The Translation Theories of American linguist and translation theorist Eugene Nida have been among the most influential theories in China since the 1980s. Eugene A. Nida was America’s most prominent and influential linguist and translation theorist. As a linguist, Eugene Nida believed that translation is both science and art and more emphasis should be given to cultural context, meaning, and spirit of the text, instead of its word-for-word translation. His most notable contribution to translation theory is Dynamic Equivalence, also known as Functional Equivalence.

It’s one of the earliest translation theories ever introduced in China and has occupied an unshakable and unwavering position since the 1980s. Several other translation theories have also been used in China but scholars and experts in the translation field have always praised the work of Eugene Nida. His theory of functional equivalence, in fact, got extremely wide adoption to translate a variety of texts.

Table of Content

  1. Concept
  2. Bible Translation
  3. Dynamic Equivalence
  4. Formal Equivalence
  5. Implementation Patterns
  6. Theory And Practice
  7. The Contrast Between – Eugene Nida And Dynamic Equivalence


Eugene Nida gave up the long-term used words throughout history, such as “literal translation”, “free translation”, and “faithful translation”. On the contrary, he advocated two “equivalence” ways as the basic directions and guidelines of translation: dynamic equivalence and formal equivalence. Eugene Nida suggested the main difference between those two was the purpose of the translation.

Bible Translation

Eugene Nida’s work has had a profound impact on Bible translation efforts, especially through his involvement with the United Bible Societies and the American Bible Society. He developed methods and principles that have helped translators bring the messages of the Bible into languages and cultures around the world in a way that is meaningful and relevant to the local context. Nida’s contributions to linguistics and translation studies have extended beyond religious contexts and have had a broad influence on how translation is approached in various fields, emphasizing the importance of adapting content to the cultural and linguistic norms of the target audience.

Dynamic Equivalence

The most important thing in translating is the message received by the audience. Messages that are significant in both form and content need not only to be understood but also to be appreciated.

And only when the translator could state the original features, he can achieve “dynamic equivalence”, which stressed the importance of transferring meaning, not grammatical form.

In a word, the “quality of a translation in which the message of the original text has been so transported into the receptor language that the response of the receptor is essentially like that of the original receptors.”

Take “Coca-Cola” for example, Coca means “古柯叶” and Cola means “可乐果” in Chinese, the combined name is designed to show that the drink is made of natural ingredients, and it is dependable and safe to drink.

When translated as “可口可乐” in Chinese, the taste of “可口”, and the carefree feeling of “可乐” when drinking, together with the Chinese reduplicating words all make the brand impression.

Formal Equivalence

Formal equivalence focuses on the need to pay attention to the form and content contained in the message. The so-called formal equivalence means that the message in the target language should be in accordance with the different parts of the original language.

Formal equivalence intends to achieve equivalence between the original text and translation text, and to some extent reflect the linguistical features such as vocabulary, grammar, syntax, and structure of the original language which has a great impact on the accuracy and correctness.

One of the most typical translations is “Gloss translation”, which is closest to the original structure, and with attached comments to give readers a better understanding of the culture and custom.

Implementation Patterns

In Eugene Nida’s book, The Theory and Practice of Translation, he defined translation as “Translating consists in 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.”

This definition includes three basic terms:

(1) equivalence, which points to the original language;

(2) natural, it points to the receptor language;

(3) closest, it linked together on an extremely similar basis. Dynamic Equivalence translation means choosing the translation which is closest to the original language on a natural basis.

The so-called closest is mainly in regards to the sense, and the translator focuses more on the meaning and spirit of the original text, rather than rigidly adhering to the structure and form. In accordance with the definition of Eugene Nida, dynamic translation is not equal to the traditional “free translation” or “live translation” because of the stringent requirements.

It requires translation text to reflect the original text as perfectly as possible in a different language structure, while there is no such requirement in free translation.

Theory and Practice

The dynamic functional equivalence approach says not to follow the strict grammatical structure in the original text to provide natural reading to the target audience. This approach is used when the readability of the translation is more important than the original grammatical structure.

Formal equivalence is just like a goal instead of reality because one language may contain a word of the concept that has no equivalence in another language. Therefore, in dynamic translation, some buzzwords are created in the target language to represent some concepts.

If the source language is entirely different from the target language, then it becomes very difficult to understand a literal translation without rearranging and modifying the words of the target language.

Additionally, formal equivalence can help readers to get familiar with the source language to help how meaning was conveyed in the original text. In this way, it preserves untranslated idioms to preserve original information and depicts the essence of language.

The Contrast Between – Eugene Nida and Dynamic Equivalence

Contrary to formal and dynamic equivalence, people who prefer literal equivalence are of the view that literal translation is closer to the original text. So, it is better. The people who prefer free or dynamic translation are of the view that this translation will help people understand the original text.

Therefore, it is better. The challenge with formal equivalence is that readers are more demanding towards it whereas, in dynamic equivalence, the readers find out that the decisions are already made in the text. Moreover, they assume that the work of the translator is not distorting.

The introduction about the formal and dynamic equivalence is very challenging in depicting the receptor approach of translation theory. Therefore, both concepts faced great criticism because of different reasons.

Larose and Van den Broeck are of the view that an equivalent response in translation is impossible. This is because the equivalence response is based on subjective judgment from the analyst and a translator. This criticism raised the question of whether Eugene Nida’s theory of translation is scientific or not.

Moreover, the question of whether these theories are in practice is controversial. Edwin Gentzler 1993 gives importance to its work because of its theological and persuading concept which is changing the receptors, despite its culture. Despite the criticism of these concepts, these approaches hold a prominent standing among translation scholars

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