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Equivalence in Translation

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See also: "Equivalence in Translation" by Amin Kariminia

Lotfollah Karimi OUTLINE

THESIS: Finding equivalents in translation involves decoding the SL text and making an attempt to find an appropriate equivalent In the TL to encode whatever has been decoded in SL . 

      1. LANGUAGE

1.1. Definition

1.2. Difference in languages

1.3. Language as a means of manifestation of human minds, customs, and cultures


2.1. Definition

2.2. Translation as applied linguistics





The main purpose of this paper is to explain the concept of equivalence in translation. To this end, first language and translation are defined. Later, examples are provided to develop the discussion. Each example indicates an area of standards in English and Persian. In fact, the process of finding equivalents in the two languages is that the translator should first decode the source text (ST), that is, to figure out the meaning / message/ intention of the original speaker or writer and then ask himself or herself how the same decoded meaning/ message/ intention is encoded in the target text (TT). For example, based on the type of text and situation, the words or expressions:

1) owl, 2) shoulder, 3) coal, 4) run, 5)...., 6) metonymy and synecdoche, 7) do not, 8) gold, 9) inch, 10) drink, 11) fall in English may be equivalent to: 1) hod- hod (hoopoe), 2) garden, 3) zierah (literally cumin), 4) maviz (literally raisins), 5) ba, as, 6) majaz morsal, 7) nistam, 8) aienah (literally mirror), 9) vajab (literally span), 10) khordan, 11) khordan (literally to eat) in Persian, respectively.


1.1. Definition: It has been argued that language is arbitrary. By arbitrariness it is meant that there is no one-to-one correspondence between the form of the word and the shape of the object to which the word refers (Yule, 1985,18). This is especially true in the case of the abstract words such as advice, meaning, feeling, etc. This means that language is based on conventions.

1.2. Languages are different: The arbitrariness of language is a cause for variation among languages. Speakers of different languages mix the sounds of those languages differently to make the words which refer to objects / concepts; they mix the words in different ways to make structural patterns.

1.3. Language as a means of mirroring human's perception/ thoughts: Different peoples (nations), based on some factors such as belief, culture and thought may perceive some aspects of the world differently and, thus, express their perception accordingly, that is, the nature of their expression is influenced by the nature of their perception. One may perceive a cloud as something animate. Then the property or the feature of a word which indicates this phenomenon may be different from that of a language which considers cloud as an inanimate being. The ideal whiteness for somebody may be that of snow, but for another one that of a bedsheet. If so, the Persian speaker will say "(ba sefidi barf)" (as white as snow), while the English speaker will say "as white as bedsheet."



2.1. Definition: Converting one language (SL) to another (TL) so that the TL could convey the intended message in SL. In other words, it is a process through which the translator decodes SL and encodes his understanding of the TL form.

2.2. Translation As Applied Linguistics: Linguistically, translation is a branch of applied linguistics, for in the process of translation the translator consistently makes any attempt to compare and contrast different aspects of two languages to find the equivalents.



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. For example, the verb "happened" in the English sentence "he happens to be happy" equals the adverb "etefaghan" (by chance) in the Persian sentence: "u etefaghan khosh hal ast". The translator, after finding out the meaning of an SL linguistic form, should ask himself / herself what the linguistic form is in another language—TL—for the same meaning to be encoded by.

3.1. Examples of Equivalents in English & Persian

3.1.1. The European Owl may be equal to Iranian hod-hod(hoopoe) symbolically :

He is an owl. = u hod—hod ast.

3.1.2. Coal in English may equal ziera (raisins) in Persian and Newcastle in English may equal Kerman (a city in Iran), hence:

Taking coal to Newcastle = ziera ba Kerman bordan

3.1.3. Shoulder in English may equal gradan (neck) in Persian:

The blame rests on my shoulders. = Masuliat bar gardan man ast.

3.1.4. Bedsheet in English may equal barf (snow) in Persian:

as white as bedsheet = ba sefidie barf.

3.1.5. Inch in English may equal "vajab"(span) in Persian (Safarzadeh, 1374: 36). They knew every inch of the field. = A nha ba mazra (farm) vajab ba vajab ashnaie dashtand.

3.1.6. Gold in English may equal aieneh (mirror): heart of gold = aieneh delan.

3.1.7. Thread in English may equal moo (hair) in Persian (Tabriz university conference on translation 1364: 42-3).

His life hangs by a thread. = Zendagie u ba mooie band ast.

3.1.8. The number 9 in English may equal the number 7 in Persian:

She has dressed up to nines. = Haft ghalam araiesh kardah ast.

 3.1.9. The verbs walk and run in English may equal qhoorah (sour grape) and maviz (literally raisins) in Persian respectively (Birijandi and Rashtchi, 1374: 130).

Run before one can walk = Hanooz ghoorah (unripe grape) nashodah ast mee khāhad maviz (raisins) shavad.

3.1.10. Sometimes a multiple-meaning term in English may equal several terms in Persian and vice versa. For example, the term depression in English equals enhefaz ofioogh (in astrology); kasadi ( in economy) afsordagi ( in psychology); frooraftagi (in dissection); froobar (in meteorology), and the term "selselah" in Persian equals

1- [animal] kingdom 2 - [mountain] range

3- [safavid] dynasty 4 - [publication] series.

As another example, the term "tabaghah" in Persian equals

1 - class; 2 - layer; 3- floor; 4 - category; 5 - stratum  
in English.

(Hozhabr Nejad, 1372/ 1993: 336).

3.1.11. The word "khordan"(to eat) in Persian collocates with many other words, in the examples: sarma (cold) khordan; chaie (tea) khordan; zamin (ground) khordan; ghaza (food) khordan.

Its equivalents, however, as far as collocatability is concerned in English are: 1) "to eat" [for food], 2) "to drink" [for tea], 3) "to fall" [for ground] and 4) "to catch" [for cold] respectively

3.1.12. The Persian word "raies" collocates with

1) edarah (office), 2) daneshgah (university), 3) dadgah (court)

4) daneshkadeh (faculty), 5) jemhoor (public) and 6) deir (monastery);

while in English the parenthetical words are collocated by 1) boss, 2) chancellor, 3) magistrate, 4) dean, 5) president, and 6) superior respectively.

3.1.13. A compound adjective in English may be translated into an adjective clause in Persian:

The teacher-controlled essays were returned to the students .

Maghale haie ra ke moalem kontrol kardeh bood be daneshjooyan bar gardandeh shodand.

The italicized part is an adjective clause in Persian.

3.1.14. A linguistic element which is explicit in Persian may be implicit in English and vice versa:


1. Man ba shoma komak mikonan.

1. I help you.

2. Man az an estefadah mikonam

2. I use it

3. Harfe u ra bavar mikoni?

3. Do you believe him?

1. He is a student

1. u danesh amooz ast.

2. I have two books.

2. Man du ketab daram.


The prepositions "ba," (to) "az," (from) and the word "harf" (talk / speech) in Persian have been used explicitly, which their equivalents in English are hidden or zero. On the other hand, the indefinite article "a" and the plural morpheme "-s" in English are explicit, but their equivalents are implicit in Persian.

3.1.15. A three-part compound word in English may be translated into a single word in Persian: "daughter-in-law" = "aroos" (Ziahoseini, 1375: 65).

3.1.16. A single literary term in Persian may be translated into two literary terms in English:

majaz (morsal)
Metonymy & synecdoche

NOTE: majaz (morsal) in Persian covers all types of subtitution, that is, the instrument for agent, the container for the thing contained, whole for part, effect for the cause etc. In English, however, the term synecdoche is used when part stands for whole and the other accompaniments are categorized under the term "metonymy." (Karimi, 1372: 91-3)

3.1.17. A simple Persian word may be translated into a compound from in English and vice versa:

walking stick

complete works

saat divari

sag shekari

(Hozhabr Nejad, 1373: 305)

3.1.18. A noun in the genitive case in English may be translated into an adjective in Persian:

Acts of agression
noun in genitive case

Eghdamat tajavoz garane

(Rashidi, 1373: 36)

3.1.19. The perfect future tense in English may be translated into persent perfect or simple future tense in Persian (Modiri, 1336, 192).

I shall have written = neveshtah am/ khaham nevesht.

3.1.20. In the case of passive structures, it is usually better to hold "theme" in the same position in both Persian and English:

This building was designed by an Iranian architect.
In sakhteman ra yak memar Irani tarahi kard. (This building by an architect Iranian designing did).

In this example, "this building / in sakhteman" has been considered to be theme and the rest of the sentence as rheme. Therefore, the message has been kept the same in the two languages.

3.1.21. "Do not" in English sometimes equals "nistam" (not am) in Persian:

I do not agree with you. Man ba shoma movafegh nistam.

3.1.22. Sometimes "morgh" (hen) in Persian may equal "grass" in English:

Morghe hamsayeh ghaz (goose) ast. (Hen of neighbour goose is). = The neigbour's grass is greener.

4. Explanation:

Sometimes, due to religious, cultural and literary factors, it is difficult to find a standard equivalent in one language for another. For example, in Iran, a person who has come back from a piligrimage to Imam Reza's shrine in Mashhad (a city in Iran) is called "mashhadi." Such a religiously loaded term either is impossible or quite difficult to be translated into a standard equivalent. In European culture the bird called "owl" symbolically represents "wisdom"; while in Iran it is the representative of "inauspiciousness." If "owl" in a literary English text is used figuratively, its equivalent can not be "joghd" (owl) in Persian; perhaps, "hod-hod" ( hoopoe) is preferred. What should the translator do when s/he encounters thorny areas like those mentioned above? Since language is used as a means of communication, except for the untranslatable cases such as figures of sound—pun, alliteration, assonance, consonance, metrical patterns etc., the translator may appeal to interpetation. For instance, in the above instances s/ he may use "a person who has made a piligrimage to Imam Reza's shrine in Mashhad, Iran" for mashhadi in the from of a footnote and "hakim" within the text for the figurative usage of "owl" if "hod-hod" or another bird does not meet the translator's need.

5. Conclusion:

To render a satisfactory translation the translator needs to be acquainted with phonological, morphological, syntactic, semantic, pragmatic, idiomatic, religious, and cultural systems of both SL & TL to either find standard equivalents, give an explanation, or otherwise convey the author's intended meaning to the TL audience.


English sources

Aryanpoor, Abbas (1984). The New Unabridged English-Persian Dictionary Vol. V,T Tehran: Amir-Kabir publishing and printing institution.

Birjandi, Parviz and Rashtchi, Mojgān (1374). Idiomatic Expressions in English and Persian. Scientific Publications Center of Islamic Azad University.

Karimi, Lotfollah (1372). A Contrastive Analysis of English-Persian Literary Terms. Tehran: Scientific and Cultural Assembly of Majed.

Miremadi, Seyed-ali (1370). Theories of Translation and Interptation. Center for Studying and Compiling University Books in Humanities (SAMET).

Modiri, A. H. A Complete English Grammar. Tehran: Amir- Kabir publishing Lnistitution, 1336.

Newmark, P. (1988). A Textbook of Translation. London: Prentice-Hall International.

Yule, George (1988). The Study of Language. Cambridge University Press.

Ziahosseini, S.M. (1373). An Introduction to Contrastive Linguistics. Islamic Azad University—Tehran Branch, office of vice-chancellor research.

Persian bibliography:

رشید ی ،غلامرضا(1375). ترجمه و مترجم:آموزش اصول و قواعد اساسی ترجمه.موسسه چاپ و انتشارات آستان قدس رضوی.

صفار زاده، طاهره(1372). اصول و مبانی ترجمه.مرکز انتشارات دانشگاه آزاد اسلامی.

طباطب ائی، محمد(1365). روش های مقابله زبان فارسی با واژه های علمی: زبان فارسی زبان علم:مجموعه سخنرانی های دومین سمینار نگارش فارسی . مرکز نشر دانشگاهی.

طباطب ائی، محمد(1367). فرهنگ اصطلاحات صناعات ادبی. بنیاد فرهنگ رضوی ، تهران.

هژبر ن ژاد، حسین(1372). آیین ترجمه.انتشارات دو نور.

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