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Two Linguistic Approaches To Equivalence English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 2013 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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In my work I would like to present and critically discuss two linguistic approaches to equivalence , which in my opinion is the main aim of the translator. Equivalence has always been an unachievable aim of translators. Equivalence in the field of translation can be defined as the central issue , however its definition relevance and applicability have caused some controversies and due to this fact many theories of the idea of equivalence have been created. The idea of equivalence is without no doubt one of the most debatable and disputable areas in the topic of linguistic and translation theory. This term has been examined, evaluated and at great length discussed from many various points of view and many diverse perspectives.

First and foremost, it would be crucial to present a definition of equivalence. However, given the number of approaches towards this issue, it is a difficult task. Some theorists prefer to look at the term from a strictly linguistic point of view and others look at it from a wider point of view, taking pragmatics into consideration as well.

First of the approaches on which I would like to focus is approach by the most outstanding theorist – Roman Jakobson, who has a semiotic approach to the language.

. He introduced his theory of equivalence as an ‘equivalence in difference’. On the basis of Jacobson’s quote’there is no sigantum without signum’, he describes 3 types of translation. The first one is Intralingual translation( within one language), the second one is Interlingual( within two languages) and the third one is Intersemiotic approach which can be found between sign systems. Roman Jakobson claims in his theory that in the terms of second approach, the translator has to deal with synonyms to get the ST message across. Jakobson also mentions that ‘ translation involves two equivalent messages in two different codes’. What is more he says that from grammatical point of view languages may differ but it doesn’t mean that a translation cannot be possible.The translator has to face the problem of not finding the translating equivalence and it is the translator choice how he or she decides to carry out the problem. Jakobson conceives that the translation can always be carried out from one language to another, regardless of the cultural or grammatical differences between ST and TT. The translator may encounter some difficulties, that is cross-linguistic differences regarding, for example gender (equivalents tend to have different gender in different languages, eg. ‘ship’ in English is feminine, but in Polish it is masculine), aspect (whether the action is accomplished or not) and semantic field (this category discusses the formality and informality of a given term, eg. The English ‘spouse’ is considered a formal expression, however the Polish ‘małżonek’ may also be used in an informal conversation.

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Roman Jakobson’s idea to equivalence is mostly based on his semiotic approach to the translation. What is more the theorist seems to neglect the translation process and forget that it is not only a matter of linguistics. Actually, when the message is transferred from the SL to TL, the translator has to take into consideration two different cultures at the same time. Jakobson completely ignores the ‘higher’ levels of equivalence and the cultural differences.

The second approach which I will describe is approach by Mona Baker.

Baker divided equivalence into three main types: linguistic, textual and pragmatic. The given types consist of subcategories. The first (linguistic): equivalence at word level, above word level and grammatical.

In her book, “In Other Words”, Baker also discusses different types of meaning on the level of equivalence at word level: lexical meaning (“the specific value of a word or lexical unit in a particular linguistic system and the ‘personality’ it acquires through usage within the system” (1990:12)). She also presents Cruse’s 4 main types of meaning in words and utterances: propositional meaning (the relation between the word and what it describes. It helps us jugde whether the sentence is true/false or whether it is a mistranslation – eg if somebody calls a pair of socks ‘shoes’, it is a matter of a mistake in the propositional meaning), expressive (relates to the speaker’s feelings and attitude – eg. There is a difference between the sentence: ‘Shut up!’ and ‘Please be quiet’.), presupposed meaning (has to do with the restrictions on what other words or expressions we expect to see before and after a given lexical unit – eg. Selectional restrictions: Handsome – man, rancid – butter and collocational r.: make an appointment, not do), and finally – evoked meaning (dialects – geographical, temporal and social – and register variation – tenor, field, mode). (1990: 11-17)

Equivalence above word level by Mona Baker includes collocations and idioms. Collocations are characterised by their range (items with which they are compatible) and markedness (marked collocations are unpopular ones, unmarked – popular). Idioms and fixed expressions are “at the extreme end of the scale from collocations” (1990: 47-63).

Finally – grammatical equivalence is a part of linguistic equivalence. It involves such aspects as morphology and syntax, number, gender, person, tense and aspect, voice and word order.

However important this type of equivalence is, Baker states that “The ultimate aim of a translator, in most cases, is to achieve a measure of equivalence at text level, rather than at word or phrase level” (1990: 112). Textual equivalence is divided into two main categories: theme and rheme (respectively: what the clause is about and what the speaker says about the theme) and cohesion. Cohesion is a “network of lexical, grammatical and other surface relations which provide links between various parts of a text. They organise and to some extent create a text.”(1990:180). According to Hasan and Halliday, there are 5 types of cohesive devices: reference (relationship btw the signifier and the signified), substitution, ellipsis, conjunction (and, yet, so, but, etc) and lexical cohesion (“refers to the role played by the selection of vocab in organising relations within a text, eg. reiteration, collocation.”(1990:181-205).

Finally, Baker describes pragmatic equivalence as referring to meaning “but not generated by the linguistic system but as conveyed by participants in a communicative situation” (1990:217). Part of this type of equivalence is coherence (“a network of conceptual relations which organise and create a text” (1990:218).

What is more and worth to add Baker (1992: 40) relates to deletion as “omission of a lexical item due to grammatical or semantic patterns of the receptor language” (Baker, 1992: 40). She says that this particular way can sound rather severe, however, it will not make much harm to the translating text to omit some expressions or single words in some particular contexts. Baker in her book ” In other words” states that ” If the meaning carried out by a particular item or expression is not essential enough to the development of the text to justify distracting the reader with lengthy explanations, translators can and often do simply omit translating the word or expression in question” (Baker, 1992: 40).

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As mentioned above , omission may also be used to improve the particular parts of the content rather than to change the grammatical structure of the translated text. One of the examples where this approach is questionable is the translation of academic texts in which the expressions or information can play the main role in the whole text. We can be sure that

anyone who composes an academic text, will not add meaningless information in their work. Likewise, anyone who sees such an academic writing should reckon that all the information contained in the writing is important. Translators should take a greater care and they should read the text from the perspective of an experienced translator and the second time from the perspective of the layperson . What it is said by that is that this piece of information which is omitted should not be used as ‘an excuse’ to hide the gaps in knowledge of the translators and how they will deal with transferring the message of the original text.

To sum up and to present how important equivalence is to translators I would like to add one more theory by Hervey & Higgins (2002:20) which I found very useful in translation process. Hervey & Higgins claim that concerning the matter of equivalence in their point of view the full equivalence does not exist between two different languages and they say “…Indeed, it is used in this way in logic, mathematics and sign-theory, where an equivalent relationship is one that is objective, incontrovertible and – crucially – reversible. In translation, however, such unanimity and such reversibility are unthinkable for any but the very simplest of texts – and even then, only in respect of literal meaning”.( Hervey & Higgins 2002) .The examples to this theory can be easily found in many languages. One of the best examples can be found in French. The English word “evening” can either be translated into French by “soir” or “soiree” which are not the same thing but this terms by some theorists are considered to be equivalences. What is more we can find another example in Polish of the three possible back-translations of the polish phrase ‘Jestem spiaca”: ‘I’m sleepy’, ‘I am sleepy’, ‘I feel sleepy’, which all in all are not precise equivalents of one another. There is another worth to mention example in Polish which shows that there is no total meaning and equivalence in translation. The word “morze” which can be translated by either “maybe”, when it involves the thought, or “sea”, when is the place where division of an ocean or a large body of salt water partially enclosed by land in English.

If one word in Polish however, can be translated by two dissimilar words that mean two different things in English, then it can be concluded that meaning is culture specific and that what it addressees is understand depends on the language and culture involved.

What is more there is also the word “poczta”. When translated into English it will either be “post office”, when it is the building or institution where postal services are available, or as a “mail “, referring to the bags of letters and packages that are transported by the postal service. The Polish word here covers the aspect of bivalence that the English one does not cover. What goes with it is that the translator should first of all take language and culture bivalence of the given country into consideration.

Equivalence goes hand in hand with meaning. Those two definitions in the area of translation theory should not be considered as absolute , but only partial because equivalents in various languages do not always include all the aspects of the terms in the SL when translated into the TL.

All in all the first approach to the idea of equivalence in translation theory started the later expansion of the term by present-day researchers. The given above, brief draft of the issue, points out the importance of equivalence within the field of the theoretical view on translation. The most difficult thing in the idea of equivalence is that there is no universal approach to it.


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