Discuss the concept “equivalence” in translation. Base your discussion on Nida’s or Newmark’s ideas.
© Mohammed Abu-Risha, 2000
All rights reserved.
Equivalence is a key concept in translation. It is as important as the word “to translate”, for translating is eventually a process of finding an “equal” code in the TL to replace a ST counterpart. This concept therefore has assumed a remarkable space in the literature of many theorists of translating, especially after the field has been looked at from a different perspective, i.e. a rule-governed entity. One could safely claim that equivalence is the axis round which almost all related disciplines revolve including: contrastive textology, contrastive syntax, error analysis, machine translation, simultaneous and consecutive interpreting, etc.
In the first place, it is important for any researcher in translation to note that any discussion of “equivalence in translating” cannot be limited to one single theorist in view of the absence of a unanimously accepted unified view on this matter. The following, therefore, is intended to be a review and a criticism of the concept of equivalence with specific reference to three theorists of translation: Peter Newmark, Eugene Nida and M. A. Sa’Adeddin. The purpose is to attempt an answer for the following questions:
- How do theorists of translation perceive “equivalence”?
- How far are these theorists justified? Does the divergence in theories of equivalence entail that there is only one acceptable theory?
- How far are the theorists’ concepts of equivalence applicable to:
- any language in general
- Arabic in particular
- Does equivalence really exist? What is the best definition of equivalence.
- In the absence of one unified theory of equivalence, how can we teach equivalence to students of translation?
- How do we apply the various theories of equivalence to the teaching of translating?
I. Equivalence according to Eugene Nida:
People in the past used to talk about literal vs. free translation. The problem with these terms is that: 1) any translation would be deemed as either 100% literal or 100% free [thus failing to account for a translation reflecting various degrees of translators’ latitude in translation] 2) they are not technical terms, i.e. they do not follow specific rules binding the translator in choosing one of the two strategies, and 3) the dichotomy results, in my opinion, from comparing two texts, one of which is a translation of the other. But, after translating has been recognised as a disciplines, there has emerged a need for contriving new terms in order to keep pace with the progress in this field rendering translating as a rule-governed science.
Perhaps the first one to talk about translating as a science is Eugene Nida particularly in his book Towards a Science of Translating. Nida here presents his theory of the Formal-Dynamic equivalence. According to (Chang 1996), this would in theory “put an end to the centuries-old contention between literalism and liberalism in translation”. Nida’s finding in this book is basically based on the Bible. His choice of the Bible has two justifications: 1) Nida is basically a translator of the Bible, who faced many challenging items defying a good translator, and 2) the bible is replete of instances presenting almost all kinds of problems facing the translator in other fields. In his theory, Nida places emphasis on the effect of the translation on the target audience and their response towards the translated message. Here we notice that a translation could be evaluated on the basis of comparing the effect made by the TT with the intended effect of the ST.
Nida distinguishes two types of equivalence, each of which has its own problems, rules and methods of translation. On the one hand, formal equivalence focuses attention on the message itself both in content and form. Here, one is concerned with those instances of correspondence such as poetry with poetry, sentence with sentence, concept with concept etc. A translation following formal equivalence is put to the test on cultural standards. The method of formal-equivalence translating is called “gloss translation”. This way of translating allows the TL reader identify himself with the SL reader. It enables the TL reader understand and appreciate the cultural codes and the way of thinking of a SL native speaker. According to Nida, such a translation demands footnotes and commentaries. At the same time, Nida constrains the translator’s latitude by stating that background information and interesting cultural information should not be added to the TT but should be mentioned in footnotes and commentaries. The translator may add t the text only what is linguistically implicit in the ST. Here we sense some constraints on the translator’s work that were unavailable in the literal-vs-free dichotomy. Chang (1996) senses a kind of self-contradictory by quoting Nida saying once that differences between cultures give the translator latitude in making cultural adaptations. This is later on contradicted when Nida says that cultural adaptation is “the job of the pastor or teacher, not the translator” and that addition, deletion or skewing of the message reflect bad translation.
On the other hand, Nida observes another kind of equivalence. It is the one which observes the principle of the “identical effect”. Dynamic translating is intended to create on the TT readers a similar effect of that made by the ST on the SL readers. The following illustrations are given by Nida:
- “Holy Kiss” could be translated into other languages as “a hearty handshake all around”.
- “white as snow” could be translated for people who have no experience with snow as “white as egret feathers”. This is also similar to the tendency of some translators to translate Shakespeare’s “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day” as هل أشبهك بأيام الربيع (Abu-Risha 1999).
Nida however stresses that for dynamic equivalence to be possible, the translator should have “purposes generally similar to, or at least compatible with those of the original author”.
In sum, Nida’s major contribution in his formal/dynamic theory is the presentation of a spectrum (rather than a dichotomy) having two poles: one is formal while the other is dynamic:
According to this view, any translation is to be found in this spectrum with less or more degrees of formality/dynamism. Therefore, there is no formal-vs-dynamic dichotomy. Here, Nida says “you cannot have your formal cake and eat it dynamically too”.
I. Equivalence as viewed by Peter Newmark
Newmark rejects the “principle of equivalence”, which underlies Nida’s theory of the dynamic equivalence. He basis his rejection on three accounts:
- The equivalent effect is not always attainable especially when the ST deals with cultural codes not understood by the TL readers.
- The equivalent effect is not necessarily important. This has to do with text types, which are according to him: expressive, informative and vocative. Difference in text types may entail different translation strategies.
- A dynamic-equivalence-based translation usually entails loss of meaning. For example, lots of biblical metaphors are lost in such a translation.
As an alternative to Nida’s theory, Newmark suggests the semantic/communicative translation. In principle, one could say that semantic translation is similar to Nida’s formal equivalence and that communicative translation is similar to Nida’s dynamic equivalence. The following table illustrates the basic characteristics of Newmark’s two strategies:
One basic distinction between Nida and Newmark is that while the first views formal and dynamic equivalence as the two ends of a spectrum, the latter draws a continuum ended by “word-for-word equivalence” on the one extreme and “cultural adaptation” on the other. The continuum is graded into eight methods of translation including: literal, faithful, semantic, free and idiomatic translations. Newmark says that the best methods are semantic and communicative translations.
I have however the following reservations on Newmark’s theor:
- Semantic and communicative translation strategies are more or less the same as Nida’s formal/dynamic equivalence. This would mean that no real progress is made.
- As can be seen in the above table (item No.5), Newmark mixes between word-for-word equivalence on the one hand and literal translation on the other one. There is a big difference between word-for-word translation and literal one. The first is a strategy used in linear translation for the purpose of comparing and contrasting two language systems, while literal translation does not necessarily reflect the SL language mechanisms.
- The word “communicative” may denote that “semantic translation” is not a communicative strategy, i.e incapable of establishing communication. Semantic translation is completely communicative in the following example:
- Obviously, the above example (in 3) shows how semantic translation is not necessarily awkward as Newmark suggests (please refer to item No. 4) in the above table.
- الحمد لله على سلامتك
- Thanks God for your safety.
- أنا وزوجي مقطوعين من شجرة يعني “طنجرة ولقيت غطاها“
- …….We’re like a pot having found its bonnet. (Semantic)
- …….We’re a perfect match. (communicative)
Dynamic equivalence and communicative equivalence are more or less similar to other labels such as: functional equivalence and ideational equivalence. The latter is advocated by Prof. Mohammed Farghal (Yarmouk University). Here, the translator perceives the ST message and tries to put it as natural as possible in the TT. Consider the following example quoted from Farghal:
– Ali’s decision to leave his job for a new one was ill-thought – out of the frying pan into the fire.
A translator may tend to replace the underlined English proverb into the well-known Arabic counterpart: “كالمستجير من الرمضاء بالنار”. Farghal, however, points out that it would be much better if we render the ST proverb by extracting the idea of the proverb and putting it in the way it is usually said in Arabic. Thus he suggests the following version:
– لم يكن قرار علي بترك وظيفته والشروع بأخرى حكيما – فقد سارت الأمور من سيئ إلى أسوء.
Thus, something like “مكره أخاك لا بطل” could be rendered as
One important problem with Nida and Newmark, at least for Arab researcher and students, is that their theories do not cover Arabic texts. I believe that Arabic texts do have unique characters different from non-Arab ones, creating thus some unique obstacles, when it comes to equivalence. Moreover, these obstacles are unlikely to occur in English, French or German texts, incorporated in the study of Newmark and Nida. For this reason, I chose to discuss the concept of equivalence according to an Arab theorist.
The above quoted line from Shakespeare’s sonnet is a good example illustrating the applicability of Sa’Adeddin’s ethnolinguistic theory of translation. Consider the translation of this line of poetry attempted by an MA researcher:
- Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day
–سُـليمى هل أقارنك بيوم الصيف مذ كان ………………………
Obviously the above translation reflects the translator’s intention to translate poetry into poetry. The problem here is with the added word “Suleima”. If we are to follow Nida, then this addition is a bad translation because it is not linguistically implicit in the source text. But can’t we justify this addition?
The translator of the above line seems to take into consideration one important priority in translation: observance of the expectations of the target readership. It is a common practice among Arab poets to name their beloved ladies (even if imaginative) in the poem. Here lies a tradeoff between the above theories of Newmark and Nida on the one hand, and recent trends in dealing with the problem of equivalence on the other one. While Prof. Basil Hatim adheres the substitution of the term “equivalence” by “adequacy”, Sa’Deddin (also de Beaugrande) starts questioning the very existence of equivalence. Both theorists share a new definition of equivalence. To quote de Beaugrande:
“Human translating has been the object of a longstanding controversy over ‘literal’ versus ‘free’ approaches. This discussion reflects the inaccurate views that there can be an equivalence of language elements independency of their setting of occurrence and that such equivalence is somehow relevant to actual usage” (de Beaugrande & Dressler 1981)
(underlines and emphasis added)
De Beaugrande concludes, “the equivalence of a translation with its original can only be an equivalent in the experience of the participants”.
Most importantly, in Sa’Deddin, the focus is made on two basic points with regards to translating: 1- the characteristics of the ST and TT, and 2- the role of the translator. But, Sa’Adeddin’s theory basis on capitalising the role of the translator in the translating process. To quote Sa’Adeddin:
“The crux of the problem in disentangling the process of translation is that the translator assumes a number of interrelated and overlapping roles. In the SLT-reading (i.e. experiencing) stage of the process, he is a perceiver, but simultaneously a producer in so far as he should be able to identify himself with the producer in the SLT. In the writing stage of the process, he assumes the same roles, but with a shift of focus: he plays the role of the producer in the target language (TL), and simultaneously the role of the target language audience in that he must identify himself with that intended language community……. A good translator takes us into the heart of the text-presented experience, which he interprets and reproduces as a communicative event that fits reasonably with the experiential knowledge of the TA”
(Sa’Adeddin, 1990) emphasis and underlines added
To illustrate the above quotation, we could take an example of Arabic and English obituaries. Consider the following samples, which illustrate Sa’Adeddin’s point of view:
An Arabic Obituary
غيب الموت أمس الأول السيد فلان الفلاني عن عمر يناهز الـ….عاما إثر مرض عضال وسيشيع جثمانه بعد صلاة العصر من يوم الأحد الموافق …/…/…
وكان المرحوم فلان مؤسسا لـ وكان له الفضل في…… وكان….. وكان….
رحم الله الفقيد وأسكنه فسيح جنانه، وإنا لله وإنا إليه راجعون.
A literal (or semantic) translation of the above sample would be of no use. The translator has to observe the way in which the English write their obituaries. In other words, the translator has to: 1) identify himself with the SLT writer when he reads the SLT, and 2) identify himself with the TLT audience when he writes the translated version. Accordingly, his translation would likely to be of the following ethnolinguistic characteristics:
Mr. So and So
Mr. So and So, (Age), (Address), died at (hour). (Day), (Date) at (name of hospital or medical centre if appropriate).
Services will be at (hour) (day) at (Mosque/ Church), with burial in (place).
Mr. So and So is the founder of ……, and……
He was born on (date) in (place), son of (names of father & mother).
He was preceded by death by……..
Memorials may be sent to……
Thus, questioning the very meaning of “equivalence”, Sa’Deddin says that the translator does not play the role of an “equator” but rather a “text ethnographer” and a “comparator”. According to this view, translating becomes a process of “matching” rather than “finding equivalence” (as we have noticed in the above example).
Sa’Adeddin’s ethnolinguistic theory is significant. It fills in the gaps that were not bridged by earlier theories. His theory is very simple: each of the ST and the TT embodies the “experiential memory” of its own cultural norms. Sa’Deddin presents a modified version of Hyme’s heuristic ethnolinguistic checklist and employs it in translating. The translator has to use this checklist as a tool of discovery in order to discern the ethnolinguistic characteristics of the ST in his attempt to match them with their counterparts in the TT. Two methods of translating are here observed: 1) semantic translation, and 2)ethnolinguistic translation. Consider the following example quoted from Sa’Deddin:
“لا فضل لعربي على أعجمي ولا لأعجمي على عربي ولا لأبيض على أسود ولا لأسود على أبيض إلا بالتقوى”
A translator following the semantic translation methowould likely translate the above sample as:
“No Arab has an advantage over a non-Arab, a non-Arab over an Arab, a white man over a black man, a black man over a white man, except in piety”
An ethnolinguistic translation, however, would observe the following ethnolinguistic characteristics of the Arabic text (abridged and quoted from Sa’Deddin):
- Norm of interpretation: knowledge of ancient Arabian society and racial discrimination in pre-Islamic times.
- Norm of interaction: Superior to inferior: a prophet to his disciples.
- Goals: 1) distributing the criterion of judgment in Islam
2) Muslims should relinquish pre-Islamic discrimination
- Genre: A sermon
- Key: serious and authoritative
Now it is obvious that the above characteristics are absent form the provided semantic translation. An ethnolinguistic translation should be as close as possible to the origin in terms of these characteristics. Consider the following suggestion by Sa’Deddin:
Be he an Arab he shall not be honored more than a non Arab;
Be he a non-Arab he shall not be honored more than an Arab;
Be he a white man he shall not be honored more than a black man;
Be ha a black man he shall not be honored more than a white man;
But by the depth of his piety.
Obviously, this translation reflects well most (if not all) of the Arabic ethnolinguistic characteristics of the ST.
To conclude therefore, a good translator therefore should be well equipped with tools of ethnolinguistic discovery of texts in SL and their counterparts in TL. In other words, the translator has to be first of all a text ethnographer.
Finally, how could we teach “equivalence” for students (especially Arab ones) of applied linguistics or translation. It is very simple. Students should be exposed to the various theories of equivalence after they have studied two prerequisite courses: 1) introduction to translation, and 2) contrastive textology. While the first course provides the student with basics in translation, the other one should be devoted for teaching students principles of analysing and contrasting texts. Students will be encouraged and guided to read as much as possible of English and Arabic texts and to make their own discovery with regards to the ethnolingusitic characteristics of these texts. It is only then that a student could be capable of understanding, criticising, evaluating, accepting or refusing existing theories of equivalence. And, it is very likely that the student will try to make his own theory.
LIST OF SELECTED REFERENCES:
- Abu-Risha, Yahya. 1999. Applied Translation, Dar Al-Hilal, Jordan
- Bhatia, V. (1993). Analysing Genre, Longman, UK
- 3. Newmark, Peter. Approaches to Translation
- 4. Newmark. Peter. Textbook for Translation
- 5. Nida, Eugene. Towards a Science of Translating
- Sa’Addedin M. (1989). “Writing Across Language Communities: The Structure of Arabic Text”, Applied Linguistics, UK
- Sa’Adeddin M. 1990. “Towards a Viable Applied Linguistic Theory of Translation: An Ethnolingusitic Point of View”, Translation in Performance. Ed. Fawcet, P., Heathcote, O. University of Bradford. UK.
Added are some MA dissertations in translation attempted by Jordanian graduate students.