Unit 4. Translation Equivalence


1. Types of equivalence

Translation equivalence does not mean that source and target texts are identical. It is a degree of similarity between source and target texts, measured on a certain level.

Viewed from the semiotic angle, the source and target texts can be identical pragmatically, semantically and structurally.

Every text should be equivalent to the source text pragmatically, which means that the both texts should have one and the same communicative function. The target text should have the same impact upon the receptor as the source text has.

Semantic identity implies describing the same situation, using similar lexical meaning of the units, and similar grammatical meaning of the elements.

Structural similarity presupposes the closest possible formal correspondence between the source text and the target text.



(function) (content) (form)

situational lexical grammatical

According to V. Komissarov, one can distinguish five levels of equivalence: pragmatic, situational, lexical (semantic), grammatical, structural levels.

2. Pragmatic level

First and foremost, the translation must retain the same communicative function as the source text.

The description and enumeration of speech functions can be found in the work by R. Jakobson, who pointed out the following:

  • informative function, i.e. conveying information: Лаври мого конкурента не дають мені спати. – I am green with envy because of the success of my competitor.
  • emotive function, i.e. expressing the speaker’s emotions: І до якого місця мені такий друг? – What on earth do I need such a friend for?
  • conative function, i.e. expressing one’s will: Could you do me a favor, please? – Будь ласказробіть мені послугу!
  • phatic function, i.e. making communicative contact: How do you do! – Здраствуйте!
  • metalingual function, i.e. describing language features: Don’t trouble trouble until trouble troubles you. – Не чіпай лихо, доки воно тихе!.
  • poetic function, i.e. aesthetic impact:

Tiger Tiger, burning bright,

In the forests of the night;

What immortal hand or eye,

Could frame thy fearful symmetry? (W.Blake)

Тигре! Тигре! Палахкочеш

В темних нетрях серед ночі.

Які руки, очі вічні

Цю створили симетричність? (Пер. В.Кейс)

These sentences have only one thing in common: general intent of communication, communication aim, or function. At first glance, the source and target texts have no obvious logical connection; they usually designate different situations, have no common semes (i.e. smallest components of meaning), and have different grammar structures.

3. Situational level

The source and the target texts can describe the same situation from different angles with different words and structures: I meant no harm. – Вибачтея ненавмисно.(the situation in the bus); Who shall I say is calling? – Хто його запитує? (the situation on the phone); Wet paint. – Обережнопофарбовано! (the situation in the park).

There are no parallel lexical or structural units in these counterparts. Therefore, their content is different, the word semes are different, grammar relations between the sentence components are different. Nevertheless, the utterances correspond to each other in their communicative functions and in the similarity of the described situation. Because of this identity, V. Komissarov calls this type of equivalence «identification of the situation».

Frequently one and the same situation is referred to in different languages. This is particularly true of set phrases: Fragile. – Обережноскло! Beware of the dog! – Обережно, зла собака! Push/Pull – Від себе/До себе.

Some situations cannot be translated: for example, Смачногоhas no corresponding phrase in English. In place of this lacuna, English people use the French idiom Bon appetit!. There is also no equivalent for the Ukrainian З легким паром!.

4. Semantic paraphrase

Dealing with the transformation of meaning implies a semantic variation, or semantic paraphrase of the source language utterance. For example, the sentence in the original can be translated as if the situation were viewed from a different angle: He was not unlike his mother. – Він був досить схожий на свою маму. He is my son. – Я – мама цього хлопчикаOrsome words of the source language sentence are paraphrased in translation: After her illness, she became as skinny as a toothpick. – Після хвороби вона стала худа, наче тріскаOr the target sentence can verbalize the idea in more detail than the source language sentence: Сьогодні Борису не до жартів. – Boris is in no mood for joking today.

On this level of equivalence, the source and the target sentences have the same function (aim), they describe the same situation, and their meanings are approximately identical, whereas their grammar structures are different. As is known, the meaning of each word consists of semes, the smallest sense component. The set of semes in the source and target sentences is the same, but they are grouped differently and, therefore, are verbalized in different ways and do not have the same syntactic structure.

V. Komissarov states that on this level the two sentences match because they have approximately the same method of the situation description.

5. Transformational equivalence

On this level, the target and the source language sentences manifest grammar transformations: the passive predicate can be translated by the active: The port can be entered by big ships only in tide. – Великі кораблі можуть заходити в порт тільки під час приливуLikewise, part of speech can be changed in translation: We had a long walk. – Йшли ми довгоOr the structure of the sentence can be modified: Jane was heard playing the piano. – Було чутияк Джейн грала на піаніноwhere the sentence is translated by a complex one). Any other change of the grammar meaning within the sentence testifies to the equivalence on the transformational level, which is called by V. Komissarov the level of the invariant meaning of the syntactic structure.

This level of equivalence presupposes retention of the utterance function, the description of the same situation, the same meaning of the source and target sentences, and a very close (but variable) grammatical meaning.

6. Lexical and grammatical equivalence

On this level, the most possible semantic similarity between the source and target sentences is found: Every mother loves her children. – Кожна мати любить своїх дітей. I will write you every week. – Я буду писати тобі кожен тиждень. As a matter of fact, this is a word for word translation where each word and the whole structure retains its lexical and grammatical meaning, the situation designated by the sentences is identical, and the communicative function of the utterances is the same. Every form of the target sentence is equal, with no variations, to that of the source language sentence.

Therefore, this level might be called the level of formal equivalence.

7. The levels of equivalence hierarchy

The relationship between the levels of equivalence is not random. Each subsequent level presupposes a preceding one. Thus, the level of lexical and grammatical equivalence implies that the phrases have the same grammatical and lexical meanings (transformation and semantic equivalence), refer to the same situation, and have the same function. Phrases equivalent at the semantic level have similar semantics, describe the same situation and perform the same function; however, they do not have close grammatical meaning, since this level of equivalence is higher than the transformational level. Thus, the hierarchy observed between the level of equivalence is unilateral, the lower levels presupposing the higher ones, but not the other way about.

The hierarchy of levels does not imply the degree of evaluation. A lower level of equivalence does not mean a worse level. A higher level of equivalence is not a better one. A translation can be good at any level. This depends on a number of factors, such as the aim of the author, the requirements of the text, the perception by the receptor. What level of equivalence is better in translating the phrase The rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain in the famous musical “My Fair Lady”? In other language musicals Eliza pronounces another tongue twister like for example: Карл у Клари украв коралиand it is much better than might be a word for word translation Дощ в Іспанії випадає здебільшого на рівнинахsince the author’s (and the translator’s) aim was to show Miss Doolittle’s cockney speech but not convey the weather forecast. Pragmatics of translation seems to dominate all other aspects of this type of communication.