Grammatical And Lexical Equivalence Between Source And Target Texts


The activity of translation has a long-standing tradition and has been widely practiced throughout history, but in our rapidly changing world its role has become of paramount importance. Be it for scientific, medical, technological, commercial, legal, cultural or literary purposes, today human communication depends heavily on translation and, consequently, interest in the field is intensively growing. Thus, translation is a kind of cross-linguistic, cross-cultural and cross-social communication.

As a kind of communication, the main purpose is to establish equivalence between the source text and the target text. In other words, the translator should try his best to convey all the contents of the source text into the target text. The aim of this study is to analyze lexical and grammatical equivalence between source and target texts.

Defining the meaning and role of translation process, discovering the necessity of equivalence, describing lexical and grammatical aspects of translation, finding out the most common equivalence problems and possible ways of solving these problems are the main tasks of the current study.

1. Translations: from birth to growth

Each era is characterized by specific changes in translation history. For centuries, people believed in the relation between translation and the story of the tower of Babel in the Book of Genesis. According to the Bible, the descendants of Noah decided, after the great flood, to settle down in a plain in the land of Shinar. There, they committed a great sin. Instead of setting up a society that fits God’s will, they decided to challenge his authority and build a tower that could reach Heaven. However, this plan was not completed, as God, recognizing their wish, regained control over them through a linguistic stratagem. He caused them to speak different languages so as not to understand each other. Then, he scattered them all over the earth. After that incident, the number of languages increased through diversion, and people started to look for ways to communicate, hence the birth of translation. With the birth of translation studies and the increase of research in the domain, people started to get away from this story of Babel, and they began to look for specific dates and figures that mark the periods of translation history. [2]

Nowadays, translation research has started to take another path, which is more automatic. The invention of the internet, together with the new technological developments in communication and digital materials, has increased cultural exchanges between nations. This leads translators to look for ways to cope with these changes and to look for more practical techniques that enable them to translate more and waste less. They also felt the need to enter the world of cinematographic translation, hence the birth of audiovisual translation. The latter technique, also called screen translation, is concerned with the translation of all kinds of TV programs, including films, series, and documentaries. This field is based on computers and translation software programs, and it is composed of two methods; dubbing and subtitling. In fact, audiovisual translation marks a changing era in the domain of translation. [7]

2. The meaning and role of translations

Translation has been defined in many ways and has different explanations. Here are some of most common definitions:

  1. The transformation of a text originally in one language into an equivalent text in a different language retaining, as far as is possible, the content of the message and the formal features and functional roles of the original text.
  2. The replacement of textual material in one language (source language) by the equivalent textual material in another language (target language).
  3. The maintenance of “equivalence” between the source text and the target text.
  4. The result of a text processing activity, by means of which a source language text is transposed into a target-language text.
  5. An incredibly broad notion, which can be understood in many different ways.

The definitions of translation suggested above imply that producing the same meaning or message in the target language text as intended by the original author is the main objective of a translator. This notion of ‘sameness’ is often understood as an equivalence relation between the source and target texts. This equivalence relation is generally considered the most salient feature of a quality translation.

As translation is a kind of communication, the principal task in translation-practice is to establish equivalence of the original text in the target language. The “end product” of translation is a text, which is capable of functioning appropriately in specific situations and contexts of use. What makes translation complicated, then, is the diversity or the lack of one-to-one correlation between form and meaning, considering the fact that each language has its own distinctive forms for representing the meaning. [1]

3. Equivalence and its necessity in translation process

For the last 150 years, the word “equivalence” in English has been used as a technical term in different kinds of exact sciences to refer to a number of scientific phenomen or processes. At the same time, however, it can also be used as a common word in the general vocabulary of English. As a central concept in translation theory, “equivalence” can only be understood in its common sense as a general word. [10]

Translation equivalence does not mean that source and target texts are identical. It is a degree of similarity between source and target texts, measured on a certain level. The necessity of equivalence in translation process can be illustrated in the following aspects:

  • No matter how the term „translation is defined”, the concept of equivalence isinseparable and is implied in one way or the other;
  • The essence of translation has been long realized worldwide to make it functioning as a bridge for people who do not know foreign languages to understand the source text. That is why the essence of translation as a kind of communication calls for the necessity of equivalence in translation;
  • If translation were not to seek equivalence, there would be no limitation of translatability, and any translated textcan be regarded as a correct version of the original text. Therefore, it can be said that the existence of limitations of translatability well demonstrates the necessity of equivalence in translation. [5]

To sum up, equivalence in translation cannot be interpreted as identity in terms of its scientific sense. As we know, there are no words that have exactly the same meaning in one language. Quite naturally, no two words in any two languages are absolutely identical in meaning. Therefore, equivalence in translation can only be understood as a kind of similarity or approximation. This means that equivalence between the source text and the target text can be established on different levels and in different aspects.

As one of the three principal concepts in Western translation theory, equivalence is a constitutive feature and the guiding principle of translation. Without equivalence of certain degrees or in certain aspects, the translated text cannot be regarded as a successful translation of the original text. In short, equivalence is of absolute necessity in and a basic requirement of translation. [10]

4. Different types of equivalence

Because the target text can never be equivalent to the source text at all levels, researchers have distinguished different types of equivalence. According to V. Komissarov, one can distinguish following levels of equivalence: pragmatic, situational, lexical (semantic), grammatical, structural levels. [11] This particular study merely concerns with the second (lexical) and third (grammatical) levels of equivalence. Before analyzing certain types of equivalence, it is also important to mention that:

  • The „source text” is simply the original document that you need to have translated, and the „target” text is the final translated document;
  • „Source” words refer to the word count in the original documents and „target words” mean the number of words in the translated document.

Grammatical aspects are often compared to lexical. Thus, grammar is “a glue” that hold a sentence together and make it grammatical, when lexical aspects are the principle content of the sentence. Grammatical criteria are “closed” and their membership is limited, but lexical are “opened” and can easily add new members. Comparing to lexical aspects that tend to serve as heads of phrases, grammatical tend to serve as introducers of phrases and often modify heads.

Even though lexical and grammatical equivalences are compared with each other, these two equivalences are described as a whole unit. Thus, this is a word for word translation where each word and the whole structure retains its lexical and grammatical meaning, the situation designated by the sentences is identical, and the communicative function of the utterances is the same. Every form of the target sentence is equal, with no variations, to that of the source language sentence. Therefore, this level might be called the level of formal equivalence. [12]

4.1 Grammatical Equivalence

Grammar is the set of rules that determine the way in which units such as words and phrases can be combined in a language and the kind of information, which has to be made regularly explicit in utterances.

There are varieties of grammatical categories, which may or not be expressed in different languages. There are five categories commonly lead to difficulties in finding the equivalence during the process of translation: number, gender, person (the system of pronoun), tense and voice. The differences in the grammatical structures of the source and the target languages often result in some change in the information content of the message during the process of translation. This change may take the form of adding to the target text information, which is not expressed in the source text, or omitting information specified in the source text.

Difficulties in finding the grammatical equivalence between source and target texts include these five categories as follows:

  1. Numbers.
  • English recognizes a distinction between singular and plural. This distinction has to be expressed morphologically, by adding a suffix to a noun or by changing its form in some other way to indicate whether it refers to one or more than one: student/ students, fox/ foxes, man/men, etc.;
  1. Gender.
  • English does not have a grammatical category of gender as such;
  • English nouns are not regularly inflected to distinguish between feminine and masculine;
  • English has the category of person which distinguishes in the third-person singular between masculine, feminine and inanimate (he/she/it). The distinction does not apply to the third-person plural (they);
  1. Person.
  • The category of person relates to the notion of participant roles. English as the source language has three types of pronounce with person reference: personal pronounce, reflexive pronounce, possessive pronouns;
  • The first person referring to the speaker (I or We), the second person referring to the person(s) addressed (you) and the third person referring to one or more other persons or things (he/she/it/they);
  1. Tense.
  • The word tense stands for a verb form or series used to express a time relation. Tenses may indicate whether an action, activity, or state is past, present or future;
  • English verbs have actually 12 tenses, which are made by combining two or more verb forms;
  • The fact that the term present, past and future within these tenses do not actually refer to the present time, past time and future time makes the English tenses complicated.
  1. Voice.
  • Voice in English grammar refers to the active and passive use of a verb;
  • Scientific and technical writing in English relies heavily on passive structures (in order to give the impression of objectivity and to distance the writer from the statements made in the text);
  • English people use the active voice, making a direct statement of an action. [7]

4.2 Lexical equivalence

Lexical equivalence deals with translation of words and rendering their meanings, which consists of two components – denotation and connotation.

The terms “connotation” and “denotation” are sometimes wrongly interchanged because of their close resemblance in terms of sound pronunciation. Nevertheless, the two should be treated differently as they are used distinctively in philosophy, linguistics, and grammar.

Denotation is actually the word’s literal meaning. As such, it is regarded as a “dictionary definition.” Thus, when you look for the word “snake” in the dictionary, you will stumble upon its most denotative definition like any reptilian, long, tapering, and often venomous cylindrical animals found in temperate or in tropical areas that is characterized as being legless and scaly. Thus, denotative equivalence is related to equivalence of the extralinguistic content of a text.

Connotation is very different because it pertains to the more loose associations to a particular word. It can also include the emotional input that is connected to a certain term or word. The connotative definition or description coexists with its denotative meaning. Therefore, when you are asked about the connotative meaning of the word “snake,” one of your best answers could be “danger.” Associating “evil” with snakes is also acceptable. As a result, connotative equivalence is related to the lexical choices, especially between near-synonyms.

Methodology used in a text analysis and description of lexical units has to differentiate literary language from non-literary, ordinary language from technical. It is also important to take into account and consider functionally stylish intention of the described material. Furthermore, it is important to consider a particular unit and system, connection of general and specific in each unit, concept of abstraction as unity of diverse, the relationship between language and text, theory and praxis. [8]

5. Problems of Equivalence

The principle that a translation should have an equivalence relation with the source language text is problematic. There are three main reasons why an exact equivalence or effect is difficult to achieve. Firstly, it is impossible for a text to have constant interpretations even for the same person on two occasions. According to these translation scholars: before one could objectively assess textual effects, one would need to have recourse to a fairly detailed and exact theory of psychological effect, a theory capable, among other things, of giving an account of the aesthetic sensations that are often paramount in response to a text.

Secondly, translation is a matter of subjective interpretation of translators of the source language text. Thus, producing an objective effect on the target text readers, which is the same as that on the source text readers is an unrealistic expectation. [5]

Thirdly, it may not be possible for translators to determine how audiences responded to the source text when it was first produced. If an original was written centuries ago and the language of the original is difficult to comprehend for modern readers, then a simplified translation may well have greater impact on its readers that the original had on the readers in the source culture. No translator would hinder the reader’s comprehension by using absolute expressions in order to achieve equivalent effect. [4]

“Translation is a kind of activity which inevitably involves at least two languages and two cultural traditions”. As this statement implies, translators are permanently faced with the problem of how to treat the cultural aspects implicit in a source text (ST) and of finding the most appropriate technique of successfully conveying these aspects in the target language (TL). No language can exist unless it is steeped in the context of culture and no culture can exist which does not have at its center. The structure of natural language” means that language is “the heart within the body of culture,” the survival of both aspects being interdependent. [6]

Thus, when translating, it is important to consider not only the lexical impact on the TL reader, but also the manner in which cultural aspects may be perceived and make translating decisions accordingly.

6. Grammatical and lexical transformations

In order to prevent the difficulties caused by finding the equivalence between source and target texts there are given different grammatical and lexical transformations.

6.1 Grammatical transformations

Grammatical transformations are morphological or syntactical changes in translated units. They are subdivided into the following types:

1. Grammar substitution, when a grammar category of the translated unit is changed. Thus a passive construction can be translated by an active voice verb form. There may be also other substitution varieties: substitution of the noun number category, the singular by the plural, the noun substitution by the verb, the adjective substitution by the adverb.

2. Word order change. Usually the reason for this transformation is that English sentences have different information structures, or functional sentence perspective.

3. Sentence partitioning is the replacement of a simple sentence in the source text with a complex sentence (with some clauses), or a complex sentence with several independent sentences in the target text for structural, semantic or stylistic reasons. For example: “My car wouldn’t start. Therefore, I couldn’t pick you up.”

4. Sentence integration is a contrary transformation. It takes place when we make one sentence out of two or more, or convert a complex sentence into a simple one. For example: “If one knows languages, one can come out on top.”

5. Grammar compensation is a deliberate change of the grammar category by some other grammar means. Compensation takes place when a grammar category or form does not exist in the target language and, therefore, cannot produce the same impact upon the target text receptor. [5]

6.2 Lexical transformations

Lexical transformations change the semantic core of a translated word. They can be classified into the following groups:

  1. Lexical substitution or putting one word in place of another. It often results from the different semantic structures of the source language and target language words. Deliberate substitution as a translation technique can be of several subtypes:
  • Specification or substituting words with a wider meaning with words of a narrower meaning. For example: “Will you do the room?” or “I’ll get the papers on the way home.”
  • Generalization or substituting words of a narrower meaning with those of a wider meaning. For example: „People don’t like to be stared at.”
  • Differentiation is a rather rare technique of substitution. It takes place when we substitute a word by another one with parallel meaning, denoting a similar species. For example – “bamboo curtain”. Both bamboo and iron are materials known for their hard nature;
  • Modulation is a logical development of the notion expressed by the word. For example: “But outside it was raining.” The translator should take into consideration a tradition of the word combination and acceptability of collocation in different languages.
  1. Compensation is a deliberate introduction of some additional element in the target text to make up for the loss of a similar element in the source text. The main reason for this transformation is a vocabulary lacuna in the target language.
  2. Metaphoric transformations are based on transferring the meaning due to the similarity of notions. The target language can remetaphorize a word or a phrase by using the same image. For example: “Don’t dirty your hands with that money!” or “He will pay us our money back when hell freezes over”. However, the source language metaphor can be destroyed if there is no similar idiom in the target language. [5] [7]

7. Strategies to solve problems of equivalence

As has been mentioned above, problems of equivalence occur at various levels, ranging from word to textual level. The equivalence problems emerge due to semantic, socio-cultural, and grammatical differences between the source language and the target language. These three areas of equivalence problems are intertwined with one another and can lead to: 1) loss of information, 2) addition of information, and/or 3) skewing of information.To conform to the stylistic demands and grammatical conventions of the target language, structural adjustment in translation is inevitably needed. [11]

7.1 Addition of information

Information which is not present in the source language text may be added to the target language text. Information added to the translation is normally cultural (accounting for the differences between SL and TL culture), technical (relating to the topic) or linguistic (explaining wayward use of words). The additional information may be put in the text (i.e. by putting it in brackets) or out of the text (i.e. by using a footnote or annotation). Such additional information is regarded as an extra explanation of culture-specific conceptsand is obligatory specification for comprehension purposes.

Amplification from implicit to explicit status is another factor that requires additions. In relation to this, important semantic elements carried implicitly in the source language may require explicit identification in the receptor language.

Addition of information may also be required due to the shift of voice and the alteration of word classes to avoid misinterpretation. There are also cases where two languages use a different class of words and a different level of utterances to denote the same meaning. [2]

7.2 Deletion of information

Deletion is an omission of a lexical item due to grammatical or semantic patterns of the receptor language”. This strategy may sound rather drastic, but in fact, it does no harm to omit translating a word or expression in some contexts. If the meaning conveyed by a particular item or expression is not vital enough to the development of the text to justify distracting the reader with lengthy explanations, translators can and often do simply omit translating the word or expression in question. [2]

There are cases where omission is required to avoid redundancy and awkwardness and this strategy is particularly applied if the source language tends be a redundant language. The category of plural in English is both morphologically conditioned (e.g. child/children, mouse/mice), and phonologically conditioned (e.g. book/books, box/boxes, pen/pens). In some circumstances, a determiner showing plurality (some books, three pens) also precedes a plural noun. Once a given noun is in the plural form, the quantifier has to be deleted. On the other hand, once there exists a quantifier denoting plurality, the noun in question should be in the singular form or the repetition of the noun should be avoided. [9]

Deletion may also refer to pieces of content rather than restructuring for grammatical purposes. Such a deletion of expressions or information is debatable in relation to the translation of academic texts, however. Not anyone who writes an academic text, for example, will include unimportant information in his or her writing. Similarly, anyone who reads such a text should consider that all information in the text is important. Translators are not an exception; they should read the text as the original reader or a non-translator reader reads it. That is to say that this notion of information deletion should not be used as ‘an excuse’ to hide the inability of translators to understand and transfer message of the original text. [2]

7.3 Structural adjustment

Structural adjustment is another important strategy for achieving equivalence. Structural adjustment which is alsocalled shift, transposition or alteration refers to a change in the grammar from SL to TL. Similarly, shifting from one language to another is, by definition, altering the forms. The alteration of form may mean changes of categories, word classes, and word orders. Structural adjustment has various purposes, including:

1) To permit adjustment of the form of the message to the requirements of structure of the receptor language;

2) To produce semantically equivalent structures;

3) To provide equivalent stylistic appropriateness;

4) To carry an equivalent communication load.

The shift of forms can be divided into four types:

  • One type of shift is the change from singular to plural or in the position of adjective. The position of an adjective in English, for example, may occur before a noun (i.e. a difficult text) or before and after a noun (i.e. a difficult text available in the library);
  • A second type of shift is required when a SL grammatical structure does not exist in the TL. In English, for example, cohesive devices such as however and nevertheless may be put at the beginning or in the middle of a sentence. There are some languages, however, where such cohesive devices always occur at the beginning of a sentence;
  • The third type of shift is the one where literal translation is grammatically possible but may not accord with natural usage in the TL;
  • The fourth type of shift is the replacement of a virtual lexical gap by a grammatical structure. [1]


  • Translation is a kind of cross-linguistic, cross-cultural and cross-social communication and its purpose is to establish equivalence between the source text and the target text.
  • Translation always involves at least two languages and two cultural traditions; thus, when translating, it is important to consider not only the lexical impact on the target language, but also the cultural aspects.
  • The target text can never be equivalent to the source text at all levels; researchers, however, have distinguished different types of equivalence: pragmatic, situational, lexical (semantic), grammatical and levels.
  • Even though lexical and grammatical equivalences are compared with each other, these two equivalences are described as a whole unit; thus, translation structure involves its lexical and grammatical meaning, the situation designated by the sentences is identical, and the communicative function of the utterances is the same.
  • In order to prevent difficulties caused by finding the grammatical and lexical equivalences between source and target texts there are different grammatical and lexical transformations such as substitution, generalization, differentiation, compensation and other.
  • Problems of equivalence occur at various levels and can lead to loss of information, addition of information, and/or skewing of information.
  • Addition of information, deletion of information and structural adjustment are three main strategies in solving problems of equivalence.

Literature review

  1. Hosni Mostafa El-dali, “Towards an understanding of the distinctive nature of translation studies“, Journal of King Saud University – Languages and Translation, Volume 23, Issue 1, January 2011, Pages 29-45, 10.1016/j.jksult.2010.01.001;
  2. Benabdelali, 2006. Fi Attarjama [in translation], first ed. Dar Toubkal, Casablanca;
  3. Hervey, S., Higgins, I., and Haywood, L. M. 1995. Thinking Spanish Translation: A Course in Translation Method: Spanish into English. London; New York: Routledge;
  4. Miao, J. 2000. “The limitations of equivalent effect”. Perspectives: Studies in Translatology, Vol. 8. No. 3, 197-205;
  5. Nababan, M.R. 2003. “Translation Processes, Practices and Products of Professional Indonesian Translators. Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis. Schools of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand;
  6. Pym, Anthony, Mariam, Shesinger, Zuzana, Jettmarová (Eds.), 2006. Sociocultural Aspects of Translating and Interpreting. Benjamins Library, John Benjamins;
  7. Baker, Mona (ed). 2001. Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies. London: Routledge;
  8. Munday, J. 2001. Introducing Translation Studies. London; New York: Routledge;
  9. Nida, E. 1975. Language Structure and Translation. Standford, California: Standford University Press. 1964. Towards a Science of Translating. Leiden: Brill;
  10. Yinhua, Xiang. Equivalence in Translation: Features and Necessity in International Journal of Humanities and Social Science, Vol 1 No. 10; August 2011. China;
  11. Комиссаров В.Н., Рецкер Я. И., Тархов В. И. Пособие по перeводу с английского языка на русский. – Ч. 2: Грамматические и жанрово-стилистические основы перевода. – М.: Высшая школа, 1965. – С.115-116;
  12. Влахов С., Флорин С. Непереводимое в переводе. – Междунар. отношения, 1980.

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