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Formal Equivalence

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Title: Formal Equivalence  
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Subject: New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, New American Standard Bible, American Standard Version, New King James Version
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Formal Equivalence

Note: The term "dynamic equivalent" is also used in electrics, physics, acoustics, economics and yoga.

Dynamic equivalence and formal equivalence are terms for methods of translation coined by Eugene Nida. The two terms have often been understood as fundamentally the same as sense-for-sense translation (translating the meanings of phrases or whole sentences) and word-for-word translation (translating the meanings of individual words in their more or less exact syntactic sequence), respectively, and Nida did often seem to use them this way. But his original definition of dynamic equivalence was rhetorical: the idea was that the translator should translate so that the effect of the translation on the target reader is roughly the same as the effect of the source text once was on the source reader.

If a specific linguistic unit in one language carries the same intended meaning / message encoded in a specific linguistic medium in another, then these two units are considered to be equivalent. The domain of equivalents covers linguistic units such as morphemes, words, phrases, clauses, idioms and proverbs. So, finding equivalents is the most problematic stage of translation. It is worth mentioning, however, it is not meant that the translator should always find one-to-one categorically or structurally equivalent units in the two languages, that is, sometimes two different linguistic units in different languages carry the same function.

Function vs. form

As Nida himself wrote in the glossary of The Theory and Practice of Translation, dynamic equivalence is the "quality of a translation in which the message of the original text has been so transported into the receptor language that the response of the receptor is essentially like that of the original receptors."[1] Nida tended to use the term so that "the response of the receptor" was mostly semantic – the target reader took the meaning of the text to be such that the source reader would have taken the source text to mean the same thing – which led to critical accusations that this was just sense-for-sense translation in new guise. But if "response" is taken in its full extension, dynamic equivalence could include not only what Aristotle (in the Rhetoric) calls logos (meaning and structure) but ethos (the reader's assumption about the text's authority) and pathos (how the reader feels about the text).

In later years, Nida distanced himself from the former term and preferred the term "functional equivalence".[2][3][4] The term "functional equivalence" suggests not just that the equivalence is between the function of the source text in the source culture and the function of the target text (translation) in the target culture, but that "function" can be thought of as a property of the text. It is, however, possible to think of functional equivalence too in the larger (dynamic/intercultural) context as about more than the structure of texts – as about how people interact in cultures. However, according to Md. Ziaul Haque, a poet, columnist, scholar, researcher and a faculty member at Sylhet International University, Bangladesh, “At the very beginning, the translator keeps both the [s]ource [l]anguage... and [t]arget [l]anguage... in mind and tries to translate carefully. But it becomes very difficult for a translator to decode the whole text... literally; therefore he takes the help of his own view and endeavours to translate accordingly.” [5]

The terms "dynamic equivalence" and "formal equivalence" were originally coined to describe ways of translating the Bible, but the two approaches are applicable to any translation.

Theory and practice

Because dynamic equivalence eschews strict adherence to the grammatical structure of the original text in favor of a more natural rendering in the target language, it is sometimes used when the readability of the translation is more important than the preservation of the original grammatical structure. Thus a novel might be translated with greater use of dynamic equivalence so that it may read well, while in diplomacy or in some business settings people may insist on formal equivalence because they believe that fidelity to the grammatical structure of the language equals greater accuracy.

Formal equivalence is often more goal than reality, if only because one language may contain a word for a concept which has no direct equivalent in another language. In such cases a more dynamic translation may be used or a neologism may be created in the target language to represent the concept (sometimes by borrowing a word from the source language).

The more the source language differs from the target language, the more difficult it may be to understand a literal translation. On the other hand, formal equivalence can sometimes allow readers familiar with the source language to see how meaning was expressed in the original text, preserving untranslated idioms, rhetorical devices (such as chiastic structures in the Hebrew Bible), and diction.

Bible translation

Translators of the Bible have taken various approaches in rendering it into English, ranging from an extreme use of formal equivalence, to extreme use of dynamic equivalence.[6]

A predominant use of formal equivalence
Moderate use of dynamic equivalence
Extensive use of dynamic equivalence or paraphrase or both
Extensive use of paraphrase

See also


External links

  • Bible Translation Chart
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