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Translation theorists have long disputed the interrelation of the two terms.26

V. Komissarov considers them to denote non-identical but closely related notions. He claims that adequate translation is broader in meaning than equivalent translation. Adequate translation is good translation, as it provides communication in full. Equivalent translation is the translation providing the semantic identity of the target and source texts.27 Two texts may be equivalent in meaning but not adequate, for example:

Никита грозил: «Покажу тебе кузькину мать.» – Nikita threatened , “I’ll put the fear of God into you!” The Russian sentence is low colloquial, whereas the English one, though it describes a similar situation, has another stylistic overtone, a rather pious one.

A. Shveitser refers the two terms to two aspects of translation: translation as result and translation as process. We can speak of equivalent translation when we characterize the end-point (result) of translation, as we compare whether the translated text corresponds to the source text. Adequacy characterizes the process of translation. The translator aims at choosing the dominant text function, decides what s/he can sacrifice.28 Thus, adequate translation is the translation corresponding to the communicative situation. For example, Здравствуйте, я ваша тетя! can be inadequate to Hello, I’m your aunt!, when the Russian sentence is used not in its phatic (i.e. contact supporting) function but in the expressive function (as an interjection) to express the speaker’s amazement.

Close to this understanding of translation adequacy is E. Nida’s concept of dynamic equivalence, “aimed at complete naturalness of expression” and trying “to relate the receptor to modes of behavior relevant within the context of his own culture.”29 Nida’s principle of dynamic equivalence is widely referred to as the principle of similar or equivalent response or effect.30

Y. Retsker states that the notion of adequate translation comprises that of equivalent31. According to him, an adequate target text describes the same reality as does the source text and at the same time it produces the same effect upon the receptor. Translation adequacy is achieved by three types of regular correlations:

1) equivalents, that is regular translation forms not depending upon the context (they include geographical names, proper names, terms): the Pacific Ocean – Тихий океан, Chiang Kai-shek – Чан Кайши, hydrogen – водород.

2) analogs, or variable, contextual correspondence, when the target language possesses several words to express the same meaning of the source language word: soldier – солдат, рядовой, военнослужащий, военный.

3) transformations, or adequate substitutions: She cooks a hot meal in the evening. – На ужин она всегда готовит горячее.



Literal translation is the translation that reproduces communicatively irrelevant elements of the source text, This usually happens when the translator copies the source language form on this or that level of the language.

According to the language level, there exist various types of literal translation:

1) on the sound level: this type of literal translation results in the so called “translator’s false friends”, that is words similar in sounds but different in meaning: conductor – not кондуктор, but дирижер; herb – not герб, but лекарственная трава; computer silicon chips – not компьютерные силиконовые чипсы, but кремниевые чипы компьютера.

2) on the syntactic level: copying the structure of the source language. Sometimes an inexperienced translator is hypnotized by the source language, and, to translate “accurately”, he tries to render the meaning word for word, thus breaking combination rules of his/her own language. As an example, We often heard his name mentioned. – *Мы часто слышали его имя упомянутым.

3) on the semantic level: giving the primary meaning of the word or its part, whereas a semantic transformation is required: But outside it kept on raining. - *Но снаружи шел дождь, which is incorrect. Or подполковник - *subcolonel, the word not existing in English.

4) etymological errors: disregarding language changes. Words acquire new meanings over time and use: There, there, don’t cry. - *Там, там, не плачь.

5) following the style of the source text: different registers require different language means. Thus, to use the example by V. Komissarov32, to a Russian, who got accustomed to brief and abrupt structures in the weather forecast, an English weatherman’s sentence can sound like a poem line: Mist covered a calm sea in the Strait of Dover last night. – Туман покрывал спокойное море в Па-де-Кале прошлой ночью. Therefore, to produce the same impact upon the receptor as does the original, the translator has to partition the English sentence and make it more adaptable to a Russian: Прошлой ночью в проливе Па-де-Кале стоял туман. Море было спокойно.33

We can see that very often literal translation is not necessarily a word-for-word translation, although it is often associated with a rather negative evaluation of the translation.

Literal translation is sometimes referred to as formal, or grammar translation, though it is not the same.

However, sometimes literal translation on this or that level is a must. The translator cannot do without it when rendering proper and geographical names (Khabarov, Nakhodka); some borrowings (Red Guards – хунвэйбины is a literal translation (on a semantic level), into English of the Chinese hong (Red) wei bing (Guard), while the Russian word is a literal reproduction of the Chinese word on a sound level.

In some works, literal translation is called ‘faithful’ translation – this term does not necessarily imply the negative connotation of slavish literalism.




Free translation is the reproduction of the source form and content in a loose way. This concept means adding extra elements of information or losing some essential ones.

Of course, it is not very accomplished of a translator to add details not described by the author, as was often done by a well-known (sometimes notorious) Russian translator I. Vvedenski. Neither is it proficient to contract the source text like A. Houdar de la Motte who reduced the twenty-four books of the Iliad to twelve in his translation, leaving out all the “anatomical details of wounds” and some other information.34 Scholars of translation usually take a negative view of this type of free translation, known as adaptation in history of translation.35

Nevertheless, free translation is appropriate in some cases: poetry translations are done with a certain degree of freedom. A translator is also free to modernize a classic text in order to subvert established target-language reader-response. Free translation is also admitted in the titles of novels, movies, etc. For instance, the outstanding Russian novel by Ilf and Petrov «Двенадцать стульев» is known in the United States as “Diamonds to Sit On”, which is accounted for by the bookselling advertising policies. The British movie “Square Peg” was translated into Russian as «Мистер Питкин в тылу врага», since the film translators did not find the adequate Russian idiom to convey the meaning “a person unsuitable for the place in which he works or lives” expressed by the English phrase “a square peg in a round hole”.

Recently translation theorists have begun to relate free translation to communicative translation, depending on the purpose of the translation, and literal translation to the so-called semantic translation. Communicative translation tends to undertranslate, i.e. to use more generic, catch-all terms in difficult passages. A semantic translation tends to overtranslate, i.e. to be more detailed, more direct, and more awkward.36 P. Newmark, however, distinguishes semantic translation - as the attempt to render as closely as possible the semantic and syntactic structures of the target language, from literal translation, when the primary senses of the lexical words of the original are translated as though out of context. He defines communicative translation as that which produces on its receptors an effect similar to that on the receptors of the original.376




It is a cardinal problem that is a cornerstone of the translation art and craft. The reasons for the lack of belief in achieving adequate translation have been expressed time and again. In trying to replace a message in one language with a message in another language, the translator loses some meaning, usually associative, either because s/he belongs to a different culture or because the receptor’s background knowledge does not coincide with that of the source text receptor (cultural overlap). Thus the transfer can never be total.38

There may be ‘referential’ loss and the translator’s language can only be approximate when describing an ethnic situation characterized by specifically local features: Americans, accustomed to Chinese cuisine and traditions, associate fortune cookie, served as a dessert in Chinese restaurants,with a thin folded wafer containing a prediction or proverb printed on a slip of paper. There are no such realia in Russia, so the translation can be only approximate, descriptive or analogous.

Reality is segmented differently by languages, which depends upon the environment, culture and other circumstances people live in. How can the translator make an African person, who does not know the beauty of the bright snowy morning, experience the same as Russians’ feelings when reading Pushkin’s immortal lines: Под голубыми небесами великолепными коврами, блестя на солнце, снег лежит…And, on the other hand, how to render in Russian or English the numerous shades of the white color in the speech of Northern people?

The loss of meaning may be attributed to the different language systems and structures. There is no category of noun gender in English, so the translation of the Russian sentence Студентка пришла by the English The student has come might be non-equal, since the English sentence is more generic and corresponds also to the Russian Студент пришел.

The loss of meaning can also be accounted for by idiosyncrasies, that is noncoincidence, of the individual uses of the speaker or text-writer and the translator. Peopleб speaking even the same languageб are apt to attach private meanings to some words. Hence various misunderstandings and communicative failures. (Can you guess what was meant in the sign written outside Hong Kong tailors shop? Ladies may have a fit upstairs. And what could the tourist understand from the advertisement for donkey rides in Thailand: Would you like to ride on your own ass?)39

Translators’ scepticism and pessimism came to be known in the Middle Ages. Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) claimed that no poem can be translated without having its beauty and harmony spoilt. Miguel Cervantes de Saavedra (1547-1616) likened the works in translation to the wrong side of a Flemish tapestry: you can see only vague figures and cannot admire the bright colors of its right side.

Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835), a German philologist and translator, stressed that “no word in one language is completely equivalent to a word in another language”, and that “each language expresses a concept in a slightly different manner, with such and such a denotation, and each language places it on a rung that is higher or lower on the ladder of feeling.”40

No matter what reasons might be given by theorists, translation practice has been proving that this concept is groundless. Translators have always attempted to be not just a “window open on another world” but rather “a channel opened”, through which foreign influences can penetrate the native culture, challenge it, and influence it.41 So the concept of untranslatability is not shared by practical translators who help people of various countries to communicate.

Though sceptical and negative, the concept played its positive role in the history of translation. It has caused scholars to ponder over language and culture discrepancies and to give up the idea of one language mechanically overlapping another one to convey the message.


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