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Equivalence in


equal or interchangeable in value, quantity,
significance, etc.
having the same or a similar effect or meaning

the state of being equivalent or interchangeable

the binary truth-function that takes the value
true when both component sentences are true or
when both are false, corresponding to English if
and only if. Symbol: or , as in --(p q) --p
--q, =biconditional


Unity in difference
Sameness in diference

R. Jakobson 1957

What is equivalence?

Concepts of sameness & similarity

SIMILARITY (logics):

Not necessarily symmetrical

This copy of M. Lisa is incredibly like the original
The M. Lisa is incredibly like this copy of it.

Not reversible

Richard fought like a lion

?The/A lion fought like Richard

Not necessarily transitive

If A is similar to B and B is similar to C, it is not logically

implied that A is similar to C

SIMILARITY cognitive

Two entities are similar

Two entities are are thought of as similar
Objective vs similartity in the mind
Models of similarity in cogn. science:

Mental distance model

(concepts located closer to each other in the mindproximity of values)

Feature or contrast model

Degree of overlap of features (shared and


Two entities are similar if they share

at least one feature
Two entities are the same if neither
has features that the other lacks
Salience / Relevance (with respect to
some purpose),
Similarity judgements (e.g. in poetry)

Hamlet: Do you see yonder cloud thats almost in shape

of a camel?
Polonius: By the mass, and tis like a camel indeed.
Hamlet: Methinks its like a weasel.
Polonius: It is becked like a weasel.
Hamlet: Or like a whale?
Polonius: Very like a whale.

Similarity (Sovran 1992)

divergent & convergent:
The oneness starting point:

A, A, A, ...

The seaparateness staring point:

Chesterman, p. 13-15


The concept of similiarity is Janus-faced

(In art he is depicted with two

simultaneously refers to a relation-in-the-world and a perception in
the mind. The element of subjective perception is always present.
Two entities are percieved to be similar to the extent that their
salient features match
Two entities count as the same within a given frame of reference if
neither is percieved to have salient features which the other lacks
Assessment as to what counts as a feature and how salient it is
are both context-bound (purpose of assessm.) and assessor-bound
Assessment of similarity are thus constrained by relevance
Degree of similarity correlates inversely with the extension of the
set of items judged to be similar
Two main types of similarity relation: divergent and convergent
heads facing opposite ways, C16: from Latin, from janus archway).

Why is a raven like a writingdesk? (Alice in Wonderland)

LINGUIST: they both begin with /r/ sound (FORMAL)

LITERARY SCHOLAR: they can both serve as a source
of inspiration for poetry
CARROLL: Because it can produce a few notes, to they
are very flat (HOMONYMIC)
OTHERS: because Poe wrote on both; because it
slopes with a flap; because they both stand on legs,


Notion of equivalence - primarily a

translation theory concept
Sameness is understood differently
in TR and CA
Contrastiveness a CA concept,
also useful in TR
Langue vs parole; competence vs

Equivalence in TR theory

The equative view

The taxonomic view
The relativist view

1. The equative view

classical view, Jerome, Erasmus;

the Holy Script; (Kelly 1979,
Renner 1989):
A = A
A + A
A = A, A , A, A
A, A , A, A

2. The taxonomic view

Jerome: non-sacred texts should be translated more freely that

sacred ones
G. Mounin (1958)
Jakobson (1959): denotative eq. is always possible (denied by
other theorists)
Nida (1964) formal equivalence & dynamic equivalence
Catford (1965) formal correspondence between SL & TL
categories when they occupy, as nearly as possible, the same
place in the economies of the two languages maximal
closeness, not true identity.
Koller (1979, 1992) Denotative, connotative, text-normative,
pragmatic, formal/aesthetic eq.
Ivir (1981) formal correspondence and translation equivalence
Newmark (1985) semantic vs communicative eq.
Snell-Hornby (1986) TE practically irrelevant issue (cf. 58 types
of Aequivalenz in German studies)

3. The relativist view campaign

against equivalence

Snell-Hornby (1988): rejects identity assumption;

equivalence is an illusion
Holmes / Toury (1988, 1980): three main lines of

Reject samenes as a criterion for any relation betwee SLT and

Equivalence is to be replaced by a more relative term: similarity,
matching, family resemblance (a number of resemblances)
Translators rationality is descriptive (more than one possible
solution); using norms TLR is to find the most suitable solution

Chesterman (1997): introduction of the relation norm

governing professional translation behaviour
Pym (1992): eq. is fundamentally an economic term
(=exchange value in a particular situation), (Eq. depends
only on what is offered, negotiated and accepted in the
exchange situation)

Gutt (1991): eq. depends on the utterance itself and the

cognitive state of the interpreter (e.g. TR of the Bible for two
time-distant recipents)
Toury (1980, 1995) comparative literary studies:

TL culture is the starting point, not SL culture:

start with existing translations and study the resemblances
existing betweeen these and their SL texts;
deduce what TR strategies have been used (throughout history);
establish various constraints & norms impinging on the TLRs
decision-making (Lefevere 1992)

Vermeer / Reiss / Nord (1984, 1993) skopos theory: do not

seek to achieve the same skopos as the original, but what the
skopos of the translation is (e.g. poetry, purpose, ets)
Relativist views on TR go hand in hand with the relativist view
of language, as opposed to universalist views


Most scholars in TR theory today reject EQ as an

identity assumption in all its forms (formal,
semantic, pragmatic, situational...)
EQ is theoretically untenable
EQ misinterprets what translators actually do
The EQ or relevant similarity between SLT and TLT
is not given in advance; BUT
It takes shape within the mind of the TLR
under a number of constraints (purpose of TLT
and the act of translation (in an act of

Chesterman (1998: 27)

TE - the central issue in


Heated controversy:

(a) definition, (b) relevance, (c) applicability

Key theorists:

Vinay and Darbelnet, Jakobson, Nida

Catford, House, Baker, Newmark, Ivir,

Three main approaches to TR and

linguistic approach to TE BUT translation in itself is not
merely a matter of linguistics
TE - a transfer of the message from the Source Culture to
the Target Culture:



when a message is transferred from the SL to TL, the translator

is also dealing with two different cultures at the same time

pragmatic/semantic or functionally oriented approach

Some translation scholars stand in the middle (M. Baker):

equivalence is used 'for the sake of convenience because

most translators are used to it rather than because it has
any theoretical status'

TE a technical term, for the lack of a better one

Vinay and Darbelnet:

equivalence in translation

equivalence-oriented translation a procedure which 'replicates the

same situation as in the original,
whilst using completely different
wording' (ibid.:342)

Vinay and Darbelnet:

this procedure (if applied during the translation

process) can maintain the stylistic impact of the
SL text in the TL text
TE: ideal method when dealing with proverbs,
idioms, clichs, nominal or adjectival phrases
and the onomatopoeia of animal sounds
equivalent expressions between language pairs
- acceptable as long as they are listed in a
bilingual dictionary as 'full equivalents':
However, (glossaries and collections of
idiomatic expressions) 'can never be exhaustive

Vinay and Darbelnet:

Therefore: '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'

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

Vinay and Darbelnet: examples

(to prove the theory):
Take one (a fixed expression) = (equivalent French
translation) Prenez-en un)
(It. Prendetene uno; Cro. Uzmite!)

and use the expression

But, (Take one 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 ... (Probajte!)
chantillon gratuit:

(Besplatan primjerak/uzorak; Poklon);

Take away (to bear off to another place : carry away)

Take away (to derogate or detract; as from merit or
effect) often to a specified extent : lessen reputation
Take away food/pizza

2. R. Jakobson: 'equivalence in
difference' , 'unity in

semiotic approach to language ('there is no

signatum without signum' (1959:232) - three
kinds of translation:

Intralingual (within one language, i.e. rewording or


Interlingual (between two languages)

Intersemiotic (between sign systems)

interlingual translation (use of synonyms in

order to get the ST message across):

i.e.: in interlingual translations there is no full

equivalence between code units

Jakobson: the notion of

'equivalence in difference':

'translation involves two equivalent

messages in two different codes'
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
'whenever there is deficiency, terminology
may be qualified and amplified by:
loanwords or loan-translations, neologisms
or semantic shifts, and circumlocutions'

R. Jakobson:

examples (English and Russian)

language structures:

where there is no 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
syr: curd cottage cheese - cheese

similarity between Vinay and Darbelnet's

theory of translation procedures and
Jakobson's theory of translation

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
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
conceive the translation as a task which can always be
carried, regardless of the cultural or grammatical
differences between ST and TT

R. Jakobson:

Jakobson's theory - essentially

based on his semiotic approach to

the translator has to recode the ST

message first and then s/he has to
transmit it into an equivalent message
for the TC

3. Nida and Taber: Formal

correspondence and dynamic
Two different types of equivalence:

formal equivalence (Nida 1964) or

formal correspondence
(Nida and Taber (1969/1982)
dynamic equivalence



'focuses attention on the message

itself, in both form and content'



based upon 'the principle of

equivalent effect' (1964:159)

A. Formal
= a TL item which represents the closest equivalent of a SL word
or phrase

there are not always formal equivalents between language


therefore these formal equivalents should be used wherever

possible if the translation aims at achieving formal rather than
dynamic equivalence

serious implications at times in the TT since the translation will

not be easily understood by the target audience

Nida and Taber 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'.

B. Dynamic equivalence
= a translation principle according to which a translator seeks to
translate the meaning of the original in such a way that the TL
wording will trigger the same impact on the Tl audience as the
original wording did upon the ST audience.
Chomskian influence (TG Grammar):

'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).

- dynamic equivalence - a more effective translation procedure

(cf. esp. in translating the Bible


the product of the translation process (i.e. the text in

the TL) must have the same impact on the different
readers it was addressing

'dynamic equivalence in translation is far more than mere

correct communication of information'

Despite using a linguistic approach to translation, Nida

is much more interested in the message of the text, in
its semantic quality
Therefore: We must 'make sure that this message
remains clear in the target text'

4. Catford: translation shifts

a more linguistic-based approach to

(J.R. Firth and M.A.K. Halliday)

main contribution to translation

theory concepts of:

types of translation
shifts of translation

Catford: Types of translation

(based on three criteria):



The extent of translation (full translation vs

partial translation);

The grammatical rank at which the

translation equivalence is established
(rank-bound translation vs unbounded

The levels of language involved in

translation (total translation vs restricted

Catford: A2. Grammatical rank at

which TE is established:

First dimension of correspondence:

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 (i.e.
equivalences at sentence, clause and
other levels)

Catford's claim:

a formal correspondence could be said to

exist between English and e.g. French if
relations between ranks have
approximately the same configuration in
both languages
problems with formal correspondence:

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

Catford: A2 Second dimension of


textual equivalence:

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'

This is implemented 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'

formal correspondence between SL

& TL categories when they occupy,
as nearly as possible, the same
place in the economies of the two
languages maximal closeness,
not true identity.

Catford (1965)

Textual and translation equivalence

the relation between a text-portion in a
SLT and whatever text-portion is
observed to be equivalent to it in a
given tTLT.
Textual equivalents are not defined by
TR theory but discovered in practice via
the authority of a competennt TLR or

The condition for TR EQ is interchangeability in a

given situation
The common ground is found in the situation
itself not in the semantics of the sentence: there
is no equivalence of meaning since meanings are
language-specific (I have arrived Dola sam)
Translated as Dola sam (Ja prila) not because
they mean the same but because there is an
overlap between the sets of situational features
which both utterence select as relevant (the
speaker, the arrival, the arrival is a prior event)

Three potential kinds of


FORMAL EQ: which can only be

SEMANTIC EQ: which is theoretically
SITUATIONAL EQ: which is the basis for
The underlying BELIEF: the situational
equivalence actually exists! (at least in the
sense of the same features of substance
present in the SL and TL situations


rejects the movement metaphor:

nothing is transferred from A to B in

Rather, TR is the process of
replacing textual material in one
langauge with the textual material in
another (p. 20)
Translate carry accross the river

Catford: Translation Shifts

the notion based on the distinction

formal correspondence


textual equivalence

Catford: Translation Shifts (def)

'departures from formal
correspondence in the process of
going from the SL to the TL'

Two main types of

translation shifts:

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

category shifts, divided into four


Structure-shifts, which involve a grammatical change

between the structure of the ST and that of the TT;

Class-shifts, 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;

Unit-shifts, which involve changes in rank;

Intra-system 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.

Criticism of the shift aproach:

Snell-Hornby (1988):

Catford's definition of textual equivalence is 'circular'

his theory's reliance on bilingual informants 'hopelessly inadequate',


his example sentences 'isolated and even absurdly simplistic'

the concept of equivalence in translation is an illusion

the translation process cannot simply be reduced to a linguistic

exercise, since there are also other factors:

textual, cultural and situational aspects,

which should be taken into consideration when translating

linguistics is NOT 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 another

5. J. House: overt and covert


in favour of semantic and pragmatic equivalence

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 we are 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.
'a translation text should not only match its
source text in function, but employ
equivalent situational-dimensional means to
achieve that function' (ibid.:49).

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'

Covert translation:

the production of a text which is

functionally equivalent to the ST
this type of translation the ST 'is
not specifically addressed to a TC

The types of ST that would yield

translations of the two

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 (covert)
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 (overt)

House's theory of equivalence in

translation seems to be much
more flexible than Catford's:

gives authentic examples, uses

complete texts and
relates linguistic features to the
context of both source and target text

6. M. Baker's approach to
translation equivalence

Translational equivalence given

new discriptions:

pragmatic equivalence,

conditions upon which the concept

of equivalence can be defined:

Baker (1992) offers

a more detailed list of equivalence

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.

Types of equivalence:

at word level and

above word level

Bottom-up approach to
equivalence at word level:

the first element to be taken into consideration

by the translator:
words as single units in order to find a direct
'equivalent' term in the TL
definition of the term word since a single word
can sometimes be assigned different meanings
in different languages and might be regarded
as being a more complex unit or morpheme.
the translator should pay attention to a
number of factors when considering a single
word, such as: number, gender and tense

Grammatical equivalence, when

referring to the diversity of
grammatical categories across

grammatical rules may vary across languages and

this may pose some problems in terms of finding a
direct correspondence in the TL
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
Amongst these grammatical devices which might
cause problems in translation Baker focuses on
number, tense and aspects, voice, person and

Textual equivalence, when referring to

the equivalence between a SL text and a
TL text in terms of information and

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.

Pragmatic 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 acros
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

7. Peter Newmark

Nida's 'receptor'-oriented approach is

The gap between SLT and TLT will always
remain a permanent problem in both TR
theory and practice
How can the gap be narrowed?:


... attempts to produce on its readers an effect as close

as possible to that obtained on the readers of the
original. (cf. Nida's dynamic eq.)
... attempts to render, as closely as the semantic and
syntactic structures of the second language allow, the
exact contextual meaning of the original.

TR of Homer: it is impossible to
expect to produce the same effect
on 20th cent. TT reader as it had
on listeners in ancient Greece


Respects the context, interprets or

explains (e.g. metaphors)
Word-for-word in its extreme

However 1:
LITERAL: the best initial approach in Sem and
Comm. Approach:
- provided that eq. effect is secured (LIT TR
not only the best but the only valid method of
However 2:
If there is a conflict between SEM and COMM
(if SEM TR would result in an 'abnormal' TT or
would not secure eq. effect COMMUNICATIVE
TR is the only way out:

Bissiger Hund; Chien mchant; Pazi, otar pas
= Beware of the dog!
(?dog that bites, bad dog)
overabundance of terminology (free-lit, formal
eq-eq effect, covert-overt, sem comm)
strong prescriptivism smooth vs qwkwar TR,
TR = art (semantic) = craft (communicative)
- a good guidance for TR training (abundant

8. Werner Koller:
Korrespondenz vs quivalenz

- bersetzungswischenschaft (W.
Wills, O. Kade, A. Neubert)
- 'Einfuehrung in die


Correspondence: ('langue', 'competence':

Equivalence: ('parole', 'performance':

within CA of two language systems

formal similarities and differences
false friends, signs of lexical, morphological & syntactic
equivalent items in specific ST-TT pairs and contexts
Competence in the foreign language:
Knowledge of (formal) correspondences
Competence in transaltion:
knowledge / ability in equivalences

However: ? What exactly has to be EQUIVALENT?!!

Koller: Types of Equivalence: - a

possible answer:



related to text types, (cf. K. Reiss)


lexical choices (e.g. in near synonyms),

'stylistic equivalence'


- extralinguistic content, 'content invariance'

'communicative equivalence'
oriented to the receiver of the text message
Nida's 'dynamic equivalence'


related to the form and aesthetics of the text

stylistic features
'expressive equivalence'

Research into different types of

(in TR text analysis) - value for TR
theory and practice:

choice: a hierarchy of values to be

preserved in TR
a hiererchy of equivalence
requirements (for the text)
translationally relevant text analysis

Q's: How to determine the hierarchy?:

Koller - Checklist:

language function
content characteristics
language-stylistic characteristics
formal aesthetic characteristics
pragmatic characteristics
(see Text Linguistics, Types of texts
Koller, Reiss, Nord)

TE: Koller

Koller presented translational equivalence as an

argument against theories of general
untranslatability (cf. all-embracing debates about
linguistic relativity or language universals).
Since translational equivalence was seen as
existing on the level of translation as language
use (parole), it was not reducible to formal
correspondences or differences between
language systems.
The theories that were so lost in language
systems that they failed to see the actual
pragmatics of translation

TE: Mounin

Georges Mounin (following the rediscovery of

Saussure and the rise of relativist structuralism):

If the current theses on lexical, morphological, and

syntactic structures are accepted, one must conclude
that translation is impossible.
And yet translators exist, they produce, and their
products are found to be useful (1963: 5).
Since translators and translations exist, translation
must be possible and equivalence must therefore exist
as well.

TE: Koller

Koller was writing at a time when a few tons of

linguistics, from Hjelmslev to Catford and Searle,
could be cited in support of translatability and
thus as a basis for equivalence.
Kollers theorizing was and remains an affair of
language; there was no need to oppose the whole
of linguistics.
Theorists of equivalence could moreover be
presented as technical engineers interested in the
better control of translation as a social practice.
Their aim was the regulation and improvement of
standards (as explicitly stated in texts like Reiss

TE 1970s

Equivalence thus became a piece of scientific capital,

stretching out into a general paradigm with a few ounces of
institutional power.
It provided the foundation for research programmes
supposedly useful for both machine-translation and translator
These fields in turn responded to the rising social and political
demand for controllable transcultural communication,
particularly in what was then the European Community.
Translation studies was made to look like a science worthy of
financial support. It was also made to look like applied
As such, the equivalence paradigm enjoyed a degree of
success in advancing the cause of moderately independent
research programmes and translator-training institutes.

Yet the 1980s

saw linguistic concepts of

translational equivalence challenged
in at least two ways:

equivalence was something

automatically produced by all
ostensible translations
equivalence was only one of many
goals that a translator could set out to

For the historico-descriptivism of

Toury (1980):
For Toury equivalence was something automatically
produced by all ostensible translations no matter what
their linguistic or aesthetic quality.

Thus defined, the concept was rendered effectively

useless for linguists, technocrats, and anyone else
interested in Koller-like legitimation.
If equivalence was already everywhere, or almost, it could
not be used prescriptively.
For Toury, the confidence of linguistic experts should
logically give way to detailed descriptive work on actual
translations in their historical contexts.
If equivalence had upset no more than the occasional
belief in untranslatability, Tourys extension of it at least
had the potential to upset prescriptive linguists and

The target-side functionalism of

For Vermeer equivalence was only one of many
goals that a translator could set out to attain,
since translations could serve a range of
communicative purposes

The determinant on translation was not the source text,

as had been assumed by linguistic approaches to
but the intended function or Skopos of the translation as
a text in its own right and in its own situation.
This so-called Skopostheorie was also potentially
upsetting, at least for linguists and teachers of
translation who had never looked beyond source-text


As revolutionary as these two approaches

could have been, neither of them denied
that a translator could set out to produce
one kind of equivalence or another.
Nor did they deny scientific objectivity as
an essential goal for translation studies.
They simply refused to base their scientific
status on equivalence.

They chose other weapons.

Toury & Vermeer

Toury and his followesr have invoked systems,

hypotheses, empirical testing, and the search for
probabilistic laws.
Vermeer has developed a rich assortment of technicalsounding names for various aspects of translation,
combining discursive precision with metalinguistic elitism.

One of the curious outcomes is that whereas Toury helped

develop a mode of corpus-based research where a
translation is any target-language utterance which is
presented or regarded as such (1985: 20),
Vermeers influence fits in with the fact that prospective
students at Heidelberg are told that the institutes German
term Translation (not bersetzen) does not correspond to
the translating and interpreting that unthinkingly duplicates
linguistic forms and structures (das unreflektiert
Sprachformen und -strukturen nachvollziehende
bersetzen und Dolmetschen.) (1992: 2).

Toury & Vermeer

For historico-descriptivists, translation is anything people commonly

think it is (social practice cant be wrong).
For the Heidelberg text, translation is precisely not what people
commonly think it is, especially if they imagine it is a matter of
producing equivalents for source texts (social practice can be
correctively engineered).

In the first case, science is empirical investigation; it goes out into the world
and can advance on the basis of the material it analyzes.
In the second, science is a matter of knowing what others have to find out;
students come to you and advance on the basis of your theoretical
expertise (and if social agents dont always know what a translation really
is, they too can become your students).

Clearly, neither of these approaches needed a strong concept of

equivalence, which soon seemed unable to objectify anything of
interest about translation.
Having become either too large (for Toury et al.) or too small (for
Vermeer et al.), the concept gradually lost its status as scientific
capital. It became a dirty word.

What really happened here?

The dates could be misleading.

Koller published in 1979, but his text survived through four editions to
1992 and is still worth reading.
Toury was published in book form in Israel in 1980, but his work has
taken years to filter through to some kind of general recognition.
The writings of Vermeer and friends, published mostly in German and
often in small university editions, have been so slow to catch on that
the group still feels revolutionary more than ten years after the
Grundlegung einer allgemeinen Translationstheorie of 1984.
The space of European translation studies is spread so thin and remains
so fragmented that these various paradigms have mostly managed to
co-exist in tacit ignorance of each other. There is no evidence of any
catastrophic debate being resolved one way or the other.
the general trend was away from equivalence and toward target-side
Of course, this was more or less in keeping with the movement of
linguistics toward discourse analysis, the development of reception
aesthetics, the sociological interest in action theory, and the general
critique of structuralist abstraction.

The 1980s: the social and historical

relativity of translational equivalence

Many of the linguistic categories that had previously

been considered objective could now have been seen as
largely subjective constructs.
Beyond the restricted field of specialized terminology,
theorists could no longer be sure that a given sourcetext unit was necessarily equivalent to a specific targettext unit.
Such a relation could only be norm-bound or
probabilistic (for Toury) or subordinate to wider targetside considerations (for Vermeer).
There would always be at least residual doubt about
general claims to equivalence.

Critic views of
Almost ten years after Kollers Einfhrung, Mary Snell

Hornbys integrated approach of 1988 sought to

bring together and systematize the work that had been
done to that date.
the underlying assumption was that a certain
compatibility was there; it just needed to be
The package was once again made to look faintly
scientific, this time privileging American panaceas like
prototypes and scenes-and-frames, along with a
potpourri of common sense, gratuitous critique, and a
disarming propensity to self-contradiction (notably with
respect to the status of linguistic approaches).
One of the most remarkable aspects of this integrative
exercise was the list of effectively excluded approaches.


dismissed two thousand years of translation theory as an

inconclusive heated discussion opposing word to
sense (one finds the same inconclusiveness in theories of
God, or love, and yet we keep talking).
dispatched historico-descriptivism because it had avoided
evaluation (but hadnt it discovered anything?).
Not surprisingly, she also forcefully discarded equivalence as
being unsuitable as a basic concept in translation theory

None of these excluded approaches have provided any

substantial help in furthering translation studies
However, unlike Toury or Vermeer, Snell-Hornby tried to indicate
precisely where the equivalence paradigm had gone wrong.
This is where translation studies could have become truly


finds that in the course of the 1970s the English term

equivalence became increasingly approximative and
vague to the point of complete insignificance, and its German
counterpart was increasingly static and one-dimensional
there was in fact no radical rupture between those who talked
about equivalence and those who preferred not to (Toury
accepted the English-language trend; Vermeer fell in with the
German-language usage of the term).
Snell-Hornby concludes that the term equivalence, apart from
being imprecise and ill-defined (even after a heated debate
of over twenty years) presents an illusion of symmetry
between languages which hardly exists beyond the level of
vague approximations and which distorts the basic problems of

Some kind of equivalence could be integrated into its appropriate

corner (technical terminology), but the equivalence paradigm
should otherwise get out of the way


But, if the term equivalence were really so polysemous Snell-Hornby elsewhere claims to have located fifty-eight
different types in German uses of the term (1986: 15) -, how
could she be so sure it presents an illusion of symmetry
between languages?
The term apparently means nothing except this illusion.
And yet none of the numerous linguists cited in Koller ever
presupposed any symmetry between languages.
had she looked a little further, Snell-Hornby might have found
that concepts like Nidas dynamic equivalence presuppose
substantial linguistic asymmetry.
More important, Kollers actual proposal was based on
studying equivalence on the level of parole, leaving to
contrastive linguistics the entire question of symmetries or
dissymmetries between language systems


The narrow and hence mistaken interpretation of

translational equivalence in terms of linguistic
correspondence is in our opinion one of the main reasons
that the very concept of equivalence has fallen into
disrepute among many translation scholars. (1994:
414). (A. Neubert)
One can only suppose there was more than logic at stake
in Snell-Hornbys critique of equivalence.

An element of power, perhaps?

Snell-Hornbys Integrated Approach has indeed had
influence, and may yet find more.
It was the right title at the right time, lying in wait for the
massive growth of translator-training institutions that took
off at the end of the decade.


Yet this is not the story of just one person. There is more at stake in
the movement away from equivalence. Strangely, while European
translation studies has generally been expanding, a center of strong
equivalence-based research at Leipzig, closely associated with
Professor Neubert, has been all but dismantled by west-German
academic experts.
Further, the one west-European translation institute that has been
threatened with reduction - Saarbrcken - is precisely the one that,
through Wilss, is most clearly aligned with linguistics and the
equivalence paradigm.
This is not to mention the numerous east-Europeans who still - heaven
forbid! - talk about linguistics and equivalence, awaiting
enlightenment from the more advanced western theorists.
The institutional critique of equivalence surreptitiously dovetails into
facile presumptions of progress, and sometimes into assumptions of
west-European superiority. Perhaps we should take a good look at the
bandwagon before we hop on.

Equivalence - A. Pym

Although the 1980s critiques of equivalence-based prescriptivism opened up

new terrain, they mostly failed to understand the logic of the previous paradigm.
Little attempt was made to objectify the subjective importance of equivalence
as a concept. It is one thing is to argue that substantial equivalence is an
illusion, but quite another to understand why anyone should be prepared to
believe in it.
Illusions are not illusory. Yet when Snell-Hornby talks about the illusion of
equivalence (1988: 13), she does so precisely to suggest that it is illusory and
should be dispensed with. The main alternative to this strategy is to understand
and explain the illusion.

Ernst-August Gutt, defines a direct translation as an utterance that creates a

presumption of complete interpretative resemblance (1991: 186). True, Gutt does not
name equivalence as such - it is a taboo word -, but he certainly describes what
equivalence would seem to be doing when a translation is read as a translation. More
important, this presumption of resemblance does not describe anything that would
enable a linguists tweezers to pick up two pieces of language and declare them of equal
Comparable considerations enter Albrecht Neuberts recent comments on equivalence. A
translation, says Neubert, has to stand in some kind of equivalence relation to the
original, which means that equivalence in translation is not an isolated, quasi-objective
quality, it is a functional concept that can be attributed to a particular translational
situation (1994: 413-414, italics in the text).

From the semiotic perspective, Ubaldo Stecconi expresses

a similar mode of thought:

In Stecconis terms,

Equivalence is crucial to translation because it is the unique

intertextual relation that only translations, among all
conceivable text types, are expected to show (1994: 8).
Such expectation is certainly an affair of social convention
rather than empirical certainty, but it has consequences for
the actual work of the translator.
B had never been equivalent to A before it appeared in a
translation: using inferences of the abductive kind, the
translator makes the two elements equivalent (1994: 9)

Pym (1992) argues that equivalence defines translation,

and talks about non-relativist and non-linguistic
equivalence beliefs as part of the way translations are
received as translations.

Solutions without Equivalence

Gutt, Neubert, Stecconi, and Pym (there could be more

names) have something else in common.
Their arguments recuperate the very important idea
that translation and non-translation are conventionally
distinguished, since the making of this distinction is one
of the functions of equivalence itself.
They thus have a certain interest in defining translation
in a restrictive way; they are not afraid to distinguish
translation from non-translation.

the critiques of equivalence

In contradistinction to the four authors above, none of the

theorists that oppose equivalence appears to have advanced a
restrictive definition of translation.
There are certainly many descriptions; they all say what a
translation should look like and should do.

Try, for example, Snell-Hornbys description beginning Translation

is a complex act of communication in which... (1988: 81).

Nowhere in the page or so of text that follows is there anything

about what translation is not.
There are no definitions of non-translation. Everything can be
fitted in; everything is potentially translative;
so translation studies might as well encompass cultural studies,
literary studies, the entire humanities, and more, if it would
make anyone happier or more powerful.
The rejection of equivalence quickly leads to a peculiarly
uncentered conceptual expansion, the nature of which is still
far from clear.

Pym (2005):

Equivalence, on the other hand, no matter

what definition it figured in during the bad old
days, always implied the possibility of
non-equivalence, of non-translation or a text
that was in some way not fully translational.

The 1980s thus saw a shift from restrictive to

non-restrictive definitions, from translation
studies as a focused and unified discipline to
translation studies as an area potentially
open to all comers.

To produce equivalence is
nowadays not the end of the story,
neither for the theorist nor for the


Differs among a number of types and levels of equivalence

understood as different linking stages of translation from

Goals of communcation: the lowest degree of meaningful link

between the SLT and TLT on the level of communicatzion goals,
Identification of situation: on the level of situation identification
contains the additional part of SLT content and shows the
type of source messsage,
Method of describing the situation: preservance of general
concepts in the TR process by way of the situation being
level of syntactic meanings: invariant nature of syntactic
structures of the SLT and TLT,
Level of literary signs: refers to the cases sluajeve when in
the translation process all the basic parts of the SLT contents
are maintained.

11. Other theories:

see also Chesterman, Baker, Bassnett,

G. Toury: (DTS) - a move away from prescriptive
definition of equivalence:
Not 'A TT is equivalent to its TT' but
Try to identify the web of relations between the ST
and TT
Still many insoluble practical problems
TE 'remains central to the pratice of transaltion,
even if TR Studies and TR theory have, at least,
recently, marginalized it9
tertium comparationis the invariant agains which
a ST and a TT can be measured to gauge variation


The notion of equivalence is undoubtedly one of the most

problematic and controversial areas in the field of translation
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
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.

A Summary

Since debates over equivalence are not always easy to

follow, here is a brief summary of the way I have called the
- Structuralist linguistics of language systems (Saussure et
al.) overlooked the social existence of translation.
- The concept of translational equivalence (Koller et al.)
affirmed the social existence of translation and sought to
make it a part of applied linguistics.
- Historico-descriptive studies (Toury et al.) rejected the
prescriptive import of such linguistics and affirmed that
equivalence was a fact of all translations, no matter what
their quality.
- Theories of target-side functionalism (Vermeer et al.)
similarly rejected such prescriptivism, limiting equivalence
to cases where the translation purpose was narrowly bound
by source-text elements.

- Thanks to the above two movements,

the notion of equivalence lost its status
as a scientific concept (most radically in
the work of Snell-Hornby).
- Translation studies has thus expanded
well beyond the academic space once
centered on equivalence.
- Final concl.: translation studies unable
to offer a restrictive definition of
translation and TE, as a result

References 1

V. Ivir (1981) 'Formal Correspondence vs. Translation

Revisited', Poetics Today, 51-59
Ivir (1978) Teorija i tehnika prevoenja. Centar
Karlovaka gimnazija
Bell, R. (1991) Translation and Translating. Longman
Chesterman, A. (1998) Contrastive Functional Analysis.
J. Benjamins
Fawcett, P. (1997) Translation and Language. J.
Munday, J. (2001) Introducing Translation Studies.

Nida, Eugene A. and C.R.Taber (1969 / 1982) The Theory and

Practice of Translation, Leiden: E. J. Brill.

Catford (1965): A Linguistic Theory of Translation. OUP

References 2
Baker, Mona (1992) In Other Words: a Coursebook on Translation, London:
Chesterman, A. (1998) Contrastive Functional Analysis. Amsterdam, Benjamins
Fawcett, Peter (1997) Translation and Language: Linguistic Theories Explained,
Manchester: St Jerome Publishing
House, Juliane (1977) A Model for Translation Quality Assessment, Tbingen: Gunter
Kenny, Dorothy (1998) 'Equivalence', in the Routledge Encyclopaedia of Translation
Studies, edited by Mona Baker, London and New York: Routledge, 77-80.
Jakobson, Roman (1959) 'On Linguistic Aspects of Translation', in R. A. Brower (ed.)
On Translation, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, pp. 232-39.
Leonardi, V. (2002) Equivalence in Translation: Between Myth and Reality.
Nida, Eugene A. (1964) Towards a Science of Translating, Leiden: E. J. Brill.

References 3
Pym, A. (1992). Translation and Text Transfer.
Frankfurt/Main: Lang
Pym, A. (2000)European Translation Studies,
une science qui drange, and Why Equivalence
Neednt Be a Dirty Word
Vinay, J.P. and J. Darbelnet (1958/1995)
Comparative Stylistics of French and English: a
Methodology for Translation, translated by J. C.
Sager and M. J. Hamel, Amsterdam /
Philadelphia: John Benjamins.