Semantic equivalence (linguistics)

(Redirected from Formal Equivalence)

In semantics, the best-known types of semantic equivalence are dynamic equivalence and formal equivalence (two terms coined by Eugene Nida), which employ translation approaches that focus, respectively, on conveying the meaning of the source text; and that lend greater importance to preserving, in the translation, the literal structure of the source text. Nida formulated the distinction originally in relation to Bible translations.

Approaches to translation


The "Formal-equivalence" approach emphasizes fidelity to the lexical details and grammatical structure of the source language, whereas "dynamic equivalence" tends to employ a rendering that is more natural to the target language.

According to Eugene Nida, dynamic equivalence, the term as he originally coined, 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] The desire is that the reader of both languages would understand the meanings of the text in a similar fashion.

In later years, Nida distanced himself from the term "dynamic equivalence" and preferred the term "functional equivalence".[2][3][4] What the term "functional equivalence" suggests is 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 possible to associate functional equivalence with how people interact in cultures.

A similar distinction was expressed by Maimonides in a letter[5] to Samuel ibn Tibbon, his translator, in 1199. He wrote:

I shall premise one rule: the translator who proposes to render each word literally and adhere slavishly to the order of the words and sentences in the original, will meet with much difficulty and the result will be doubtful and corrupt. This is not the right method. The translator should first try to grasp the meaning of the subject, and then state the theme with perfect clarity in the other language. This, however, cannot be done without changing the order of words, putting many words for one word, and vice versa, so that the subject be perfectly intelligible in the language into which he translates.

Maimonides comes down on the side of dynamic/functional equivalence, though perhaps not going so far as to consider the cultural function of the text. He does clearly reject formal equivalence as "doubtful and corrupt".

Theory and practice


Because the functional equivalence approach 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.

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 without modifying or rearranging the words in the target language. On the other hand, formal equivalence can allow readers familiar with the source language to analyze how meaning was expressed in the original text, preserving untranslated idioms, rhetorical devices (such as chiastic structures in the Hebrew Bible) and diction in order to preserve original information and highlight finer shades of meaning.

Minor Differences between Approximate Equivalents


Sandy Habib observed how the Arabic, Hebrew and English words for angel have slightly varying connotations.[6]: 216–217  This leads to religio-cultural differences over questions such as whether angels are immortal or capable of doing evil, and their appearance (e.g. the colour of their wings). Due to his focus upon natural semantic metalanguage, Ghil'ad Zuckermann considers such minute distinctions between lexical items in different languages to be a major obstacle in producing translations that are both accurate and concise.[6]: 216 

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.[7]

Predominant use of formal equivalence
Relationship between some formal equivalence Bible translations
Moderate use of both formal and dynamic equivalence
Extensive use of dynamic equivalence or paraphrase or both
Extensive use of paraphrase

See also



  1. ^ Nida, Eugene A., and Charles R. Taber. (1969). The Theory and Practice of Translation, With Special Reference to Bible Translating, 200. Leiden: Brill.
  2. ^ Let the words be written: the lasting influence of Eugene A. Nida p. 51 Philip C. Stine – 2004 "That probably would not have happened if it hadn't been for Nida's ideas" (Charles Taber, interview with author, 21 Oct. 2000).7 Nida later felt that the term "dynamic equivalence" had been misunderstood.
  3. ^ Translation and religion: holy untranslatable? p91 Lynne Long – 2005 "In order to avoid certain misunderstandings, de Waard and Nida (1986: 7, 36) later replaced the term 'dynamic equivalence' with 'functional equivalence', but they stated clearly that 'The substitution of "functional equivalence"' is not…"
  4. ^ The History of the Reina-Valera 1960 Spanish Bible p98 Calvin George – 2004 "190 For this reason in his later writings he distanced himself from the term 'dynamic equivalence,' preferring instead 'functional equivalence.' 191 The idea is to produce the closest natural equivalent in the target or 188 190 Nida, …"
  5. ^ Stitskin, Leon D. (Fall 1961). A Letter of Maimonides to Samuel ibn Tibbon. Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Jewish Thought, Vol. 4, No. 1, p. 93 JSTOR
  6. ^ a b Zuckermann, Ghil'ad (2020). Revivalistics: From the Genesis of Israeli to Language Reclamation in Australia and Beyond. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199812790.ISBN 9780199812776
  7. ^ Data collected from two sources that have nearly identical ranking with an overlapping (supplemental) list of translations studied: 1. Thomas, Robert L., Bible Translations: The Link Between Exegesis and Expository Preaching, pages 63ff Archived 2012-09-16 at the Wayback Machine; and 2. Clontz, T.E. and Clontz, J., The Comprehensive New Testament, page iii.
  8. ^ "Principles of Bible Translation from Hebrew and Greek | NWT". JW.ORG. Retrieved 2017-09-04.
  9. ^ New Catholic Bible
  10. ^ "KNOX BIBLE - Reviews of the new publication of this Bible". Retrieved 5 March 2023.
  11. ^ "A Classic Translation Back in Print". National Review. 27 October 2012. Retrieved 5 March 2023.