Levels of equivalence

Speculating about linguistic correspondences, Eugene Nida says: “Since no two languages are identical, either in the meanings given to corresponding symbols or in the ways in which such symbols are arranged in phrases and sentences, it stands to reason that there can be no absolute correspondence between languages. Hence there can be no fully exact translations”. Actually, perfect equivalence would imply that Source Text properties are rendered with equivalent Target Text ones. This type of equivalence is not possible, however, because both Source Language and Target Language have their own grammatical, lexical, cultural and textual systems which are different. In this connection, Baker advocates the relativism in achieving translation equivalence. Hence, in translation, a good rendering tends to be judged in terms of reaching a reasonable level of equivalence between the source and target texts.

Hence, 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. Semiotics (the science investigating the general properties of sign systems) distinguishes the following types of relations: semantic (sign to object), syntactic (sign to sign) and pragmatic (sign to man). One of the most essential requirements, imposed on translation, is that the two texts (the original and its translation) should be semantically equivalent. In other words, they should be characterized by equivalent sets of relationships between the linguistic signs and their denotates (referents). The goal of translation is to produce a text, bearing the same relation to the extralinguistic situation as the original. Semantic equivalence of messages does not necessarily imply the semantic identity of each linguistic sign. Viewed from the semiotic angle, the source and target texts can be identical pragmatically, semantically and structurally. Accordingly, the following levels of equivalence in translation are distinguished:

Formal (structural) equivalence presupposes the closest possible formal correspondence between the source text and the target text and may be illustrated by the sentence: “The sun disappeared behind a cloud” – «Сонце сховалося за хмарою».

Semantic equivalence implies describing the same situation, using similar lexical meanings of the units, and similar grammatical meanings of the elements, but the same meanings are expressed in the two languages in a different way: “to airlift – перекидати по повітрю; to firebomb – закидати запалювальними бомбами”.

Situational equivalence is established between utterances that differ both in linguistic devices used and in the semantic components expressed, but, nevertheless, describe the same extralinguistic situation: “to let someone pass” – «дати (звільнити) дорогу».

Pragmatic equivalence, which implies a close fit between communicative intent and the receptor’s response, is required at all levels of equivalence and sometimes appear alone, without formal or semantic equivalence, as in this case: «З днем народження» – “Many happy returns of the day”.

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