Multi-layered Equivalence

As mentioned in a previous entry – Translation Equivalence – in order to understand the translation process we must also understand the term that is “equivalence”. It is essential that we realise the fact that equivalence is a multifaceted phenomenon. It follows therefore that not realising this fact leads to bizarre or even erroneous translations. An example might be in order here. Inadequate translation is not as simple as getting the words wrong or not understanding the original. More often than not an inappropriate, inadequate or odd translation is one which does not take into account all the various types of equivalence.

The fact that equivalence is multifaceted can be seen when watching/listening to television programmes that translate the original text through subtitling or dubbing. Not only are we dealing with translation proper but we are also having to cope with the transmutation of the original into another form – change of speaker (subtitling) or change of mode (dubbing). It is here that the fault lines are most often visible.

In a recent programme on Discovery Channel, the narrator of the documentary was discussing the possibility of life on other planets and the use of radio telescopes as well as the analysis by scientists of deep-space radio signals. Scientists in the mid-90s found very odd radio signals coming from a particular point in space. On screen we see a list of numbers and in red ink the word “Wow!” written by one of the scientists. Interestingly, the Polish dubbed translation rendered this word as “No, no…” which is, of course, inappropriate and inadequate both contextually and stylistically. A more adequate translation might be “Kurcze!”, “Ale czad!” or a phrase of similar force. The example shows how when moving from one mode to another, the style has undergone a significant change and we cannot talk about true connotative, pragmatic or contextual equivalence.

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9 Responses to “Multi-layered Equivalence”

  1. agnieszka dz. Says:

    I definitely agree that understanding the fact that equivalence is multifaceted phenomenon is a half way to success!In order to translate something a good translator needs to take into consideration many aspects of a given text. We have to remember that translation is not only about words checked in a dictionary…

  2. transubstantiation Says:

    Dictionaries are just a tool in the whole process, nothing less, nothing more. The importance of equivalence cannot be underestimated.

  3. Kasia Says:

    I completely agree with the author of Multi-layered Equivalence. He says that a translator to produce a good translation has to understand the term “equivalence” and the fact that it is a mulfifaced phenomenon, otherwise he will not be able to translate. It is also obvious that while translating a translator should take all the variuos types of equivalence into consideration because if not he will produce odd text that has nothing to do with the original one.

  4. transubstantiation Says:

    “He”? Why “he”? Yes, there is much surrounding the translation process and the notion of equivalence and all its various forms needs to be considered…

  5. Ewa P Says:

    I would like to add that transalor needs to be conscious of the changing times and that translation equivalence is a changing phenomenon. As long as the language changes the equivalance does also.
    I agree that it is a multifaceted phenomenon and therefore it it complicated. We have to always be up-to-date with the language changes.

  6. transubstantiation Says:

    Equivalence is without a doubt multifaceted (as mentioned above in the original blog), but it would be difficult to argue that equivalence is a changing phenomenon. Equivalence is a concept, a process, a phenomenon. Language is always in a state of flux and therefore the translation process also, but equivalence is rather a ‘solid state’.

  7. Karolina Says:

    Whenever the translator moves form one mode to another he cannot forget about having the the same effect on TL audience as SL audience had from the original text. In the case of translating the scientists’ word “wow” we can see the lack of equivalent effect. The message has not been conveyed properly. Even if there are cultural or grammatical differences between SL and TL, the message should be transformed; the translator can rely on loan-translations, neologisms and the like.

  8. transubstantiation Says:

    Definitely, some people believe equivalence can be posited on a graph or within a matrix and statistically analyse how good/bad a certain word or phrase depending on whether it ‘ticks off’ all the correct boxes in the matrix.


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