Equivalence in the Practice of Translation
Thread poster: Annett Roessner
Annett Roessner  Identity Verified
Australia
Local time: 02:55
Member (2017)
English to German
Jan 11

Hello there,

I'm currently studying a Masters in Translation Studies and I am about to complete my first essay on the topic:

'What are the limitations of the notion of equivalence in the practice of translation?'

I have done all theoratical ground work but would like to include a few statements of 'real' tranlsators into my work regarding the topic.
My first paragraph deals with the complexity of the notion of equivalence and how this may lead to translators not making use of the equivalence concept when translating.

Another paragraph deals with the instability of meaning, in that the source text and target text can often be interpreted in several different ways and hence equivalance is impossible to achieve.

I would be very grateful to get some comments about what practising translators think about equivalence and if they actually use it in their daily work. Maybe also reasons why you use it or chose not to use it.

Thank you so much in advance.

Best regards

Annett


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Daniel Frisano
Monaco
Local time: 16:55
Member (2008)
English to Italian
+ ...
Question Jan 12

If you don't use equivalence when translating, what other criteria do you follow?

Stated another way, is it even possible to translate (not "transcreate") without equivalence?

I'd be curious to see an example of non-equivalent translation.


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Annett Roessner  Identity Verified
Australia
Local time: 02:55
Member (2017)
English to German
TOPIC STARTER
Interestin Point Jan 12

Hi Daniel

That's an interesting point you raised. In fact, the essay asks to discuss the limitations of equivalence not to abandon it altogether.

So, when you translate do you follow any particular 'equivalence concept' ? The issue here is that 'equivalence' is critised as a far too complex and confusing model because so many scholars in the field of translation studies have developed their own model.

So in practice, do you follow any particular theoratical type of 'equivalence' model when you make translation decisions? Or do you simply 'follow your gut' striving for some sort of sameness between ST and TT? If it is the latter, it would support my argument that translators don't necessarely use the theoratical concepts of equivalence but we can assume translators aim to achieve sameness anyway.


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Daniel Frisano
Monaco
Local time: 16:55
Member (2008)
English to Italian
+ ...
Here it goes Jan 12

Annett Roessner wrote:

So, when you translate do you follow any particular 'equivalence concept'?


When translating I strive for equivalence to meaning, rather than to the source text.

Whenever I read something -- whether translating or just reading for leisure -- I immediately, automatically and unconsciously abstract the meaning from the written text, so now what's going on in my head is independent from the source language.

Then translating means just explaining the concept in the target language, i.e., finding words that are equivalent in meaning, as you do whenever you are explaining something to someone. Sometimes it's straightforward, other times you'll have to settle for "close enough". That's equivalence as I see it: (re)verbalize something that is non-verbal as faithfully as possible, i.e., shrink the infinitely nuanced space of concepts into the finitely categorized space of words while limiting to a minimum the inevitable amount of simplification that this process entails. It is certainly not an equivalence in a mathematical sense, since we are mapping an infinite set into a finite one. Like compressing music in mp3 format (with inevitable losses) and still be able to appreciate Rossini or Eric Clapton.

(Thanks to our colleague Jean Dimitriadis, if I remember correctly, for pointing out the concept of "deverbalization", which was unknown to me until recently, at least under this name).

I remember an instance when I was asked to translate into Italian a document that was part in Spanish and part in English, with 3 or 4 chunks of English embedded into the Spanish. I was so absorbed that I processed the whole text from beginning to end without even noticing those 6 or 8 transitions between source languages. I just forgot about it. And if you find it hard to believe, just know that I couldn't believe it myself.

If, while I am reading a book in any of the few languages that I read fluently, you asked me "in what language is the book you are reading?", I'd have to stop and make a conscious effort, which may take a few seconds, to give you an answer. Same thing when translating.

In short, my equivalence is not to the source text, but rather to the abstract (non-verbal, language-less) meaning it represents.

[Edited at 2018-01-12 02:37 GMT]


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Jean Dimitriadis
France
Local time: 16:55
Member (2015)
English to French
+ ...
Equivalence: working at the discourse/textual level Jan 12

Hello Annett,

Does your essay pertain to literary texts, pragmatic texts, or translation in general, without distinction?

Outside the literary context, I would say deliberate ambiguity is quite rare. Ambiguity and instability of meaning are not so often found at the discourse/textual level. Ambiguity occurs when taking words or phrases out of their context, or, when not deliberate, in poorly written texts (which, I will concede, is not such a rare occurrence).

Now, it would be helpful to define the notion of equivalence.

At least according to the “model” I have in mind [mostly based on The Interpretative Theory of Translation], equivalence is the relation of identity (or, perhaps, analogy) that is established at the discourse level between two translation units in two different languages, which bear the same or almost the same discourse function.

In this definition, equivalence is always the result of an interpretation intended to elucidate the meaning of the original text. It is carried out by combining language knowledge with knowledge of the realities the source text refers to, all communication parameters being taken into account.

I insist on the fact equivalence (the result of a deverbalization/re-verbalization process described by Daniel above) occurs at the discourse/textual (not the language) level.

We have to distinguish between equivalences and correspondences.

Bilingual dictionaries (which work at the language level) offer correspondences, not equivalences, while within a specific text, some translation equivalences may coincide with correspondences.

Taken separately (outside of the communication context), words, word units and phrases have virtualities of meaning. Within a coherent text, however, they take on a specific meaning, that often could not be deduced out of context, producing a temporary univocality. Words, word units and phrases are indeed integrated within a network of linguistic and non-linguistic relations (what could be called “cognitive complements”) in which polysemy is lifted.

To put it simply, “we don’t translate words, but their meaning in context.”

In practice, I find the concept of equivalence quite useful: it allows the translator to work at the discourse/textual level and avoid the pitfalls of striving to achieve word-for-word fidelity. It offers more freedom when choosing your means to re-express meaning in another language. Equivalence is often built on difference, not necessarily strict correspondence. Of course, this freedom has its limits: in translation, you are not the original author, you restate/recreate what has already been written.

Jean

[Edited at 2018-01-12 05:52 GMT]


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Annett Roessner  Identity Verified
Australia
Local time: 02:55
Member (2017)
English to German
TOPIC STARTER
Great thoughts Jan 12

Hi Jean

Thank you so much. It is great to see such a nice debate on the topic.
There are some great thoughts in your response. The essay is about translation in general and is not genre-specific.

I think what I can take home from your response is that you strive for 'equivalence' in meaning in general when translating, however, you don't go through text books to pick one particular equivalence theory (e.g. Nida's or Catfords' equivalence concept) that you can apply to your translation. Can you please confirm.

Great to see you tried to provide a definition, even though scholars have not been able to come up with a universal definition.

Best regards

Annett


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Mario Chavez  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:55
English to Spanish
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Instability of meaning? Jan 12

To say that a meaning is unstable amounts to saying that it's fickle, variable beyond our control. That makes no sense to me.

To quote actual translators' statements is a novel practice in an academic essay. I don't endorse it, but I'd be curious to know if your professor encourages the practice.


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 16:55
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
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@Annett Jan 12

Annett Roessner wrote:
What are the limitations of the notion of equivalence in the practice of translation?


It is almost true to say that only translation students and their professors ever think about "translation equivalence".

Equivalence refers not to a method of translating but to a method of analysing translations. It is a game. If you regularly play that game, you will eventually become a better translator, but you're not supposed to play the game during the actual translation work that you do for actual clients.

There are, of course, many theories about translation equivalence, and you and/or your professor may even have a favourite one, but ultimately the purpose of talking about translation equivalence is to help you to better understand translation in general. Several authorities on translation equivalence even refer to tests, strategies and mechanisms that one can employ during translation analysis, but you're not supposed to attempt to use those tests, strategies and mechanisms when you translate.

Translation students often make that mistake: they think that they're supposed to put the theory into practice, and so they try to use teacher methods as translator methods.


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Annett Roessner  Identity Verified
Australia
Local time: 02:55
Member (2017)
English to German
TOPIC STARTER
@Mario Jan 14

Hi Mario

Instability here means, achieving perfect equivalence is impossible because ST have different meanings to different people. This is of course less pronounced when dealing with technical texts compared to literature.

And yes, my tutor approves and in fact encourages such elements in essays.

Best regards

Annett


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Annett Roessner  Identity Verified
Australia
Local time: 02:55
Member (2017)
English to German
TOPIC STARTER
@Samuel Jan 15

Hi Samuel

Many thanks for your great comment. What would be reasons why you are not meant to apply these theories in practice. Is it because the reality of translation is a lot different and more complex than theoretical models can cover? Time constraints? Undesirable translation results?

Best regards

Annett


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Chris S  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Swedish to English
+ ...
+1 Jan 15

Annett Roessner wrote:
I would be very grateful to get some comments about what practising translators think about equivalence and if they actually use it in their daily work. Maybe also reasons why you use it or chose not to use it.


In general, practising translators just translate. They say in the target language what they think the source language said. Depending on context and personal preference/skill, some will translate more freely than others. They don't apply theories and notions, they use common sense. Well, some don't even do that.

As Samuel says, theory is for academics not for practitioners. I don't even know what equivalence is.


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Mario Chavez  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:55
English to Spanish
+ ...
Speaking of meaning Jan 15

Annett,

Thank you for clarifying that concept. I've never encountered it, at least not under that name. I wonder if Niranjana is involved.



Seriously, though, please take our comments with a grain of salt. Some translators here are of the opinion that translation theories are useless, or that they're just rhetorical exercises best left in the classroom, or that such theories are irrelevant to translators in general.

I happen to know and believe that translation theories are a starting point to begin to understand the process of translation. Some scholars approach it (this process) with a lot of jargon and obscure references, others do it with a sense of pragmatism, knowing that they are talking to students, not just to other scholars.

In the end, it's the translation student's job to distill those theories and form his/her own to apply in his/her daily work as a translator. Some people call it an approach or common sense, but every translator of every stripe operates under a theory of his/her own.


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B D Finch  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 16:55
Member (2006)
French to English
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Does practice require theory? 12:23

I will admit to not having done much in the way of studying translation theory and certainly have sympathy with Samuel Murray's comments. However, I am aware of equivalence and its limits while translating. It is only when I feel some dissatisfaction with how I have translated something that I bring this awareness from background to foreground, pause my translation and think about whether my translation is really equivalent to the source text and whether the equivalence is appropriate in that context.

On the whole, I think that the more rarefied academic analysis of translation would get in the way of ever doing real translation. It would be rather like trying to run over rough ground without falling over, while simultaneously being fully aware of and analysing the physiology involved. The result would be falling flat on one's face. Similarly, I don't analyse the grammatical structure of sentences that I speak or write, unless I am aware of a problem, in which case I'm very grateful for having gone to school in the days when they still taught clause analysis.

The type of analysis taught in academic studies of translation theory is, I am sure, extremely useful to have in the background, but I think that practical translators should rely upon their rather vague and undefinable instincts for when to actually resort to it and do so as sparingly as possible.


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Diana Obermeyer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:55
Member (2013)
German to English
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instability of meaning 12:24

"Another paragraph deals with the instability of meaning, in that the source text and target text can often be interpreted in several different ways and hence equivalance is impossible to achieve."

I think you will see this a lot with things like slogans and taglines. They very often play on the double meaning of certain words or phrases and that double-meaning is incredibly difficult to capture in a translation.


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Equivalence in the Practice of Translation

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