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WARNING: The discussion on this page is about dynamic equivalence (aka: functional equivalence).  Dynamic equivalence assumes language fluency and assumes interpreter knowledge, skill, and ability, so these things are not included in this discussion.  If you are unsure about language or unsure about interpreting, you may find reading about dynamic equivalence to be a challenge (even confusing).  On the other hand, the idea of dynamic equivalence may be just the piece you have been looking for that will put it all together for you.


An interpreter can translate, transliterate, or interpret a source message and still fail to render accessible a dynamically (aka: functionally) equivalent experience.  Attaining dynamic equivalence includes source message interpretation and so much more.

Here's a cartoon that illustrates how sometimes the relationship between words and meaning can sometimes, well, scream out for interpretation <grin>

Cartoon shows words and meaning sometimes not clear.

A dynamically equivalent rendition may or may not bring source language words or phrases into the interpreted message (it might if source language terminology or phrasing is essential to fulfilling the intent of a communicant).  But, word or phrase specificity is only one of many elements that together manifest dynamic equivalence.

So, if dynamic equivalence is not simply language or word/sign choice, then what is it?  Well, it is pretty much - everything else.  It was told to us in much the same way as Eugene Nida, a linguist and the developer of dynamic equivalence Bible translation theory, presented it in his Toward a Science of Translating (1964; italics ours):

Dynamic equivalence occurs when a speaker's effect on an audience is the same among [a] audience members who understand the speaker's language and [b] those who receive the message through interpretation.

We asked some teachers and mentors what all of that meant.  It sounded a little vague, or complex, or nebulous to us (sort of like nailing Jell-O to a wall).  We thought we had simply to be fluent in at least two languages and cultures, and then interpret and mediate them.  After all, if a speaker says "The rent is due tomorrow before noon," and we interpret the fact, and mediate any cultural differences, and so on, we had done our job.  

"Oh, no" some said.  "You also have to interpret the sounds in the room, and outdoors, too.  And, if there are any sidebar chats, you have to interpret those.  And, when people enter and leave, you have to convey that information.  There's a whole lot more to being a practitioner than just rendering the message."  Ho, boy.  Where to begin to slice THIS pie? 

WHAT WE ALREADY KNOW

We learn better and more easily (more lastingly, too) when we can attach new information to something we already know.  So, we decided to take a look at how hearing plays into how we experience an event, and what we might need an interpreter to do in a similar situation should the need arise.

We decided for no particular reason to put ourselves in a conference setting (it could be any setting, we picked a platform setting out of a hat).  We walked ourselves through an event, focusing our attention on information that arrived by way of our sense of hearing.  We analyzed what typically happens and what we typically do with information heard.

It went something like this:

We have decided to attend a panel discussion at a local auditorium.  A favorite author will be among panel members.  The discussion will focus on a subject in which we are especially interested.  We will go with a friend, who shares our enthusiasm for the writer and the topic.  Seats are unassigned so we arrive early and are thrilled to score front-and-center seats.

a.  As we enter the auditorium, we are surprised that it is so quiet; you could hear a pin drop, even though there are a few hundred people already seated;

b.  A few minutes after we settle in, a gentleman (somewhere around the the 47th row) sneezes;

c.  We hear a toddler (immediately behind us!) begin to screech and flail about (apparently, the child wants down and this conflicts with the guardian's wishes);

d.  Someone in the direction of the lobby (not within the auditorium) screams or swoons or something, so we turn to see several people quickly exit the auditorium (apparently in response to what we all had just heard);

e.  Someone (unseen) addresses the auditorium via loud-speaker to say that there is a car improperly parked at the rear entrance, describes the vehicle, and requests that the owner move it;

f.  Again, an announcement: The start of today's program is delayed by about 15 minutes, and there is an explanation as to why;

g.  At last, the program is underway.  During introductions of panel participants, someone from the audience hollers: "My sister adores your books!"  In response, several audience members snicker, and one says, "I'm his sister, and it's true!"  More laughter;

h.  Up in the balcony, off to the right, someone coughs;

i.  During intermission, several people, apparently staff, are approaching some audience members to say that, contrary to what it says in the program guide, there will be a brief question/answer period at the end.  The staff seem to be approaching people at random, inviting them to quickly jot a question or remark for submission to panel members;

j.  As the program resumes, our companion is late in returning to his seat, so misses the answer to a question he had, which he had mentioned during the intermission;

k.  Just as the program is about to end, one of the panel members covers her microphone and says something we couldn't quite make out to the panel member seated to her right;

l.  The program is scheduled to end and closing remarks are being made, questions (previously submitted) are being addressed, and we hear many audience members beginning to speak softly with one another (apparently discussing whether to leave or where the car is parked, things like that).  This is a change; previously the audience had been especially quiet and attentive;

m.  A few minutes later, we hear what sounds like many people beginning to leave - before the program is over.  Now we are starting to think about the long wait to get out of the parking garage, but decide to stay anyway;

n.  Just when the panelists are closing the program, a loud jet zooms overhead and we miss what was probably three or four full sentences.  From the back of the auditorium, someone shouts, "What did you say?" and we give an exaggerated nod (to indicate to the panel that we also missed what was said);

o.  During the applause at the end, we hear clear exuberance coming from the balcony; we turn to see several audience members standing in ovation; and

p.  We decide to remain seated; but, then we hear the audience become especially raucous.  When we look, we see that nearly everyone is rising; or ...

q.  We begin applauding with gusto but immediately notice that applause from the rest of the auditorium is surprisingly weak, unenthusiastic, and brief.  We tone ours down a bit.

RELEVANCE

For us, this exercise clarified that relevance drives dynamic equivalence.  How relevant to us, as audience members, was each piece of information (a through q)?  

After we thought about things in this way, we realized that hearing folks already know what is required for dynamic equivalence; we just hadn't known what interpreters call it.  We already knew what a typical audience member would deem important and relevant because we have been there; done that (many times, and will again).

As interpreters, do we interpret the message?  Of course!  But, more than that, we interpret relevant information - not simply the facts; but, the effect, too.

As a typical audience member, would someone's coughing in a balcony [h] be relevant?  No, probably not.  In the role of interpreter, would we make sure to include it in the interpretation?  Probably not.  As a typical audience member, would we want to know that a toddler was flailing about just behind our head [c]?  You bet!  We would want the opportunity to assess the situation, and to avoid a clobber or a kick. The fact of a flailing tot at the back of someone's head is relevant information, and is interpreted.

SUMMARY

As interpreters we ask ourselves: What information is relevant?  What is not?  Why, or why not?  To facilitate dynamic equivalence, interpreters do more than interpret a message; we interpret what we see or hear that is relevant ... to the situation and communication goals, to a consumer, and to our practice.

Source/Target Message, plus:

ambient sounds
distractions
events

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This page was edited: 09/13/2009
This page has been visited Hit Counter times since: July 21, 2009.
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