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1 Theoretical background of Difficulties in – and strategies for – using equivalence at word level in Vietnamese – English translation of students of English college class 2009 at Tra Vinh University

1 Theoretical background of Difficulties in – and strategies for – using equivalence at word level in Vietnamese – English translation of students of English college class 2009 at Tra Vinh University

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Difficulties in – and strategies for – using equivalence at word level in Vietnamese –
English translation of students of English college class 2009 at Tra Vinh University

have caused controversial issues and many different theories of the concept of
equivalence has been elaborated within this field in the past fifty years
(Leonardi, 2000). Since translation is translation of an original, the ideas of
equivalence between the translated and original text arise naturally. There have
been many attempts to find criteria for equivalence. As is well known, even
word for word equivalence is problematic. It may also be desirable to go
beyond the orbit of the text and search for the notion of equivalence in the
agency of the readers.
It is possible to say that equivalence is “any relation characterizing
translation under a specified set of circumstances.” And “Equivalence is a
relationship between two texts in two languages, rather than between the
languages themselves” (Dr. Tien’s lectures- 2007 as cited in Bach, 2007).
According to Halverson (1997) as cited in Ghadi (2009), equivalence is
defined as a relationship existing between two entities, and the relationship is
described as one of similarity in terms of any of a number of potential qualities.
Proponents of equivalence based theories of translation usually define
equivalence as the relationship between a source text and a target text that
allows the TL to be considered as a translation of the source text in the first
place. Equivalence relationships are also said to hold between parts of the
source text and parts of TL, so the above definition of equivalence is not
unproblematic.
Catford (1965) as cited in Xiang (2011) also points out “the central
problem of translation - practice is that of finding TL equivalents. A central task
of translation theory is therefore that of defining the nature and conditions of
translation equivalence”. (p. 21)
Nida is also misunderstood by many for his notion of “equivalence,”
which he takes to mean that “Translating consists in reproducing in the receptor
language the closest natural equivalent of the SL message, first in terms of
meaning and secondly in terms of style” (1969: 12). He further concludes that

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Difficulties in – and strategies for – using equivalence at word level in Vietnamese –
English translation of students of English college class 2009 at Tra Vinh University

“Absolute equivalence in translating is never possible” (1984: 14) (as cited in
Xuanmin, 1999).
2.1.2 Different types of equivalence in translation
Many scholars have studied different notions of equivalence in relation
to the translation process. Therefore, many different ways to clarify translation
equivalence based on different foundation are obvious. Some out standings are
quantitative, meaning based, form-based and function based.
2.1.2.1 Quantitative approach
Munday (2001) as cited in Bach (2007) formed several different types of
lexical equivalence consisted of:
One-to-one equivalence: A single expression in TL is equivalent to a single
expression in SL.
One-to-many equivalence: More than one TL expression is equivalent to a
single SL expression.
Many-to-one equivalence: there is more than one expression in the source
language but there is a single expression in target language which is
equivalence to them.
One-to-part-of-one equivalence: A TL expression covers part of a concept
designated by a single SL expression.
Nil equivalence: no TL expression is equivalent to a single SL expression
-> loaned/borrowed equivalents should be used.
2.1.2.2 Meaning-based equivalence
Koller (1979) as cited in Pham (2010) considers the following five types of
equivalence. Denotative equivalence: the SL and the TL words refer to the same
thing in the real world. Connotative equivalence: this type of equivalence
provides additional values besides denotative value and is achieved by the
translator’s choice of synonymous words or expressions. Text-normative

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Difficulties in – and strategies for – using equivalence at word level in Vietnamese –
English translation of students of English college class 2009 at Tra Vinh University

equivalence: The SL and the TL words are used in the same or similar context
in their respective languages. Pragmatic equivalence: With readership
orientation, the SL and TL words have the same effect on their respective
readers. Formal equivalence: This type of equivalence produces an analogy of
form in the translation by their exploiting formal possibilities of TL, or creating
new forms in TL.
2.1.2.3 Form-based equivalence
A discussion of the notion of equivalence can be found in Baker (1992)
who seems to offer a more detailed list of conditions upon which the concept of
equivalence can be defined.
Firstly, equivalence can appear at word level and above word level, when
translating from one language into another. This means that the translator
should pay attention to a number of factors when considering a single word,
such as number, gender and tense.
Secondly, grammatical equivalence refers to the diversity of grammatical
categories across languages. She affirms that grammatical rules across
languages may differ, which leads to some problems in finding a direct
correspondence in the TL.
Thirdly, textual equivalence refers to the equivalence between a SL text and
a TL text in terms of information and cohesion. It is up to the translator to
decide whether or not to maintain the cohesive ties as well as the coherence of
the SL text. Her decision will be guided by three main factors such as the target
audience, the purpose of the translation and the text type.
2.1.2.4 Function-based equivalence
Nida (1964) as cited in Heidary (2009) argues that there are two different
types of equivalence. Formal correspondence focuses attention on the message
itself, in both form and content, unlike dynamic equivalence which is based
upon the principle of equivalent effect. Firstly, formal equivalence is achieved

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Difficulties in – and strategies for – using equivalence at word level in Vietnamese –
English translation of students of English college class 2009 at Tra Vinh University

when the SL and TL words have the closest possible match of form and content.
Secondly, dynamic equivalence is achieved when the SL and TL words have
the same effect on their effective readers.
All in all, the types of equivalence above are considered as a theoretical
background, showing the importance of finding the closet equivalence in
translation because of its existence as a bridge between different languages.
2.1.3 Word non-equivalence
When a translator attempts to translate a text from one language (source)
to another language (target), s/he should first of all understand and comprehend
the source text and then translates it to the TL. Therefore, the full awareness of
the source and target text for finding accurate and appropriate equivalence in
rendering of the contents of the text for reader is essential. As mentioned above,
there are many different types of equivalence in translation as well as different
levels (word, sentence, text, etc), requiring finding equivalents which have
similar characteristics to the original. It can say that word level is the most
considerate because word is the basic unit in meaning of translation text (Baker,
1992).
As theorists all share the view that equivalence is the important part of
translation process, they have the same point of view which it is not very easy
to find equivalents. Moreover, they have taken the issue of using word
equivalence into consideration. In the one hand, problems of non-equivalence at
word level are mostly paid attention of many researchers as a basic unit of
meaningful element in linguistics. Thereby, in this section, the problems of nonequivalence will be discussed and the most common types of non-equivalence
at word level will be introduced. Translators are very often faced with a
situation where the TL lacks a word which expresses the same meaning as the
TL word.
Bell (1991) is another notable researcher to mention equivalence at word
level. She also figures out that there is no word equivalence among languages

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Difficulties in – and strategies for – using equivalence at word level in Vietnamese –
English translation of students of English college class 2009 at Tra Vinh University

since even in the same language there is not absolute synonym between words
(as cited in Pham 2010).
It is noteworthy that Leonardi (2000) introduces Baker’s theory as “an
extremely interesting discussion of the notion of equivalence” (p 9). In
Leonardi’s paper, she reviews the theory of equivalence as interpreted by some
of the most innovative theorists in this field. The author particularly
compliments levels of Baker’s approach as “putting together the linguistic and
the communicative approach” and agrees that in a bottom-up approach to by
translation; equivalence at word level is the first element to be taken into
consideration the translators (as cited in Pham, 2010).
According to Baker (1992), who was the most outstanding theorist
dramatically focusing on equivalence at word level; “word non-equivalence
means that the target language has no direct equivalent for a word which occur
in the source text”. She discusses various equivalence problems and their
possible strategies. She also notes that many difficult problems will have a
variety of solutions. No one can deny that Mona Baker’s theory on nonequivalence at word level is universally supported by a great number of famous
linguistic scholars and researchers. The following table will show common
problems of word non-equivalence as specified by Baker.

1

Non-equivalence at word level
Culture – specific concepts
7 Differences in physical or
interpersonal perspective

2

The source language concept is 8

Differences

not

meaning

lexicalized

in

the

target

in

expressive

language
3

The source language word is 9
semantically complex

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Differences in form

Difficulties in – and strategies for – using equivalence at word level in Vietnamese –
English translation of students of English college class 2009 at Tra Vinh University

4

5

The source and target language 10 Differences in frequency and
make different distinctions in

purpose of using specific

meaning

forms

The target language lacks a super- 11 The use of loan words in the
ordinate term

6

source text

The target language lacks a
specific term (hyponym)
Table 1: Baker’s categories of non-equivalence at word level (1992)
2.1.4 The importance of finding equivalence at word level
Since translation is translation of an original, the ideas of equivalence

between the translated and original text arise naturally. There have been many
attempts to find criteria for equivalence. As well known, even word for word
equivalence is problematic. The referential aspect of a word creates one
possible important criterion for equivalence, so it is necessary to understand
exactly the meaning of the word "equivalence" itself. Ghadi (2009) recognizes
the importance of finding equivalence in translation of scientific text in his
study, especially, the finding equivalence at word level in the English technical
text in Persian. Besides, in his study, he realizes almost all translation scholars
in their theories somehow refer to the equivalence as the most significant part or
at least one of the most crucial parts of translation. Accordingly, various
equivalents are described by translators from different points of view. Scholars
found out that the process of finding, selecting, creating equivalence was not
always as easy as it seemed. In fact, there are many factors such as cultural and
linguistic which affect the process of finding and replacing equivalence. As
Baker’s theory, she notes that word is considered as a basic unit of meaning in
translation text, which expresses finding equivalence at this level plays a vital
role for higher levels in translation equivalence. Additionally, a word is
commonly defined as the basic meaningful element in a language. It may
contain more than one element of meaning. However, even a smaller unit than a
word may convey the meaning. A word can be further divided into morphemes.
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Difficulties in – and strategies for – using equivalence at word level in Vietnamese –
English translation of students of English college class 2009 at Tra Vinh University

In contrast with a word, a morpheme cannot contain more than one element of
meaning and cannot be further divided into smaller units. In fact, dividing a
word into morphemes enables to isolate the single elements of meaning in
words.
2.1.5 Aspects of Vietnamese - English translation
Because differences of Western and Oriental culture and language in
general, and English and Vietnamese ones in particular, many obstacles of word
non-equivalence are unavoidable. Typically, characteristics of linguistics,
concepts, writing styles and so on also make remarkable differences for both
Vietnamese and English language and culture. In fact, translators are really
headache to convey a source text (Vietnamese) in a target text (English) that
English people can comprehend easily. This is noted that translators have to
work under high pressure as well as face to the problems of non-equivalence.
Therefore, the study will make a contrast analyze on some concepts and lexical
semantic fields at word level in both linguistic and cultural aspects to prove the
existence of word non-equivalence in Vietnamese and English.
2.1.5.1 Linguistic aspect
As mentioned above, the existence of non-equivalence will take into
account in two different languages; especially they belong to two quite different
language families like Vietnamese and English. In fact, while English belongs
to the Indo-European family, Vietnamese is one of the Austro-Asiatic
languages, leading to many difficulties about using vocabulary and grammatical
rules. It is impossible to analyze all of difficulties, and this is a limitation of this
thesis. Despite such limitation of analyses, the researcher especially chooses
and clarifies some typical difficulties of using word equivalence which are also
problems word non-equivalence in Vietnamese-English translation.
 Linguistic knowledge
In the study of Zainurrahman (2010), he focused and emphasized on five
translation competences such as linguistic competence, textual competence,
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Difficulties in – and strategies for – using equivalence at word level in Vietnamese –
English translation of students of English college class 2009 at Tra Vinh University

subject competence, cultural competence, and transfer competence. However,
these competences are original from a long procedure of accumulating
knowledge that creates every different competence. According to this
researcher, linguistic knowledge is the basic knowledge a translator must have.
Without mastering languages, someone is disabled to translate a text from
source language to target language. Actually, a translator at least must have
knowledge in both source language and target language. The translator is
demanded to have a good understanding of language aspects of source language
and target language. Language master role in translation is not only to translate
words or sentences, but also to know how the target language receiver says
something that is different from source language user. By mastering language,
especially sociolinguistic translation, the translator may have bigger chance to
do it better than mastering grammar of target language. Besides, it is essential to
understand if a person is a translator of foreign languages. For example
someone is translating a text from a SL to a TL. It does not mean that it is not
important for him/her when translating a text of his/her native language to a
foreign language s/he mastered; some of words may exist in his/her native sense
but it may not exist in the TL. To sum up, it is clear that linguistic knowledge is
basic and essential to be mastered by a translator, so lack of linguistic
knowledge may create an unintended product of translated text.
 Semantically complex words
According to Baker as cited in Bach (2007), this is a common problem in
translation. A single word can sometimes express a more complex meaning than
a whole sentence. Languages automatically develop very concise forms for
referring to complex concepts if they become important enough to be talked
about often. Translators do not usually realize how semantically complex a
word is until they have to translate it into a language that does not have an
equivalent for it. The meaning which relates to the speaker´s feelings or
attitudes can be assigned to a TL word although it’s propositional meaning. The
meaning which relates to what words refer to in a real or imaginary word may

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Difficulties in – and strategies for – using equivalence at word level in Vietnamese –
English translation of students of English college class 2009 at Tra Vinh University

be the same as a SL; it’s Vietnamese in this respect. Linguistically, the
translation of culture-related words has never been seen as an easy task,
especially between such two distant cultures as Vietnam and English. The
challenges may originate from cultural differences, the cultural knowledge of
the translator etc. Conspicuously, it is vital for translators to recognize
meanings of words in the SL which a writer wants to express or refer. Frankly,
Vietnamese vocabulary is not simple to comprehend all their referred or implied
meanings, leading to difficulties in using word equivalents.
 Word misunderstanding
Misunderstanding polysemy sometimes poses problems in rendering the
right translation of the target text. Translating English words seems to be easy
when seeking for their equivalents in isolation in the target language. But, this
is not always the case since there are other meanings of the same word which
can be raised in each use of this word in a given context. She notes in her study
that the essential issue is to find the exact equivalents in Arabic for the English
polysemous words within a context when translating them. Students sometimes
translate each word from English into Arabic by applying its core meaning into
Arabic (Boubidi, 2009-2010).
2.1.5.2 Cultural aspect
 Cultural characteristics
Cultural background is so important for people who practice translating
as their profession. Actually, expressing culture-related words is not
unproblematic because two cultures’ world makes a big difference of East-West
culture. Also, different cultures reflect in the abundant and significant language,
especially in the vocabulary. Vu (2007) takes the cultural difference between
Western and Oriental society and among nations as the root of linguistic
untransbility. Tropical monsoon climate, complex geographical position, and
long traditional water rice agriculture are the elements creating Vietnamese
culture.

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Difficulties in – and strategies for – using equivalence at word level in Vietnamese –
English translation of students of English college class 2009 at Tra Vinh University

Linguistically, the translation of culture-related words has never been
seen as an easy task, especially between such two distant cultures as Vietnam
and English. The challenges may originate from cultural differences, the
cultural knowledge of the translator etc. However, the hardest problems may be
attached to non- equivalence which consists of the concepts unknown to target
language readers. It is, therefore, essential to be aware of translation nonequivalence in differences between cultural concepts of two different languages.
They typically represented in noteworthy differences between Vietnamese and
English language.
 Cultural concepts
Culture is a complex collection of experiences which condition daily life;
it includes history, social structure, religion, traditional customs and everyday
usage. This is difficult to comprehend completely. Especially in relation to a
target language, one important question is whether the translation will have any
readership at all, as the specific reality being portrayed is not quite familiar to
the reader. The more disparities that exist between any two languages, the
greater the meaning loss in the translation is. As hard as it may seem, the
translation of Vietnamese cultural words is now an inevitable part in our
integrating life (Thriveni, 2002).
Under the cultural perspective, a translator is similar to a bridge to
convey a message from one language to another in anything that may cause
confusion or feeling of foreignness to TL readers. This is definitely not a simple
task because culture is a notion too broad and sophisticated to be fully grasped.
Thus, many obstacles of using word equivalents in this field are undeniable.
The following table (as cited in Pham, 2010) will clarify some non-equivalent
cultural categories. In fact, there are many categories in cultural field that can
make a translator confuse to seek for an absolute equivalence.
Categories

English

Vietnamese

Food and drink

Floating cake.

Bánh trôi

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Difficulties in – and strategies for – using equivalence at word level in Vietnamese –
English translation of students of English college class 2009 at Tra Vinh University

Cylindrical glutinous rice Bánh tét
cake.
Vegemite.
Vermicelli

Bánh ướt
and

chicken Bún thang

soup.
House and furniture Manor , Bungalo,

Nhà sàn

Cupboard

Tủ chè

Balaclava

Áo tứ thân

Sneakers

Áo dài

Shadow Cabinet,

Chủ Tịch Ủy Ban Hành

Front Benchers

Pháp Trung ương,

House of Representatives

Bí Thư Thành Uỷ

Access And Equity

Nghề bán cháo phổi

Drag Queens

Quân tử

Traditional

Muck up Day

Tết Hàn Thực

practices

New Year's Resolution

Cây Nêu

Clothes

Political regime

Occupation

Câu đối
Ethical issues

Fair go,

Sợ vợ

Wife swapping

Chữ hiếu
Tiết hạnh

Table 2: Selected categories and examples about Cultural concepts
 Vietnamese’s system of address and reference
In Vietnamese culture, there is a hierarchy in classification of people
according to blood relationship and social rank and seniority. Kinship terms,
used pronominally, constitute an important part of the Vietnamese system of

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