Equivalence – Translation Theory

Posted on: October 19, 2020   in: Certified Translations

Equivalence for Translators

Video Series and Discussion

Equivalence is an important concept for translators. To be honest, the more Translation Studies I read, the more I think that scholars are just asking the same question again and again. When are two “things” equivalent in different languages.

In this short video I give an introduction to the concept.

While it’s not at all complex, equivalence is certainly worth thinking about, and understanding it can help us make the best choices for our translations.

Equivalence at the word level

The easiest type of equivalence to think about is at the word level. Following the structure used by Mona Baker in “In Other Words“, I’ve posted some videos with very random thoughts on different levels of equivalence. In this video I discuss some useful examples.

The problem is that if we match each word in a sentence perfectly, we still won’t have a good sentence, we still need to think about the grammar and other features at the sentence level.

Equivalence at the sentence level

Let’s now look a level further, and talk about equivalence for sentences. Let’s start by talking about collocations. Some words naturally go well with other words, for example, table a motion, wash a dish and so on, but those pairing don’t hold across languages.

Above the sentence level

Now let’s turn to more meta aspects. I’ve already


Equivalence is a key thing driving translation studies. It is also crucial for practical translation. We need to think about finding an equivalent word, then making the sentences equivalent (which is usually a grammar issue), and then thinking above the sentence level, especially information flow. We also have to think about things like phots and the layout of text as well as any symbols, or colours etc.

equivalence - what imagine would be equivalent to this Chinese lion
A Chinese lion in the Forbidden City – Is this equivalent to the lions at Trafalgar Square?

Check out my series on Becoming A Translator by Douglas Robinson for some more theory and random thoughts.