The concept of equivalence and its types 

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The concept of equivalence and its types

This section of the Manual deals with the problems of translation equivalence which is defined as a measure of semantic similarity between ST and TT.

If we compare a number of TTs with their STs we shall discover that the degree of semantic similarity between the two texts involved in the translating process may vary. In other words the equivalence between ST and TT may be based on the reproduction of different parts of the ST contents. Accordingly, several types of translation equivalence can be distinguished.

Let us first of all single out translations in which the degree of semantic similarity with ST seems to be the lowest. This type of equivalence can be illustrated by the following examples (cited from the published translations):

(1) Maybe there is some chemistry between us that doesn't mix. Бывает, что люди не сходятся характерами.

(2) A rolling stone gathers no moss.

Кому дома не сидится, тот добра не наживет.

(3) That's a pretty thing to say. Постыдился бы!

Неге we cannot discover any common schemes or invariant structures in the original and its translation. An absolute dissimilarity of language units is accompanied by the absence of obvious logical link between the two messages which could lead to the conclusion that they arc "about the same thing", Le. that they describe one and the same situation. Yet, it is evident that the two sentences have something in common as to their meaning. This common part of their contents is obviously of great importance, since it is enough to ensure an adequate communication.

Moreover, it comprises the information which must be preserved by all means even though the greater part of the contents of the original is lost in the translation.

From the examples we can see that common to the original and its translation in each case is only the general intent of the message, the implied or figurative sense, in other words, the conclusions the Receptor candraw from the total contents or the associations they can evoke in him, or the special emphasis on some aspect of communication. In plain English, the translation does not convey either "what the original text is about", or what is said in it" or "how it is said", but only "what it is said for", i.e. what the Source meant, what the aim of the message is.

This part of the contents which contains information about the general intent of the message, its orientation towards a certain communicative ef-

feet can be called "the purport of communication". Thus we can deduce that in the first type of equivalence it is only the purport of communication that is retained in translation.

The second group of translations can be illustrated by the following examples:

He answered the telephone.

Он снял трубку.

You see one bear, you have seen them all.

Все медведи похожи друг на друга.

It was late in the day.

Близился вечер.

This group of examples is similar to the first one, as the equivalence of translations here does not involve any parallelism of lexical or structural units. Most of the words or syntactical structures of the original have no direct correspondences in the translation. At the same time it is obvious that there is a greater proximity of contents than in the preceding group. Besides the purport of communication there is some additional information contained in the original that is retained. This fact can be easily proved if we compare the examples of the two groups.

Consider, for instance, the translations:

(1) Maybe there is some chemistry between us that doesn't mix. Бывает, что люди не сходятся характерами.

(2) Не answered the telephone. Он снял трубку.

In (I) the things referred to are different, so that there is hardly any logical connection between the two statements. The similarity of the original and the translation is restricted to the fact that in both cases we can draw identical conclusions about the speaker's sentiments: there is no love lost between him and another person.

In (2) the incomparable language units in the original and in the translation describe, in fact, the same action, refer to identical reality, as a telephone call cannot be answered unless one picks up the receiver. Both texts give different information about the same, or, as one sometimes says, they express the same idea "using different words". It is the type of equivalence that can be well explained in terms of the situational theory. We may presume that such phrases describe identical situations but each is presented in a different way. Thus in this group of translations the equivalence implies retention of two types of information contained in the original — the purport of communication andthe indication of the situation. Since in each of the two texts the situation is described in a different way, the common feature вnot the method of description but the reference to the situation, the pos-sibility of identifying the situation, no matter how it is described in the text. The information which characterized the second type of equivalence can, therefore, be designated as "identification of the situation".

In the next group of translations the part of the contents which is to be retained is still larger. This type of equivalence can be exemplified as follows:

Scrubbing makes me bad-tempered.

Or мытья полов у меня настроение портится.

London saw a cold winter last year.

В прошлом году зима в Лондоне была холодной.

You are not serious?

Вы шутите?

In this case the translation retains the two preceding informative complexes as well as the method of describing the situation. In other words, it contains the same general notions as the original. This means that the translation is a semantic paraphrase of the original, preserving its basic semesand allowing their free reshuffle in the sentence. Thus we are faced with a situation that can be explained in terms of the semantic theory. The common semes are easily discovered in the comparative analysis of the translations of this group. Consider the first of the examples cited. Both in thetranslation and in the original the situation is described as a "cause-effect" event with a different pattern of identical semes. In the original: A (scrubbing) causes В (I) to have С (temper) characterized by the property D (bad). In the translation: С (temper) belonging to В (I) acquires the property D (bad) because of A (scrubbing).

The use of the identical notions in the two texts means that the basic structure of the messages they convey remains intact. If in the previous types of equivalence the translation gave the information of "what the original message is for" and "what it is about", here it also indicates "what is said in the original", i.e. what aspect of the described situation is mentioned in the communication.

We can now say that the third type of equivalence exemplified by the translations of the third group, implies retention in the translation of the three parts of the original contents which we have conventionally designated as the purport of communication, the identification of the situation andthe method of its description.

The fourth group of translations can be illustrated by the following samples:

He was never tired of old songs. Старые песни ему никогда не надоедали.

I don't see that I need to convince you. He вижу надобности доказывать это вам.

Не was standing with his arms crossed and his bare head bent. Он стоял, сложив руки на груди и опустив непокрытую голову.

In this group the semantic similarity of the previous types of equivalence is reinforced by the invariant meaning of the syntactic structures in the original and the translation. In such translations the syntactic structures can be regarded as derived from those in the original through direct or backward transformations. This includes cases when the translation makes use of similar or parallel structures.

An important feature of this and the subsequent type of equivalence is that they imply the retention of the linguistic meaning, i.e. the information fixed in the substantial or structural elements of language as their plane of content. We can say that here the translation conveys not only the "what for", the "what about" and the "what*' of the original but also something of the "how-it-is-said in the original". The meaning of language units is an important part of the overall contents of the text and the translator strives to preserve it in his translation as best he can.

Thus, the fourth type of equivalence presupposes retention in the translation of the four meaningful components of the original: the purport of communication, the identification of the situation, the method of its description, and the invariant meaning of the syntactic structures.

Last but not least, comes the fifth group of translations that can be discovered when we analyse their relationships with the respective originals. Here we find the maximum possible semantic similarity between texts in different languages. These translations try to retain the meaning of all the words used in the original text. The examples cited below illustrate this considerable semantic proximity of the correlated words in the two sentences:

I saw him at the theatre.

Я видел его в театре.

The house was sold for 10 thousand dollars.

Дом был продан за десять тысяч долларов.

The Organisation is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members.

Организация основана на принципе суверенного равенства всех ее членов.

Here we can observe the equivalence of semes which make up the meaning of correlated words in the original text and the translation; parallelism of syntactic structures implying the maximum invariance of their meanings; the similarity of the notional categories which determine the method of describing the situation; the identity of the situations; the identical functional aim of the utterance or the purport of communication. The relative identity of the contents of the two texts depends in this case on the extent to which various components of the word meaning can be rendered in translation without detriment to the retention of the rest of the information contained in the original.

Now we can sum up our findings. We have discovered that there are five different types of semantic relationships between equivalent phrases (texts) in two languages. Thus all translations can be classified into five types of equivalence which differ as to the volume and character of the information retained in each. Each subsequent type of equivalence retains the part of the original contents which includes the information preserved in the previous types.

Every translation can be regarded as belonging to a certain type of equivalence. Since each subsequent type implies a higher degree of semantic similarity we can say that every translation is made at a certain level of equivalence.

Each level of equivalence is characterized by the part of information the retention of which distinguishes it from the previous level. The list of levels, therefore, includes: 1) the level of the purport of communication; 2) the level of (the identification of) the situation; 3) the level of the method of description (of the situation); 4) the level of syntactic meanings; 5) the level of word semantics.

It is worth noting that the information characterizing different levels is inherent to any unit of speech. Indeed, a unit of speech always has some communicative intent, denotes a certain situation, possesses a certain notional structure, and is produced as a syntactically patterned string of words.

Thus, a translation event is accomplished at a definite level of equivalence. It should be emphasized that the level hierarchy does not imply the idea of approbation or disapprobation. A translation can be good at any level of equivalence.


Another source

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.




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