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On Equivalence of Words in Chinese and English

Word is the minimum language unit in the language. Although we should make an accurate delivery of the overall meaning of the original text during translation, we usually start with the words to have an understanding of the original text. However, it is found out that it is of considerable difficulty for us to find completely equivalent words between Chinese and English in most cases. Consequently, it is almost impossible to produce translation by a word-to-word manner. In most cases, there is no complete equivalence between English words and Chinese words.book For example, from the perspective of semantic level, “杯子” is not completely equivalent with “cup” as “cup”, “mug” and “glass” all could be translated into “杯子”. “汽车” is not completely equivalent with “car” as “car”, “truck”, “bus”, “lorry” and “van” all can be translated into “汽车”. There are several types of inequivalence between English words and Chinese words.
  1. Words which have specific cultural connotation. For example, there are no such words in Chinese that are completely equivalent with “cousin” and “privacy”. There is no such word in Chinese that could not only mean “堂兄弟” and “堂姐妹”, but also could mean “表兄弟” and “表姐妹”. It is not completely accurate to translate “privacy” into “隐私” and “私事”. There are no such English words that are completely equivalent with “粽子” and “饺子” in Chinese as these products are both exclusively produced in China. “Dumpling” is not completely equivalent with “饺子”.
  2. There is difference between English and Chinese with respect to the meaning of the same word. For example, we often use “男性” & “女性” to describe the gender of a person in Chinese and use “雌性” and “雄性” to describe the gender of an animal. However, there is no such difference in English. “Male” and “female” are used to depict the gender for both humans and animals.
  3. There is no equivalent hyponym in the target language. For example, There are numerous hyponyms fro "jump", including leap, vault, spring, bounce, plunge and plummet, etc. However, there are fewer hyponyms in Chinese for “跳”.
  4. There are different perspectives between English and Chinese. For example, there are two different English words equivalent with “借”: borrow and lend. “Borrow” means to borrow something from others while “lend” means to lend something to others. In Chinese, only “借” is used to describe such meanings.
We should firstly recognize these differences between English and Chinese and then select appropriate words when making translation to produce a desirable translation.

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