The Concept of Equivalence in Translation Studies: Much Ado About Something

Sandra L. Halverson

Within translation studies, there remains a certain amount of unnecessary discord concerning the use of the equivalence concept and its relevance for translation theory. In the interest of better understanding the various points of view, it seems helpful to consider different perspectives on this concept in light of the varying philosophical assumptions on which they are based. Analogies between the equivalence concept and a concept of scientific knowledge as it is and has been studied within the philosophy of science are highly informative in pointing out the philosophical issues involved in equivalence, translation, and knowledge. Rather than dismissing the concept as ill-defined or imprecise, it is in the interest of the field of translation studies to consider the origins and manifestations of this 'imprecision ' in order that we may be better informed and less inclined towards theoretical antagonism.

Table of contents

Academic discourse is often surprising and sometimes frustrating. Considerable column inches and lecture minutes are devoted to criticism of a perceived [ p. 208 ]lack of common objectives, methodological agreement, or conceptual consensus, or what is even worse, indulgence in disputes of such a nature which do not even recognize or admit their own origins. While it would be difficult to condemn all such reflection as wasted energy, it seems appropriate to recall that the tempest often originates in more deeply rooted, contending views of what we do or should be doing. The lacks and deficiencies which seem to cause such consternation are alternatively seen as a detriment to "progress" or a fact of life, depending on one's broader perception of what science and/or academic pursuits are or should be. Such is the situation in the field of translation studies. The loudest laments are those expressing despair at the field's lack of a clearly delimited object of study, an agreed methodology, a set of clearly defined concepts, and a clearly specified set of objectives (see e.g. Wilss 1982, Snell-Hornby 1988, Gile 1991, Koller 1995, Toury 1995). Perhaps the most divisive issue is that surrounding the concept of equivalence, whose role in the field has been the subject of considerable debate over the past 20 odd years.

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