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Critical Analysis of Nida's Dynamic Equivalence Theory

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Critical Analysis of Nida's Dynamic Equivalence Theory


This essay presents an analysis of Eugene A. Nida's dynamic equivalence theory from the point of view of requirements for a good translation theory. In Nida's theory, the new concepts of dynamic equivalent, equivalent effects and three-stage translating procedures made the theory so influential in the following century. Nida discarded traditional approach placing too many demands upon the reader to become informed about the original culture, approached translation from a scientific point of view and shifted the focus to the receptor's response. After careful examination and analysis against each requirement, Nida's theory is found to be theoretically satisfying and practically applicable.

1 Introduction

Up until the 1950s, theoreticians had been involved in circular debates around word-for-word and sense-for-sense translation for over 2000 years. In the early 1960s, the American linguist and translator Eugene A. Nida, in his Toward a Science of Translating (Nida, 1964) and the co-authored The Theory and Practice of Translation (Nida and Taber, 1969), expounds the theory of dynamic equivalence which shifts the focus in translating from the above debate to the response of the receptor and attempts to analyze translation with a systematic, theory-based approach to many disciplines, particularly linguistics. Nida's translation theory of dynamic equivalence has exerted considerable influence all over the world and brought about a quantum leap of translation theory. Meanwhile, Nida's translation theory also receives fierce criticism for many reasons, which, not surprisingly, leads to the suggestion that Nida's dynamic equivalence theory appears not to be a satisfying theory. It is for this reason, I intend to use the insights gained from the discussion of requirements for a good translation theory to investigate whether Nida's theory is a good translation theory from both the theoretical and practical points of view. In Part 2 I try to (1) describe the requirements of a good theory on which the essential argument of this essay rests, (2) discuss some scholars' opinions on Nida's dynamic equivalence translation theory. Then in Part 3 I will explore in details Nida's conceptual framework of dynamic equivalence. In part 4 I endeavor to examine how Nida's translation theory of dynamic equivalence satisfies the requirements of a good theory and how empirical it is in real and practical Chinese and English translating and conclusions are drawn in Part 5.

2 Literature Review

Nida's systematic linguistic approach to translation has been investigated by record number of scholars and has provoked heated debated all over the world. In this part I will briefly represent a few of the influential writings on evaluating or judging Nida's dynamic equivalence theory.

2.1 Requirements of a good translation theory

Before describing what is required of a good translation theory, we must be clear about what translation is and what a translation theory encompasses.

2.1.1 What is Translation?

Roger Bell (1991: 13) gives the notion 'translation' three distinguishable meanings: translating (the process), a translation (the product) and translation (the abstract concept which encompasses both the process of translating and the product of that process). The definition is concerned with 'interlingual translation (an interpretation of verbal signs by means of some other language)' rather than the other two kinds of translation, 'intralingual translation' and 'intersemiotic translation' which are described by the Russo-American structuralist Roman Jakobson (1959 /2000:113).

A more comprehensive definition is suggested by Shuttleworth and Cowie (1997: 181)

Translation An incredibly broad notion which can be understood in many different ways. For example, one may talk of translation as a process or a product, and identify such sub-types as literary translation, technical translation, subtitling and machine translation; moreover, while more typically it just refers to the transfer of written texts, the term sometimes also includes interpreting.

This definition introduces the sub-types of translation, including not only written or sometimes oral products (interpreting), but also machine translation in which computers and computerized analysis of language are heavily involved in the process and the product of translation.

To sum up, the term translation encompasses several distinct perspectives: it can refer to the process, the product or the abstract concept of translation. The sense of process centres on what a translator does in turning the source text (ST) into a target text (TT) in another language. The sense of product focuses on the text that is produced in the translating process. The sense of abstract concept of the general phenomenon can be said to be the general subject field.

2.1.2 What is a theory of translation?

Clearly a theory of translation must attempt to describe and explain what translation is and how it happens. The objective of a translation theory, in a nutshell, is to normalize our relationship to the phenomena of translation and improve our perception of translation. If we simply focus on the written translation rather than interpreting (oral translation), there may be three possible theories of translation as defined by Bell (1991:26):

(1) 'A theory of translation as process. This would require a study of information processing and would draw heavily on psychology and on psycholinguistics.'

(2) 'A theory of translation as product. This would require a study of texts not merely by means of the traditional levels of linguistic analysis (syntax and semantics) but also making use of stylistics and recent advances in text-linguistics and discourse analysis.'

(3) 'A theory of translation as both process and product. This would require the integrated study of both and such a general theory is, presumably, the long-term goal for translation studies.'

2.1.3 Requirements for a theory of translation

Essentially a good translation theory should be at all satisfactory in a theoretical or an applied sense. According to Ronowicz (2006:2), an ideal theory must possess four characteristics:

(1) Consistent with other knowledge

(2) Consistent within itself



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