Logos Multilingual Portal

26 - Close equivalences of the fourth kind

«Algo tiene de incongruente, algo tiene de irónico y quizá mucho de injusto la perduración de este volumen o de cualquiera de los objetos que nos sobreviven, y que son casi todos los que nos rodean y nos acompañan y están a nuestro servicio, simulando su insignificancia»1.

"There is something a little incongruous and ironic - and perhaps much that is unjust - about the continued existence of this volume or of any objects that survive us, that surround and accompany and serve us, feigning insignificance"2.

In the latest units, we considered three modes of prototext/metatext matching, that Komissàrov called "equivalences". Here we will see other kinds of matches concerning the meaning of the linguistic units of the prototext. We will no longer deal only with why one writes, about what one speaks and what one says, but also how one speaks.

The structure of the speech act conditions the possibility to use a given kind of words, in a given order and with given connections between the single words, and also defines a large portion of that part of the speech act that stands out during the act of communication (Komissàrov: 70).

In this kind of match, some peculiarities missing in the previous types are:

1) a substantial parallelism in the lexical composition of the two sentences: it is possible to seek words having a similar meaning for most of those in the phrase;

2) substantial reproduction of the syntactic structure, with the reproduction of the meaning of such structure;

3) besides preserving the aim and the situation of the communication, one also preserves the means of its best execution.

When syntactic parallelism is not altogether possible, one can recur to one of these alternative types:

1) use of the same structure with synonyms;

2) use of analogous structure with a different word order;

3) use of analogous structures with different links between words.

Synonymic structures. Here are some examples of the first alternative type:

the child reads

the reading of the child

the reading child

what was read by the child

Differences are of many orders. They can concern one syntactical category or one type of sentence:

The child has thrown a stone

The stone was thrown by the child

That he went there was a mistake

It was a mistake that he went there

There also can be structures of different kind with a similar sense, for example the prepositional construction

In the description of this theory...

the gerundive construction

Describing this theory...

the subordinate construction

When one describes this theory...

Normally, such sentences are considered "equivalent", but their differences can result relevant "in a given sphere of communication, because their stylistic markedness is altered" (73) . In most cases the modification of one member of the synonymical series does not substantially modify the general content of the speech act, as seen in these examples:

I told him what I thought of her

I told him my idea of her.

He was never tired of old songs

Old songs never tired him.

It is very strange this domination of our intellect by our digestive organs

Strange in what measure digestive organs dominate our intellect.

Analogous structures. The word order of a sentence can fulfill the following functions:

  1. enforce the governing rules of a grammatical category
  2. ensure a meaningful link between part of a sentence or between sentences
  3. express the emotional character of a sentence.

If, in the two cultures involved in the translation process, functions are expressed differently, the word order in the translating sentences cannot be matching:

A meeting in defense of peace was held in Trafalgar Square yesterday

Ieri si è tenuto a Trafalgar Square un incontro in difesa della pace

The English language standard structure provides for the statement of place and time at the end of the sentence, forcing a change in word order of the standard Italian, Russian, or French structure as in many other languages. When the structure is not standard, this is used to express the emotional features of a speech act. For example, in some languages the inversion of the common word order is used to emphasize some elements of the sentence. In other languages, if such device is not usable, it can be substituted with other means.

Mine is a long and sad tale

Povest´ moja dlinna i pechal´na

In Russian, such a displacement is not possible, like in

La mia è una lunga e triste storia

therefore Komissàrov postulates the inversion of povest´ and moja, expressedly marked

Open flew the gate and in came the coach

Vorota raspahnuli nastež´, i kareta uže byla vo dvore.

In Russian, the displacement of "Open flew the gate" is not easily feasible, so Komissàrov postulates the adding of "nastezh´", i.e. "wide open", "uzhe", i.e. "already", adverbs added to give the sense expressed in English by the inversion.

Him I have never seen

JA ego nikogda i v glaza ne videl

In Russian, such a displacement is not possible, like in

Lui, non l'ho mai visto,

therefore Komissàrov postulates the adding of "v glaza", i.e. "never, never".

Analogous structures. In these matches the kind of link existing between structures is different, i.e. there is a difference in simple, coordinate and subordinate clause. This has a precise communication valence. For example

It started to rain. We went home.

It started to rain, and we went home.

It started to rain, so we went home.

In the three examples above the causality, autonomy, expressivity etc. relationships are changed. However, different structures in one culture do not necessarily match different structures in another one.

In another kind of match, the similarity of two speech acts is really strong. Here are some examples:

I saw him at the theater

JA videl ego v teatre

Ho visto lui a teatro

The house was sold for 10 thousands dollars

Dom byl prodan za 10 tysjač dollarov

La casa fu venduta a 10 mila dollari

He was sure we should both fall ill

On byl uveren, chto my oba zaboleem

Era sicuro che entrambi ci saremmo ammalati

The features of this kind of match are:

1) high level of parallelism in the structural organization of the text

2) maximum correlation of the lexical composition

3) preservation of all parts of contents in the original.

The level of such sharing is defined by the possibility of reproducing in translation the single meaning components of the words in the original, which, in turn, depends on how one component or the other is expressed in the words of the prototext and the metatext and how in each case the choice of the word in translation is influenced by the need to render the other parts of content of the original (79).

Problems deriving from polysemy of words can be divided in the following types:

1) denotative polysemy (reference of one sign to many objects)

2) connotative polysemy (particular relationships between sign and object in a specific situation or community)

3) links of the word to other words, i.e. collocation semantics (intralingual meaning).

As a consequence of the differences in norm and use in the protoculture and metaculture, the lack of use in translation of the closest match of the sense to the word of the original is always noticed, thus preventing the full actualization of the equivalence of [this] type (81).

Here are some examples:

She knew that he had risked his neck to help her

In other language one doesn't risk one's neck, but head, skin or other body parts.

The children clapped their hands with joy.

In other languages one claps the hand's palms, or other nuances. For these cases, Komissàrov's approach provides for the substitution of the culture-specific word (neck in the example) with a word more typically used in the receiving culture. Nothing prevents the postulation, however, that someone can opt to preserve the "neck" metaphor in other languages as well, leaving it to the reader to access to the culture-specific idiom, and to autonomously understand the figurative meaning of the expression.


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. 266-267.
2 Marías 2001, p. 214.