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Formal Correspondence and Equivalence in Translation

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The problem of equivalence is the central problem of tr-n. The notion of equivalence is one of the most problematic and controversial areas in the field of translation theory.


The comparison of l-ges aims first of all at exposing units of SL and TL which may substitute each other in the process of tr-n. The formal correspondence which may be established between the units of the l-ge of the original and the l-ge of tr-n embraces words, phrases and sometimes even larger units. But the faithful tr-n of any text, especially the text of literature requires the reproduction of all functionally relevant parts of the original. The term “functionally relevant” was introduced by J. Catford in “A Linguistic Theory of Translation”. A tr-tor should distinguish between the units which are linguistically relevant and those which are functionally relevant. Functional relevance is established in the texts, not in smaller units, and has to preserve the unity of content and form of the text in tr-n.


Another term for functional relevance is “dynamic equivalence” (Eugene Nida) as opposed to formal correspondence. Nida argued that formal correspondence 'focuses attention on the message itself, in both form and content', while dynamic equivalence is based upon 'the principle of equivalent effect'. Thus, the text of tr-n has to achieve the same effect as the text of the original.


Generally in the process of tr-n three categories of correspondence between SL and TL may be established:

  1. equivalents,
  2. variants (analogues),
  3. transformations.


A SL unit regularly used to translate a TL unit is referred to as its translation equivalent. For l-ge units to be equivalent they have to possess close meanings as well as the ability to play the same communicative role in TL. This is reached by comparative tr-n analysis which studies equivalents at different l-ge levels.


Thus, equivalents on a phoneme level are: lady – леді, speaker - спікер, tribalism - трайбалізм, Churchill - Черчіль, Liverpool - Ліверпуль.


Equivalents on a morpheme level are: table-s – стол-и, strict-ness – строг-ість, etc. Each E morpheme has a U morpheme equivalent.


Equivalents on a word level are: he came home – він прийшов додому, I looked at her – я подивився на неї, my brother lives in London – мій брат живе в Лондоні. Each word in the original corresponds to a word in TL. In word-for-word tr-n some form words (articles, auxiliary words) may be omitted.


Equivalents on a phrase level are: to take part – брати участь, to spill the beans – видати секрет, to come to the wrong shop – звернутися не за адресою, “Pull – Push” – “На себе – Від себе”. In this case SL and TL phrases are equivalent on the whole, in their general meaning while they do not contain separate equivalent words.


Equivalents on a sentence level are: Keep off the grass! – По газонах не ходити! Good boy! Well done! Good for you! – Молодець! Will you leave a message? – Що йому переказати? Again, both Sl and TL sentences do not contain separate equivalent words. At the same time, these U sentences are regularly used to translate these E statements and are undoubtedly their tr-n equivalents.


It is often the case that the SL expression is a single word, a phrase, or a sentence within a text, but its TL equivalent may have to be rendered at a different level: for example, the English idiom It's pouring (with rain) cannot be translated word-for-word into German, but the meaning can be redistributed as Es regnet in Strömen (It rains in streams).


Another principle is the character of a TL unit’s relation to the SL unit. Thus, equivalents are divided into single (regular) and multiple (variants). Single equivalent is the most stable and regular way of translating a definite SL unit in all (or almost all) cases, and thus relatively independent on the context. Most terms, proper names, geographical names and some common names have single equivalents,

e.g. capitalism - капіталізм, House of Commons – Палата громад, Roosevelt - Рузвельт, Eugene O’Neal – Юджин О’Ніл, Cleveland - Клівленд, dog-collar - ошийник, etc.


Multiple equivalence is a set of regular ways of tr-ting a definite SL unit. The choice between equivalents is determined by the context. In this case each of the equivalents renders the meaning of the Sl unit only partially,

e.g. attitude – ставлення, позиція, полтика; actual – справжній, дійсний, поточний.


Polysemantic words may have multiple equivalents in each of their meanings,

e.g. chamber = 1. кімната, приміщення, апартаменти, покої, 2. зал, палата, конференц-зал, 3. контора, камера, кабінет.


Linguistic context is referred to as linguistic environment in which a l-ge unit is used in the text. A distinction is made between a narrow context, or microcontext and a broad or macrocontext. For a word, microcontext is a context of a word combination or a sentence. Macrocontext is a linguistic context of the given unit beyond the sentence. It is difficult to establish the limits of a broad context – whether it is a set of sentences, a paragraph, a chapter or the whole piece of literature.


Situational or extra-linguistic context includes the situation, time and place which the statement refers to as well as any facts of reality the knowledge of which helps the Receptor (and translator) to interpret the meaning of l-ge units used in the statement.


There are cases which need referring to a broader context, and sometimes to the facts of reality. Thus, in tr-ting the word “abolitionist” the choice of the equivalent will depend on the period. If this is the period of the struggle against slavery in America, the person concerned will be labeled as “аболіціоніст” in U. If the events described in the text take place in the period of Prohibition the word will mean “прихильник скасування “сухого закону”, while referring to the 70s of the 20th century, especially in England will suggest the meaning “прихильник скасування смертної кари”.


There are cases which make the tr-tor reject regular equivalents and seek a variant which is the most appropriate in the given context. Irregular, exceptional way of tr-ting of a Sl unit appropriate for the given context only is referred to as occasional or contextual substitution.


Sometimes a tr-tor can reject even single equivalent as in case of geographical names.

e.g. New Haven, Connecticut is regularly translated as “Нью- Гейвен (Хейвен)”. However, in translating “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald into Russian E. Kalashnikova chose not to use the regular equivalent,

I graduated from New Haven in 1915 – Я окончил Йельский университет в 1915 году.

The knowledge of the fact that New Haven is used to denote Yale University allowed the translator to perform this substitution. As this fact can be unfamiliar to a Russian Receptor using the regular equivalent would not provide for communicative adequacy of the translation.


Cf: Ukr. translation by Mar Pinchevsky of 1982: “1915 року, рівно через двадцять п’ять років після мого батька, я завершив вищу освіту в Нью-Хейвені...”, and a footnote explains that New Haven is the home for Yale University.


Transformations appear if there are no equivalents, no possibilities of choice out of variants or if the existing equivalents/variants do not meet the requirements which the original puts forward. We speak of lexical, phraseological, or grammatical transformations. To understand the causes for lexical transformations we should first of all consider types of lexical meaning.

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