The importance of equivalence in translation

Francesco Di Tommaso

Francesco Di Tommaso

During the translation process, professional translators are constantly faced with a crucial challenge, one of the cournerstones of translational science: the search for equivalence. In this article I would like to analyse specifically how important is the concept of equivalence in translation.

The concept of equivalence has always been the subject of study and reflection among translational science experts and scholars due to its importance and cruciality, as the search for the best equivalent linguistic element in the target language can often require arduous work and commitment. The goal is to identify that term or expression that reproduces the content (or meaning) as semantically similar as possible to that expressed in the source language, but with a different form (or signifier). Therefore, equivalence represents the solution for professional translators, the point of balance between two opposites which are, on the one hand, the best possible accuracy with respect to the source text, and on the other hand, linguistic accuracy, according to the context, in the target language. The greatest challenge for a professional translator, therefore, is to identify the best linguistic equivalences and then choose the one that best suits the text, according to its context.

Therefore, equivalence represents the solution, the point of balance between two opposites which are, on the one hand, the best possible accuracy with respect to the source text, and on the other hand, linguistic accuracy, according to the context, in the target language.
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Often, in fact, a lexical choice or a syntactic construction may be the perfect equivalent in a given textual context, but not accurate enough in a different textual context. Furthermore, cultural, social and political differences that are reflected in languages make it difficult to find the right linguistic equivalent, due to the lack of a perfect correspondence in terms of form between the two languages.

Clearly, the type of language and the register represent two significant factors, which, together with context, lead to circumscribe the translation choice into a limited number of linguistic solutions, among which the translator will select the most suitable one for the text in terms of equivalence. In this way, in the light of their experience and research in the field, professional translators are able to reproduce the best linguistic solution, which results in a better accuracy of the target text, but always in consideration of and complying with the message conveyed by the source text. This is equivalence in translation: accuracy both with respect to the translated text and the source text.

Consequently, the search for the perfect equivalences cannot be separated from a careful and meticulous research work, made possible thanks to linguistic resources: specialized vocabularies and glossaries, corpora, termbases, translation memories. Linguistic resources are the matrix, the beginning of the whole translation process. Without a thorough research of linguistic sources, the translation process does not adhere to the principles of accuracy. Translation is based on equivalence. Equivalence can only be found through research. The translator, therefore, is primarily a researcher, who brings to life the interconnection and communication between languages.

Expert translators, on the strength of their skills win every challenge and always offers the reader the most accurate linguistic form, according to its best equivalence to the source text. The most skilled translators are those who offer the reader an accurate text on all levels of language, giving life to a new text, which at the same time is linked to the original text by a thin and invisible thread.  This thread, which is essential to give life to a translation product, is the equivalence ratio.