Vinay, 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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