Degrees of Equivalence (≠ ≈ = ≡)

For many scholars, the true mark of a field of study is its possibility for statistical quantification. The Scientific Method, first postulated by Alhazen and later moulded by Francis Bacon into the Empirical Method has become a yardstick for all scientific fields. A strictly logical approach is the only basis for attaining watertight conclusions.

Translation has been practised by some of the greatest minds in history: Marcus Tullius Cicero, Saint Jerome, Desiderius Erasmus, John Dryden, Alexander Pope, Ignacy Krasicki and Roman Jakobson. However, it still remains an intangible field where descriptions of translation range from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Attempts have made to make translation a more exact science by using a variety of tools, such as the ISO quality standard mentioned in the previous post, or various attempts to measure quality. The same can be said of the use of corpus tools or machine translation in the translation process, however, a strict form of notation could also be used to pin down equivalence in translation.

It might be helpful for translation researchers to put to use the following symbols: ≠ ≈ = ≡ where:

signifies is not equal to
signifies is approximately equal to or corresponds with
= signifies is equal to
signifies is identical to

Obviously, this does not cover the whole range of equivalence open to the translator but it does allow us to be somewhat more specific in our description of the equivalence of certain terms. For example:

(a) Na szczęście nie ma już Układu Warszawskiego
(b) Układ Słoneczny jest czasami dzielony na oddzielne strefy
(c) Jest tu jakiś dziwny układ
(d) Podpisaliśmy Układ o Ograniczeniu Zbrojeń Strategicznych


(a) układ ≡ pact & układ ≠ system
(b) układ ≡ system & układ ≠ pact
(c) układ ≈ (communist) network & układ ≠ treaty
(d) układ ≡ treaty & układ ≠ network

Perhaps the use of such notation could make life much easier for translation scholars, researchers and trainers alike.


8 thoughts on “Degrees of Equivalence (≠ ≈ = ≡)

  1. I would prefer translation to be a more specific science as well, but it is not so exact as, for example, mathematics. Different people have different views on translation and equivalence; therefore, I think much depends on one’s pedispositions and preferences. It is said that translation is rather a part of the Arts; however, if somebody is interested in exact sciences, the shown here symbols may be appealing for them.

  2. All I can say about this is that surely it takes a billion of books to be read and studying day and night throughout your entire life to become a very good translator.Definitely the issue of equivalence is a snag!

  3. methinks that since these symbols clearly lack the capacity and the potential to capture the entirety of possible equivalences they are useless. i think that it is too early for attempts to make translation an exact science to be successful. as it has been stated before it is still more of an art, meaning, it requires a human component – human intuition. the moment when translation does in fact become an exact science will probably coincide with the advent of AI – which would pass the Turing Test ( this would mean that the human intuition (or our chemical programming if you will) has been captured/mastered through the scope of streams of binary codes and mathematical equations.

  4. same way we analyze everything that is not (totally) a science. we can also fall back on past authorities and the guidelines of the trade which have been worked out over the years/centuries. it has always been that the ocean of opinions, past and present are what constitutes certain norms through which we verify the quality of each and every thing and aspect of our lives.

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