Academic journal article Translation & Interpreting

Translation as a Mathematical Problem: An Analysis of Chinese-English and English-Chinese Word Equivalents

Academic journal article Translation & Interpreting

Translation as a Mathematical Problem: An Analysis of Chinese-English and English-Chinese Word Equivalents

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

This paper, which is based on Nida's equivalence translation theory, discusses the process involved in translation as a mathematical problem. Translation, as defined by Nida and Taber (1974), refers to "reproducing in the receptor language the closest natural equivalent of the source-language message, first in terms of meaning and secondly in terms of style" (p. 12). Catford (1969) also describes translation as a process whereby textual material in one language is replaced by equivalent textual material in another language. In most definitions of the term translation, the word 'equivalent' is used to describe those words, concepts or meanings which are deemed by the translator as equal (=) to the components of the source language.

Nida (2006) notes that "skilled translators must have a special capacity for sensing the closest natural equivalent of a text" (p. 11). From Nida's observation, there is evidence that there is rarely total equivalence in word meaning, so the question is: what makes a word have a closer meaning? We can also ask; how does a translator consciously or sub-consciously sense the equivalence of a given translated word? Based on the definition of the word 'translation', we therefore make an assumption that translation is mathematical because translators work out mathematical problems where one can ask such a question as; "what is the equivalent of the Chinese word [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]?" This translates into a mathematical equation '[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]=what?', as is the case in a mathematical equation like ' X= what?' We can even further formulate substitution equations as in mathematics, for instance: if '[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]?' = 'How are you?' then what does [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] equal? It is within this hypothetical framework of equivalence that we will use some examples from basic Chinese (Chinese Proficiency (HSK) 3) vocabulary with their English equivalents to show some mathematical problems that are consciously or subconsciously solved by translators.

2. Background of the Research and Literature Review

This research was inspired mainly by the observation that there is rarely total equivalence in meaning of words in two different languages. Nida (2006) mentions that translators should aim for "the closest natural equivalent", which suggests that although words might not be considered totally equivalent, they still have a form of equivalence which can be defined as either far or close equivalence. Despite the differences in meaning between these equivalents, translators still take these words as equivalents (either partial equivalent, close equivalent or total equivalent). This entails that behind the translation of a given word there must be some hidden concepts that make a given equivalent word appropriate in a given context. The author felt that there should be a scientific explanation that makes non-equivalent words to be considered equivalent. Nida believes that translation in itself is not a science; however he acknowledges that there is a need to understand "the ways in which the brain manipulates information and transfers concepts from one language to another" (Nida, 2006, p.11). Nida further notes that the reason why it is difficult to formulate an adequate theory of translation is the fact that we still do not know the subconscious processes involved in translation. In other words, researchers have not yet explored what takes place in the brain of a translator during translation. As described by Nida (2006), the current theories of translation describe principles in matching the semantic contents of verbal utterances but do not give us a picture of the mental processes involved.

We believe that a mathematical explanation will help us understand some of the mental processes that are involved during translation. This will also help explain the relationship between equivalent words in two different languages. …

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