CHAPTER 4. Translation Equivalence

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CHAPTER 4. Translation 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.42



First and foremost, the translation must retain the same communicative function as the source text.43 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: Лавры моего конкурента не дают мне спать. – I am green with envy because of the success of my competitor.

· emotive function, i.e. expressing the speaker’s emotions: На кой леший мне такой 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? – Пожалуйста, окажите мне услугу.

· phatic function, i.e. making communicative contact: How do you do! – Здравствуйте!

· metalingual function, i.e. describing language features: Don’t trouble trouble until trouble troubles you. – На дворе трава – на траве дрова.

· 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)

Тигр, Тигр, в лесу ночном

Мрачный взгляд горит огнем.

Чья бессмертная рука

Жизнь влила в твои бока? (Пер. К.Филатовой)

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.



The source and the target texts can describe the same situation from different angles with different words and structures: I meant no harm. – Простите, я нечаянно.(the situation in the bus); Who shall I say is calling? – Кто его спрашивает? (the situation on the phone); Wet paint. – Осторожно: окрашено! (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»44.

Frequently one and the same situation is referred to in different languages. This is particularly true of set phrases: Fragile. – Осторожно: стекло! Beware of the dog! – Осторожно, злая собака! Push/Pull – От себя/К себе.

Some situations cannot be translated: for example, Приятного аппетита! has 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 Russian С легким паром.




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. – Он довольно похож на свою мать. He is my son. – Я - мать этого мальчика. Orsome words of the source language sentence are paraphrased in translation: After her illness, she became as skinny as a toothpick. – После болезни она стала худая, как щепка. Or the target sentence can verbalize the idea in more detail than the source language sentence: Сегодня Борису не до шуток. – 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.45


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