There are five basic constitutive principles of translation: EQUIVALENCE, FIDELITY/ACCURACY, ADEQUACY/APPROPRIATENESS, ECONOMY, and FLUENCY.


‘Translating 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.’[1]  `

As the target text can never be equivalent to the source text at all levels, researchers have tried to distinguish different types of equivalence.      

Mona Baker considers that in the domain of translation, equivalence should be divided in levels, namely: word level, above word level (collocations and idioms), grammar, text level and pragmatic level.

Werner Koller proposes denotative, connotative, pragmatic, textual, formal and aesthetic equivalence.[2]

The principle of equivalence is, nevertheless, quite a simple concept. The main idea it promotes is that a translator must find phrases or even sentences in the target language that are at least similar, if not identical, to the ones in the source text.

The achievement of connotative equivalence is one of the hardest problems of translation, and can seldom be absolute. There is no perfect synonymy in any language.

That is why the main problem for a translator is the lack of equivalents. In this case, translator’s only solution is to try to find a synonym or a paraphrase that fits the context and which can replace the word or the phrase from the source text. The  translation must be as faithful as possible in order to present exactly the author’s thoughts and ideas, without any outside interference. And, above all, the context is very important.

On the other hand, literature raises real problems to a translator. Here, the ‘artistic-aesthetic equivalence’[3] is the core of the translator’s strategies, as it has to achieve the expressive function of the language, especially in the case of poetry. The translation is centered on the message which should be wrapped in a fine garment. In such cases the translator simply recreates the text[4].

As for the specialized texts, the translator focuses on the information, on the subject. Therefore the translation should be loyal to the original text, trying to avoid any distortion of the message.

‘Non-lexicalization is a source of non-equivalence’. This concept is trying to express that some languages, like Romanian for example, assimilate foreign words and expressions instead of finding them equivalents which designate the same thing. The domain most affected by this phenomenon is the economy with words like: management, marketing, but also IT: software, mouse, and web.

The cultural equivalence plays also an important role in decoding the meaning of the text. According to Hatim and Mason[5], the social context in the translation of a text is a dimension more important than the text’s type.

For instance, in a documentary broadcast on a Romanian television channel, shed kitchen was translated as bucatarie şopron. The translator should have taken into consideration the region the documentary was referring to – Ukraine – as well as the cultural dimension. I believe that the best translation is bucătărie de vară which is a reality in the Blakanic and Eastern European region.

Another problem is raised by the translation of the official positions. For instance, secretary, in the American political system, is the equivalent of a minister in Romania. Therefore, I believe that Defense Secretary is better to be translated Ministrul Apărării, instead of Secretarul Apărării, as is often seen, in order to avoid any confusion in the target reader’s mind.

When the text creates ambiguity, the translator has to visualize it, to see the meaning behind the words. Thus the sub-text plays an important role in translation as any linguistic difficulty is solved at the referential level. [6]

A particular attention must be paid to the semantic relations among words and to synonyms. In case of the polysemantic words, the context plays a very important role. For instance, the word people has several meanings: popor, lume, oameni, familie, a popula. Its translation depends sometimes on a wider context. My people have gone to the cinema. – Ai mei s-au dus la cinematograf.  

The compound words require translator’s special attention as their meaning cannot be deduced from the meaning of each word. For instance man-of-war cannot be translated with om al războiului or  războinic  – but vas de război, blackleg is spărgător de grevă, not picior negru, white stone is granulit, not piatră albă. And the list can go on. 

The polysemy characterizes many English words. For instance, book means carte and inventar, college means colegiu, facultate, universitate or școală superioară, institute, or in British slang răcoare, pârnaie. Here, the context plays again a very important role in selecting the right meaning.

The differences between the American English and the British English are also very interesting. For instance, corn means porumb in the American English, grâu, cereale in British English and ovăz in Scotish. Therefore the translator has to know the origin of the text in order to decode it correctly.

The false friends or (deceptive cognates) are also a particular category which raises difficulties to the translators. Antic  is in Romanian caraghios and not antic, vechi. Genial means plăcut, agreabil, not genial. A bad choice may create hilarity and affect the coherence of the text.

The monolingual false friends can also deceive the translator especially those that suffered a change of meaning through the archaisation of the language. Progress used to mean călătorie  as in The Pilgrim’s Progress  and to ascertain –a consolida (nowadays it means a stabili, a se convinge de). So, the text bears the signs of its time and a translator should have that in mind. 

The selection of a proper equivalent is closely related to the stylistic register as well. Hârțoage has a more stylistic value than hârtii in the case of translating papers .

In the synonymic relation between two languages it is very important to find the most adequate synonym according to the context and to avoid making the mistakes related to grammatical associations/collocations.

Principle of fidelity/ adequacy

Fidelity pertains to the extent to which a translation accurately renders the meaning of the source text, without adding to or subtracting from it, without intensifying or weakening any part of the meaning, and otherwise without distorting it.

The criteria used to judge the faithfulness of a translation vary according to the subject, the precision of the original contents, the type, function and use of the text, its literary qualities, its social or historical context, and so forth.

Nevertheless, in certain contexts a translator may consciously strive to produce a literal translation. Literary translators and translators of religious or historic texts often follow as closely as possible to the source text. In doing so, they often deliberately stretch the boundaries of the target language to produce an unidiomatic text. Similarly, a literary translator may wish to adopt words or expressions from the source language in order to provide ‘local color’ in the translation.

In recent decades, prominent advocates of such ‘non-transparent’ translation have included the French scholar Antoine Berman, who identified twelve deforming tendencies inherent mostly in prose translations, and the American theorist Lawrence Venuti, who has called upon translators to resort to ‘foreignizing’ translation strategies instead of domesticating ones.

There are two main types of translation: free translation and adequate translation. The first type appeared during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and the other one in the nineteenth century. The free translation gives the translator the possibility to intervene as long as the meaning of the text remains the same, and the adequate translation tries to preserve the unity of form and content thus remaining fully faithful to the source text.

One form of the free translation is literary translation. The translator’s task is not to replace one word with another in a different language, but to keep the meaning, the message, the emotions of the text. That is the reason a translator is considered to be a creator of the text.

The principle of fidelity is strict but the translator has the liberty to choose, to select the adequate words or phrases..

c) Principle of economy

  The principle of economy consists in the idea that the target text can’t be longer than the source text.

The translator has to be short, precise, but to reproduce enough information so that the meaning of the sentence or text should be the same. If it is too short, the text could be ambiguous. So the translator should always choose the shortest variant paying attention, at the same time, to the quality and fidelity of the text.

However, this principle cannot be always observed because of the lack of quantitative bilingual equivalence. For instance, to underproduce cannot be translated in Romanian through only one word but several – a produce într-o cantitate insuficientă – extending, thus, the target text.

d) Principle of fluency/ accuracy

The principle of fluency regards that characteristic of the text which makes it compact, organized as a whole not only as a sequence of sentences. Fluency is linked to the coherence standard of the target text.

The sentences in the target text must be correctly and logically linked in order to keep the same message of the source text. Therefore if the source text lacks fluency, it is the translator’s duty to make it accessible and easier to understand.

The political speeches are a good example of lack of accuracy as it uses many words without saying anything. The translation of such a text should focus on rendering the main idea, making it less ambiguous.

e) The principle of relevance

The principles of relevance applies to every translated text since it practically defines the communication act since “to communicate is to claim an individual’s attention; hence, to communicate is to imply that the information communicated irelevant`.[7]

Sperber and Wilson’s relevance theory is nowadays considered as one of the most influential models within the field of pragmatics. The relevance theory emphasizes the fact that there is a difference between what we say and what we mean, between the abstract semantic representations of sentences and the particular interpretations of statements. Relevance theory is based on the assumption that a person will make the effort to process a statement if he/she considers it to be relevant, i.e. to be able to change or improve his/her knowledge, perception of the environment.

Therefore, no translation would be encouraged and proliferate nowadays unless it was expected to have an impact on the intended target readers. A translator has to convey exactly the most important ideas as an avalanche of information bores the reader and makes him lose his interest in the text. At the same time it is important not to loose significant pieces of information while translating. If the translator gives a different meaning to the text by adding irrelevant ideas which have nothing to do with the source text, then the translation failed.

[1] NIDA, E., (1984). On translation, Translation Publishing Corp. Beijing

[2] KOLLER, W. (1979), Introduction to Translation Science, Einführung in die  Übersetzungswissenschaft, Quelle & Meyer, Heidelberg

[3] KOLLER, W., (1979), Introduction to Translation Science, Einführung in die  Übersetzungswissenschaft, Quelle & Meyer, Heidelberg

[4] The philosophical work of Lucian Blaga who created a completely new philosophical system is not properly known abroad because of its metaphorical language that makes the translation very difficult. However, the translators succeeded in translating it especially in French and Italian.

[5] HATIM, B., and MASON, I., (1990) Discourse and the Translator, Longman, London

[6] NEWMARK, P., (1988), A Textbook of Translation, Prentice Hall, Longman ELT, London

[7] SPERBER, D., WILSON, D.,(1995) Relevance; Communication and Cognition, Blackwell, Oxford