Translation Theories – Eugene Nida and Dynamic Equivalence

The Translation Theories of American linguist and translation theorist Eugene Nida were among the most influenced theories in China since the 1980s. His most notable contribution to translation theory is Dynamic Equivalence, also known as Functional Equivalence.


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. Nida suggested the main difference between those two was the purpose of the translation.

Read Also: Literal Translation & Free Translation

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

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

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 in the original language.

Formal equivalence intends to achieve equivalence between 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 great impact on the accuracy and correctness.

One of the most typical translation is “Gloss translations”, 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 Nida’ 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 to choose the translation which is closest to the original language on a natural basis.

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

It requires translation text to reflect the original text as perfect 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 that 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 equivalent response in translation is impossible. This is because the equivalence response is based on the subjective judgment from the analyst and a translator.  This criticism raised the question of whether 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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