The Comparative Analysis of the Translation Theories


To carry out the comparative and contrastive analysis of the development course of translation theory during the period of the second half of the 20th century, it would be relevant to suggest regarding two theoretical perspectives of translation theories which represent different approaches to translation of this particular period of time, comparing and contrasting them within the historical and cultural context in which they emerged, and defining the crucial strengths and weaknesses of each approach in relation to their usage. Therefore, Roman Jakobson’s theory, dominated by the fundamental concern of translatability (1940s-1950s) and Eugene Nida’s theory, focused on the principles of correspondence in the translation process (1960s-970s) might be proposed as those to be subject to the analysis.

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Roman Jakobson’s translating theory (1940s-1950s) emerged and developed during the period of the Second World War, war aftermath, and the beginning of the, so called, ‘Cold War’. Therefore, its key objectives, crucial provisions and main purposes were defined by that time atmosphere, not only in the literary field, but the entire world arena. Such issues as: cultural misunderstanding and various problems caused by the wrong interpretation of foreign customs, believes, mental outlook, and incorrect, in various aspects translation of the other countries’ authentic historical and modern texts, documents, books, scholar articles, and other important papers, were of a great concern at that time. Thus, the linguistic and literary world as a whole was also strongly affected by those trends, which can be traced through the context and fundamental objectives of Jakobson’s translation theory (1940s-1950s).

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Roman Jakobson’s Translation Theory

Theorist: Roman Jakobson. Biography: “Roman Osipovich jakobson (23. 01. 1896, Moscow — 18. 07. 1982, Boston) — Russian linguist and semiotist. Jakobson was the founder of the structural analysis of language and a key figure in 20th century structuralism. In 1915 he became a founder and leader of Moscow Linguistic Circle and became interested in Edmund Husserl and Ferdinand de Saussure. Under their influence, Jakobson proposed the idea of the analysis of the structure of linguistic phenomena, but not the history of development of idioms and words across time, as in official neogrammarian studies of language. Lecturing at Columbia University, Harvard University, and M.I.T., Jakobson had acquaintance with many American linguists, such a Benjamin Whorf and Edward Sapir. In 1949 Jakobson eventually received a post at Harvard University, where he taught for the rest of his life”.

Targeted Essay: On Linguistic Aspects of Translation.

Eugene Nida’s Translation Theory

Theorist: Eugene Nida. Biography: “Eugene Albert Nida was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA, on November 11, 1914. He became a Christian at a young age. He graduated from the University of California in 1936, and got his PhD in 1943. Then he attended Camp Wycliffe, where Bible translation theory was taught. He In 1943 Dr. Nida began his career as a linguist with the American Bible Society, and later on he has become a pioneer in the fields of translation theory and linguistics. The developer of the theoretical principles of Formal correspondence and Dynamic Equivalence”.

Targeted Essay: Principles of Correspondence.


Jakobson’s Model
Jakobson’s Model

With the view to fully understand the Jakobson’s model, it is necessary to count on his ideas suggested by him in 1960 concerning the ‘act of verbal communication’ upon which his model was mainly established, saying that: “if we take any given act of verbal communication (speech event), there are six fundamental factors which must be present for it to be operable:

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  1. addresser (speaker, encoder, emitter; poet, author; narrator)
  2. addressee (decoder, hearer, listener; reader; interpreter)
  3. code (system, langue)
  4. message (simulative parole, the given discourse, the text)
  5. context (referent)
  6. contact (a physical channel and psychological connection between speaker and addressee)”(Jakobson, 1985).

Following this, it is necessary to point out that, in his translation theory, and particularly, in his work “On Linguistic Aspects of Translation”, Roman Jakobson pays a great attention to the linguistic and semiotic facts within the frameworks of understanding of the words meaning. In his reasoning, Jakobson refers to Bertrand Russell’s statement that “no one can understand the word ‘cheese’ unless he has a non-linguistic acquaintance with cheese” (Russell, 1950, p. 3). Here, the author of the theory proposes that it is impossible for a foreigner to understand the profound indirect – allegory meaning of the word “cheese”, used in the English language, unless such a foreigner is somehow familiar with the lexical English code. Therefore, Jakobson draws up the idea of the necessity of not just simply naming any things or objects in the way of the direct translation, but of implementation of certain alternative linguistic signs (codes) into the translation process, nevertheless, without the distortion of the crucial parts and ideas of the text. Here might be viewed the roots of the concept of so called equivalent translation.

In his reasoning about the deepest inquirer into the profound essence of translating signs, Jakobson relies on the Peirce’s example-statement: “The term ‘bachelor’ may be converted into a more explicit designation, ‘unmarried man’, whenever higher explicitness is required” (Peirce, cited in Dewey, 1946, p. 91). Another linguist, but of the following decades of the 20th century, Eugene Nida, in his translation theory (1960s-1970s), shares Roman Jakobson’s view point about the above established provision, partly drawn up from the Peirce’s statement, concerning the linguistic codes (signs), which he calls corresponding symbols. However, Nida states that: “either in the meanings given to corresponding symbols or in the ways in which such symbols are arranged in phrases and sentences, it stands to reason that there can be no absolute correspondence between languages” (Nida, 1995, p.153).

Therefore, it is possible to say that the views of the two linguists: Nida and Jakobson differ concerning the exactness of translation. First scholar states that it is impossible to carry out fully exact translations even with the usage of the corresponding symbols. The latter one argues that it is possible to perform this task with the help of the adequate linguistic codes.

In order to be able to understand the source of the Eugene Nida’s ideas, and therefore the key objectives and main provisions of its translation theory, it would relevant to regard the historical and cultural context in which this particular theory emerged and developed. The sixth and the seventh decade of the 20th century were determined by the various international ethnical and cultural conflicts. Although the situation on the world arena had improved since the two previous decades, the communicational problem remained unresolved (Venuti, 2004).

Consequently, literary and linguistic world was also affected by this problem, and hence, numerous literary scholars and linguists, including Nida, reconsidered the equivalence’s translation theory concept (which might be also observed in the ideas of the Jakobson’s translation theory) , according to which the translation process was regarded as the communicational channel with the foreign text, through which the linguists of that particular period tried to establish a communicational relationship of identity and analogy with that text. Thus, it can be noted that Nida’s translation theory regards the communication element as the key one in the translation process, whereas language is regarded as the crucial instrument for this process. Nida describes the word for word translation’s renderings as those, which: “… generally make for a doubtful translation” (Nida, 1964, p.14), pointing out that the correctness of the translation should be achieved “on the basis of the extent to which the corresponding sets of semantic components are accurately represented in the restructuring” (Nida, 1971, p. 185).

Therefore, it is possible to see that, unlike the Jakobson’s translation theory, which contains some elements of the Renaissance tradition adopted from the linguistic theories of the previous decades of the 20th century, Nida’s theory is entirely focused on the communicational element, and pays little attention to the precision of the text’s translation, pointing out that, “… The total impact of a translation may be reasonably close to the original, but there can be no identity in detail … One must not imagine that the process of translation can avoid a certain degree of interpretation by the translator…” (Nida, 1995, p.193). In his reasoning the author refers to other’s scholar’s point of view, established in 1874: “A translation remains perhaps the most direct form of commentary” (Rossetti, cited in Fang, 1953, p. 265).

Despite the differences in the view concerning the degree of the exactness of translation and interpretation, both linguists: Roman Jakobson and Eugene Nida, alongside with the other scholars of their time, in their theoretical approaches try to find the ways to simplify the process of understanding of some distinct linguistic words in the translated texts by foreigners. Therefore, it is necessary to regard and analyze the solutions suggested by those two scholars.

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With the view to resolve this confusion, Jakobson suggests to distinguish three ways of the verbal sign’s interpreting: translation into other signs and symbols of the same language, translation into another language and translation into the different nonverbal symbolic system. These ways of the verbal sign’s interpreting are labelled by the author as follows: “Intralingual translation or rewording is an interpretation of verbal signs by means of other signs of the same language”, “Interlingual translation or translation proper is an interpretation of verbal signs by means of some other language”, and “Intersemiotic translation or transmutation is an interpretation of verbal signs by means of signs of nonverbal sign systems” (Jakobson, 1987, p. 429).

For example in the “intralingual” translation of a word or an idiomatic phrase – word the blind usage of more or less synonymous word or a set of words generally leads to the circumlocution. The view points of Jakobson and Nida are quite similar in the understanding of the provisions of the Jakobson’s theory’s statement in the given case synonymy, as a necessary indicator, can not be evaluated as the complete equivalence. For the better and easier translation process, the author of the theory implements special highest level’s code-units which correspond to the code-units of the foreign text, idiomatic expressions and distinct words. Roman Jakobson proves his statement with the following example, “…every celibate is a bachelor, but not every bachelor is a celibate …every bachelor is an unmarried man, and every unmarried man is a bachelor … or every celibate is bound not to marry, and everyone who is bound not to marry is a celibate” (Jakobson, 1987, p. 429).

Analyzing the “interlingual” translation suggested by the Jakobson’s theory, it must be noted that it should be implemented in the translation cases, where there is no full equivalence between the above mentioned special code units for the messages’ interpretation. Another way of translation should be used in those cases, when “… translation from one language into another substitutes messages in one language not for separate code-units but for entire messages in some other language” (Jakobson, 1987, p. 430). In such situation the translator recodes and transforms a message or a word received from any other outside source. Therefore, it is possible to assert that the author tries to introduce here the translation method involving two equivalent messages, but recoded with the help of two different codes.

However, contrary to Jakobson, Nida, who was the first to distinguish clearly between a philological, a linguistics and a sociolinguistic theory of translation (Neubert, cited in Sager, 2004), regards the process of decoding with respect to the audience’s understanding ability, but not with respect to the content of the message, and divides it into the four principal levels: “die capacity of children, whose vocabulary and cultural experience are limited … the double-standard capacity of new literates, who can decode oral messages with facility but whose ability to decode written messages is limited … the capacity of the average literate adult, who can handle both oral and written messages with relative ease; … the unusually high capacity of specialists … decoding messages within their own area of specialization” (Nida, 1995, p. 155).

Hence, it is possible to see that the author distinguishes the techniques, communicational, analogical and associative codes of the translation designed for the different groups of the message’s recipient: children, newly literate adult, and specialists. Nevertheless, it does not mean that the Jakobson’s theory ignores the factor of the audience, however, unlike the Nida’s translation theory it does not divide audience (people) with regard to their interests.

Once, linguist Herbert P. Phillips proclaimed that “No statement of the principles of correspondence in translating can be complete without recognizing the many different types of translations” (Phillips, 1959). Tracing the course of his thought, it might be suggested to study and evaluate the types of translation described in the Nida’s translation theory.

Nida suggests that there are three basic factors which determine the course translation process: the nature and the origins of the message, the intentions and the purposes of the author of the message of the foreign text, and also the purposes and the main objectives of the translator himself, and, of course, the type of audience to whom the massage or its translated version is addressed. Therefore, he divides the above described and analyzed messages in accordance with the criteria of the form dominance in the consideration.

Nida suggests that “the content of a message can never be completely abstracted from the form, and form is nothing apart from content; but in some messages the content is of primary consideration, and in others the form must be given a higher priority” (Nida, 1995, p. 154). Here, Nida’s view differs from Jakobson’s understanding of the importance and priority of the message content. The author pays a great attention to the principles, which govern the translation and in which it operates.

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That is to say, there are cases when the translation is oriented towards the formal equivalence, and there are other cases when it is oriented towards the dynamic equivalence (Nida, 1995, pp. 116-162). This might be observed in a later stage established by Nida, where he supports Waard’s view point by establishing the “Functional Equivalence term, where the new term has nothing essentially different from the previous one but its name, and the same general approach was also known as idiomatic translation or meaning-based translation as mentioned by” (Beekman & Callow, 1974).

Nida considers that not only the purposes of the author, but the purposes of the translator are crucial in the determining of the translation type. Therefore the scholar provides an example of such case: “a San Bias story-teller is interested only in amusing his audience, ethnographer translating such is concerned in giving his audience an insight into San Bias personality structure … the purposes … underlie the choice of one or another way to render a particular message are important” (Nida, 1995, p.154-155). Moreover, in order to ensure full understanding of the two terms, and since Eugene Nida was very involved in the bible translation, it would be more convenient to embed this excerption from his book “The Theory and Practice of Translation” to illustrate the key distinctive features between them.

Table Cited from Nida, 1969, p. 27

Formal Correspondence Translation Dynamic Equivalence Translation
(1) So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any incentive of love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy. (1) Does your life in Christ make you strong ? Does his love comfort you ? Do you have fellowship with the Spirit ? Do you feel kindness and compassion for one another?
(2) complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. (2) I urge you, then, make me completely happy by having the same thoughts, sharing the same love, and being one in soul and mind.

Nida claimed that the purpose of these texts’ comparing is just to show the essential differences between them rather than to criticize them. He sated that it is true that the D-E translation seems to be less accurate, while F-C seems to be a heavier and more formal version. According to the author in order to fulfill its imperative communicational function, the language of the text can be adopted and changed with respect to the historical and time context, and audience’s potential. Nevertheless, Nida’s theory proposes that the translator should not translate any foreign texts in the manner likely to be understood by the majority of the audience; rather, he should perform the translation in such clear way, that it can not be possibly misunderstand by anyone.

Such an assumption established in the scholar’s theory is quite similar to the Jakobson’s studies carried out by him(Jakobson) considering the untranslatability dogma also studied by the linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf, who claimed that “Facts are unlike to speakers whose language background provides for unlike formulation of them” (Whorf, 1956, p. 235). Therefore, it is possible to state that some of the reconsidered ideas proposed by Eugene Nida resemble Roman Jakobson which suggest that the linguistic transform is possible as most of signs can be translated into such signs appear to reader more developed and precise. Moreover, linguist Nida points out that: “translation consists of 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” (Nida, 1984, p. 83).

While discussing the basic orientations in the translation process in accordance with the equivalence principle, it would be relevant to refer to Belloc’s point of view concerning the equivalents that reflects primarily Nida’s and partly Jakobson’s theory’s provisions stating that “Since there are no such things as identical equivalents, one must in translating seek to find the closest possible equivalent with respect to types of equivalence: one which may be called formal and another which is primarily dynamic” (Belloc, 1931, p. 37).

Thus, using the Belloc’s logical reasoning, it can be firmly asserted the cultural differences cause much more complications and difficulties for the translator of the foreign text than the language’s structure’s differences. With the view to prove this assumption, it is possible to cite J.C. Catford reasoning suugesting that “… the central problem of translation theory is that of finding the TL translation equivalents. A central task of a translation theory is that of finding the nature and conditions of translation equivalence” (Catford, 1965, p. 21).

If refer to Jakobson’s work, it can be observed that the author draws up the discussion concerning the cognitive function of the language and, therefore, differences of the language structure. He states that within its frameworks, language is quite independent from the grammatical pattern and structure as the definition of one’s experience remains in complementary relation to “metalinguistic operations … [therefore] the cognitive level of language not only admits but directly requires recoding interpretation, i.e., translation” (Jakobson, 1987, p. 433).

In his approaches concerning the proper translation of poetry, Eugene Nida applies to the Jackson Mathews who stated that “… to translate a poem whole is to compose another poem where translation faithful to the matter, approximates the form of the original and has a life of its own, which is the voice of the translator” (Mathews, 1959, p. 67), and to Savory who suggested that “an adequate translation of a poem is impossible” (Savory, 1969). Such an assumption, strongly supported by Nida, again represents the devotion of the former to the communicational function of the language and the text, and his entire scientific nonchalant to the precision and exactness of the text translation.

Contrary to Eugene Nida, Roman Jakobson, applying his approach to poetry, asserts that in these cases the verbal equations becomes a constructive element of the text. He suggests that the constituents of the verbal code: roots, prefixes, affixes, various phonemes, and different categories of syntax and morphology are “confronted, juxtaposed, brought into contiguous relation according to the principle of similarity and contrast and carry their own autonomous signification” (Jakobson, 1987, p. 434).

The above established concept does not even seem alike the reconsidered communicative idea established later on in the 20th century. However, it can not be named non-efficient, as it relays on the statement established by the scholar of authority – Russian linguist and literary scientist recognized all over the world – Vladimir Nabokov, who suggests in his work that the translation of certain literary masterpieces requires from the translator almost unattainable ideal transmit process (Nabokov, 1955).


Concluding it can be suggested that the concept of the translation theory progressed with the course of the time. The understanding of the better way of translation has been added and changed. For example, Mildred Larson, in his proposal of making a good translation, suggests that “the best translation is one which uses normal language forms of the receptor language; communicates as much as possible, to the receptor language speakers the same meaning that was understood by the speakers of the source language; and maintain the dynamics of the original source language text, meaning that the translation is presented in a such way that it will hopefully, evoke the same response as the source text attempted to evoke”(Larson, cited in Sager, 1993, p. 143).

After the description, evaluation and analysis of the two translating theories: Roman Jakobson’s and Eugene Nida’s theories, it can be noted that the majority of the provisions of those theories are quite similar. Nevertheless, there some ideas and provisions in those approaches which differ them from one other. Trying to resolve the crucial problems caused by the course of the intricate historical and cultural circumstances which also affected literature and linguistics, Jakobson’s translation theory draws up the idea of the implementation of the alternative linguistic codes in order to avoid blind direct translation; it also forms the basis of the equivalent translation. But with the course of time, the situation in the surrounding world, including the literary and linguistics sphere changes, therefore Jakobson’s theory is consequently reconsidered by the Nida’s translation theory, which resolves the problem of the cultural misunderstanding determined by the miscommunication. Eugene Nida’s translation theory is mainly concentrated on the communicational issue, but it pays little attention to the precision of the text’s translation, what leads to the irremediable distortion of the text in some cases. Those theories have both: advantages and disadvantages. It is impossible to call any of those theories incorrect or groundless, as they all correspond to the surrounding environment, world outlook of the scholars and scientific tradition of the time during which they were created and operated.


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