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25 - The oxymoron of the different equivalents

«Se trata de una traducción del ruso [...] titulada en esta lengua Three Pairs of Silk Stockings o Tres pares de medias de seda. Lo publicó [...] en 1931, lleva como subtítulo Novela de la vida de la clase culta bajo los soviets»1.

"It is a translation from Russian [...] titled Three Pairs of Silk Stockings, published [...] in 19

We have seen that Komissàrov divides functional 'equivalences' according to their preservation of aims, situation or descriptive means. Having outlined his distance from equivalence in this way, his argument goes on touching many other types of possible alterations (between two functionally 'equivalent' texts).

The first kind of shift concerns the generalization/specification continuum, even if the Russian term used, detalizatsiya, stresses the 'minute-detail' aspect.

It can enclose the direct indication of a different number of details typical of that situation. Consequently, synonymical communications are distinguished for their degree of explicitness. Some elements in some communications will be named, while in others they will be just implied, easily extractable from the communication, but not directly comprehended in its composition. Such elements can be considered redundant (63; emphasis added).

As you can see, the problem connected to the productive use of the notions "equivalence" and "synonymy" is similar, because they can both be taken verbatim or considered in an approximate way. Leaving aside terminology, the question is the greater or smaller didacticism of an act of linguistic mediation, depending on the fact if the model reader is viewed as able or unable to guess the connections the text takes for granted. According to Komissàrov there are language-specific peculiarities that determine translatability problems. Here are some examples:

PT I saw there was a question asked.
MT I saw from the newspapers there was a question asked

PT "Will you come here, my- Miss?" Jean went.
MT «Please, come in, my... Miss». Jean followed him in.

PT People went into rooms as if they meant to stay there.
MT Everyone accommodated in his room as if he were going to live there forever.

The translator felt necessary to specify details unexpressed in the prototext.

The second kind of shift concerns the way in which the elements described in the speech act are interrelated. Komissàrov feels that some relations between elements can result 'logical' in one language and 'illogical' in another. Here is an example:

PT He was thin and tentative as he slid his birth certificate from Puerto Rico across the desk.
MT He was slim and insecure while handing his Puerto Rico birth certificate.

(In this case I think there might be a problem of understanding, because "thin" here doesn't refer to absence of fat, but to paleness, faintness.) And some proverbs:

PT It is a good horse that never stumbles.
MT1 A good horse never stumbles.
MT2 The horse that never stumbles is so good that such horses do not exist.

The second version, proposed by Komissàrov as indispensable so that the Russian reader can understand correctly, does not honor Komissàrov's opinion of the Russian reader, who is obviously smarter than Komissàrov thinks. Besides, as all specifying translations, it disambiguates the prototext. preventing interpretations that are different from the one imposed by the translator. The same is true for this other example:

PT It is an ill wind that blows nobody good.
MT1 Ill wind is good for no one.
MT2 A wind being good for no one is so bad that there is no such a wind.

But the solution preferred by Komissàrov is the use of a Russian proverb, namely:

Kon´ o chetyryokh nogakh i to spotykaetsja

(Even a four-legged horse stumbles.)

Superfluous to be repeated that, as equivalence, the latter translation eliminates nearly every connotation of the text as translated text, running the risk of being perceived as an original, i.e. as a falsification.

A third kind of shift concerns the reversal relation, in which, for example, instead of saying something you deny its 'contrary' (of course, if you cannot define 'synonym', similar problems will arise with 'contrary') or when a passive construction is transformed into active etc. These transformations are considered by Komissàrov as 'synonymical' too (65). Examples:


PT Do I look all right?
MT Do I have a decent look?


PT Will you marry me, Lady Aline?
MT Do you want me to become your husband, Lady Aline?

This kind of shift occurs above all when a translator perceives as inappropriate the use of an (inanimate) object as subject of an action, i.e. when he feels inappropriate personification. A plainly cultural, not linguistic, problem, even if Komissàrov implies that English language makes a more frequent use of this figure of speech, called also "prosopopoeia". Examples:


PT Last year witnessed a sharp increase of production in this country.
MT During last year in our country there was a sharp increase in production.

PT The mentality and methods of these "world-conquerors" need little comment.
MT Mentality and methods of these 'world conquerors' do not need many comments

PT "You'll make yourself ill," said Betsey, "and you know that will not be good either for you or for my God-daughter" (Dickens).
MT "You'll end up ill" said Betsey "and this can end up badly both for you and my God-daughter".

Komissàrov is the first to realize that the versions obtained in this way are not 'equivalent' at all; in fact he writes:

A similar method for describing the situation is used much oftener in the English language than in the Russian. Consequently, communication, in translation, has a different vectoriality (66).

In other words, the fact of an action being imposed rather than carried out modifies, other than mere grammar, also the reader's perception.

A fourth kind of shift concerns the distribution of single elements of a speech act. Such a shift is attributed by Komissàrov, in dealing exclusively with linguistic aspects of translation, to differences between languages:

The possibility of unification and consequentiality of description of the elements sometimes results heterogeneous in different languages. In these cases the order of elements in the translation text can be different than the original, for example:

PT Remarkable constitution, too, and lets you see it: great yachtsman.
MT He is a remarkable yachtsman, he has a remarkable constitution, and he can show it.

Sometimes the redistribution of elements concerns many speech acts, i.e. an element is moved from a sentence to the next one: In this case, too, we would recognize 'equivalence'. I report Komissàrov's example:

Marina did not arrive for a long while. Svetlana was waiting for her in the lab. At last she arrived. = Marina did not arrive. Svetlana waited for her for a long time. At last she arrived in the lab (67).

Sometimes such translation device would have the aim to attain simplicity and naturalness to a spoken speech:

PT I haven't had a joint with you, old man, since we went up to Carmarthen Van in that fog before the war. Remember? (Galsworthy)
MT Do you remember when we climbed in the fog to Carmarthen Van right after the war? It was our last walk together, my old friend.

In the reported example, besides the order of the elements, nearly all elements are changed, position in respect to the war included. In the next unit we will deal with semantic 'equivalences', no longer functional.


Bibliographical references

KOMISSAROV V. N. Teoriya perevoda (lingvisticheskie aspekty), Moskvà, Vysshaya shkola, 1990, ISBN 5-06-001057-0.

MARÍAS J. Negra espalda del tiempo, Punto de lectura, 2000 (original edition 1998), ISBN 84-663-0007-7.

MARÍAS J. Dark Back of Time, New York, New Directions, 2001 (translated by Esther Allen), ISBN 0-8112-1466-4.

1 Marías 2000, p. 260.
2 Marías 2001, p. 210-211.