Gaps and Its Measures in Translation Studies

 Ashok Sapkota*


Translation is a bilingual activity. It has a long history and tradition. The role of the translator is to play with the text in other languages or in the same variety maintaining the flavor, pleasure and color of the original. This article presents an overview of translation process as an approximation between the source language text and the target language text along its brief theoretical orientation. It illustrates translation in current scenario highlighting the different types of gaps that lie between the two texts and focuses on some of the measures for compensating those gaps. 

Key words: Source language, target language, gaps, equivalence

Translation has a long history and tradition, but the way in which translation has been dealt with has often changed over time, influenced by the literary, linguistic, historical and philosophical background. Translation is a bilingual activity and involves at least two languages: source language and target language. The term language incorporates innumerable elements of language. This is why specific term ‘text’ is used instead of language i.e.; ‘source text’ or ‘target text’ is used instead of language. The language from which we translate is source language and the language in which we translate is target language. A piece of information is termed as ‘text’ if it is converted from one written into other written ones, then it is (written) translation but if it involves converting spoken form one language to another; it is known as interpretation. Translation is very broad in the sense that is may be used in oral or in written form. It may be between the languages either without orthographic system and it may also be written the same language. For example: translating English text into Nepali (inter-lingual) and translating from one dialect to another or translating old English into modern English (intra-lingual).

Translation has been defined variously by various scholars in the different era. Some of the definitions laid upon translation by different scholars can be dealt here with critical analysis.  According to Wilss (1982, p. 112) translation is a procedure which leads from a written SLT to an optionally equivalent TLT and requires the syntactic, semantic, stylistic and test- pragmatic comprehension by translation of the original test. Here, he focuses on the comprehension at different levels such as syntactic, semantic, stylistic and test-pragmatic comprehension of translated text to the original. Similarly, in the ideas of Newmark (1981, p 7) translation is a craft consisting in the attempt to replace a written message or statement in one language by the same message or statement in another language. Here, he focuses on the message transfer. Likewise, translation is the general term referring to the transfer of thoughts and ideas from one language (source) to another (target) whether the language have established orthographies or do not have such standardization is based on signs, as within sign language of deaf in the view of Richard Brislin (1976). Linguistically, Catford (1965) defines translation as the process of replacing the tested materials of language by equivalent materials in another.

Here, number of definitions shows that no single definition is complete and tension between formal and dynamic equivalent is always present. It should be more in the sense but less in syntax. Thus, A single definition does not and cannot apply to poetry to prose time to tie with the change in situation and use of translation. However, all above ideas presented over the ground of translation can be summarized as translation is explicitly concerned with the mediation between two languages or dialects mostly in written form and tries to maintain a high degree of proficiency if possible without losing the meaning of the original.

Looking translation studies through the global lenses, some neutral terms such as ‘decomposition’ and ‘re-composition’ (Nida,1964), ‘deverbalizing’ and ‘reverbalizing’ (Wilss,1982) ‘deterritoralization’ and ‘reterritorization (Johnson,1992), ‘deconstruction’ and reconstruction’ (Derridean maxims Venuti, 1992a)   (as cited in Bhattarai (2000, p.3) are being used for translation. It denotes that the use reflects the ‘communicative intention or sense’ more by which pigeon holding is relegated and the translation is relegated and the translator is given greater liberty. The translation tries to maintain ‘sense equivalence’ which includes “denotative” and ‘connotative’ and extra linguistic knowledge supposed by the author. Flipping the pages of history on the glance of its growth, in 1963, Otto Kade introduced the term translation, covering both translation and interpretation (Riccadi, 2002, p.7). The goal of this discipline was first laid down in a manifesto by Andre Lefevere in 1978. (Bryam , 2010, p.640) but the name ‘Translation Studies’ was conceived by Holmes in 1972 with three branches of descriptive, theoretical and applied translation studies. (Riccardi, 2002,p.2). Wilss (1999, p.181) identifies three basic trends that have affected the profession since the beginning of the 1990s: globalization, specialization and technologization.  It is important to mention here that in the same decade translation was established as separate discipline which was a branch of applied linguistics in the earlier decades.

Therefore, translation is like a stabilizer between languages, mediation between two people their culture and their civilization separated by time or space, so the excess of one language has to leveled and balanced when put into another, although it is quite challenging. Perfect equivalence is neither achievable nor should it be the aim of translating. In this regard, Crystal (1999, p.346) views that the exact equivalence is of course impossible: no translator could provide a translation that was a perfect parallel to the source text, in such respects as rhythm, sound symbolism, puns, cultural allusions. Such a parallel is not even possible when paraphrasing within a single language there is always some loss of information. As Halliday, acknowledges, it only an approximation. Thus, translation may not be the exact replica of source text to target one. However, it can only relay to near to the text i.e. approximation. According to Nida (1964), ”…since there is nothing like identical equivalent, the translator should seek close-set possible equivalents.”

The concept of equivalents in 1970’s and 80’s was severely criticized and began losing its charm and in some cases people started to reject its concept totally.  They believed that the concept of equivalence is purely subjective, abstract and impossible, it cannot be verified. They believed that the concept of equivalence was fruitless to think as the requirement. By analysing above explanation from various angles and to the ideas presented by various eminent scholars; Translation is not an exact but an approximation. The concept of approximation needs to be further elaborated with the concept of gaps in translation and its measures.

Gaps in translation

Gaps refer to the absence of the message in the translated text. Any text is a combination of its culture and depends upon the context in which it is used. Gaps are also called lacunaes, blank spaces, slippages, absences and voids. In translation, gaps are said to be a common factor. The best role of any translator is to minimize the gaps in the translated text. There are various aspects in language that affects the ground of translation where the translated text may not be the true replica of source text neither gives pleasure, flavor or colour of source text. In general, the following gaps can be taken into consideration.

Philosophical gap

It is more or less similar to linguistic gap. From the philosophical point of view, it is claimed that the meaning of an utterance of one language is not perceived exactly by the hearer or reader of another language. The meaning of an utterance largely depends on the time, place, context and other extra linguistic features. Any text is grounded with a kind of philosophical thought. If we cannot give the exact meaning of the text the translation is not worth doing.

2) Literary gap

Each language varies in its literary way. Most of the languages have got rhymes, rhythms. For example: ‘Nepali literature’ has many ‘chhanda-bindu’ as punctuation marks which cannot be found into English. Muna-Madan into English, will lose its original characteristics, aesthetic beauty and flavor in the statements if it is translated as Romeo and Juliet as in the name of giving English flavor and maintaining gender equivalence in English language. It is easier to translate from a sister language but from literary point of views translation is impossible from distant language. Translating a text can be a compromise to an extent but mainly poems, the source language may lose rhyme, rhythm melody and musicality verification etc. Nowadays, people started looking this gap from the feminist eyes in translation. They try to maintain a single gender in translation.

3) Psychological gap

We feel that one form of graphological system is rendered into another language. While translating a text into another we change graphology grammar and  other elements in linguistic system. By doing this we feel comfortable. When a reader reads a translated text, he should not feel something as missing (message) in the text. However, there is a psychological gap in the transliterated text. Lets consider the following example:

e.g. (from Nepali to English text)

dhanle :           with wealth.

manlee :           with mind.

Here, there lies a psychological gap which leads to fetishism. In Fred’s words ‘the root of untranslatability is due to the author’s ego’.

4) Linguistic gap

It is supposed that, two different languages have different grammar, phonetic system in terms of vocabulary. Each language is unique in itself. The words which are common in one language may not exist in another.

For example: In Nepali, we don’t have equivalent from of ‘English phrase’ ‘holy kiss’. Similarly, it is difficult to find the equivalent word in English; of Nepali word ‘tuppi’ and ‘janai’. These words have very religious and cultural value. This concept of untranslatability in terms of linguistic gap of translation can be connected with the idea of famous Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. It claims that ‘We dissect the nature laid down by our native languages’. Linguistic gap can be found at different levels of language. They are: Linguistic gap in phonological level (sound level), linguistic gap at lexical level (word level), linguistic gap at graphological level.

These levels of gaps are deeply rooted in linguistic determinism hypothesis which strongly claim that languages determines thought and shapes reality. In this way translation from one language to another, is completely impossible.

5) Cultural gap

Culture is the mirror of a society and the people of a particular society. Sometimes, it is taken as a barrier between the two texts.  Language is an expression of culture and individuality of its speakers. It influences the way people perceive the world. There lies cultural gap between source language and target language. Primarily, language reflects a culture and culture becomes a barrier while translating literary texts. Cultural and religious values are so attached with the language that it is very difficult to deduce the meaning apparently unless we are well acquainted with its culture.

Many festivals, life styles, cultural occasions according to different castes and religious are prominent in literary works. For example: In Nepali language ‘puran-lagaunu’ ‘ ‘saptaha lagaunu’ ‘teej’ ‘Kuse-Aausi’ are deeply intricate with Nepali culture and social life. While these are translated into another language, they will give vague meaning whatever circumlocutions or footnote we use. It is never genuinely perceived by the people of English speaking culture.

Thus, from above explanation and illustration it can be pointed out that exact translation of any source text is impossible, but approximation can be possible.

Techniques used in Translating a Text

In translation studies, we have various techniques of translating a text from one language to another however it is difficult to get absolutely perfect techniques in translation. There are some other ways or measures or techniques which provide an appropriate examples or evidences besides translation being an approximation, they are;

  • Borrowing / Transliteration

It is one of the common measure to fulfill the gaps in translation. It tries to adopt the SL equivalent words to target language. The term is integrated phonologically and graphologically.  According to Newmark (1981) “…normally names of the people, places and countries, names of newspapers, names of institutions, companies, streets, inventions, brand names, etc. are transferred”. We do not find the equivalent term in the target language, the words are borrowed from source language itself. Specially, words of Science and technology are borrowed. For example: the words in English as ST: e-mail, internet, radio, pizza can be borrowed as imel, redio, pija in Nepali as target text. It tries to give the same meaning to the readers. Sometimes, the phonological variation might be seen however there is less chances to be diverted in the meaning. These words are commonly used by the target readers in their daily life.

2)         Addition

Addition is another tool to bridge the gaps in translation to make the readership clear and to clarify the term by adding information.  When some explanations in the source language text are left unsaid or cannot convey the intended meaning, the translator intends to convey the supplementary message by appropriate elaboration which is known as addition or elaboration technique. Addition is also called as grammatical expansion for clarity of meaning. The translator adds some extra information to make the text more clear. No doubt it may make the text quite lengthy however, the message in TL becomes clear.

For example:

Source language text (Nepali)                 Target Language Text (English)   

Maile mobil bat Khabar Paye                  I got message from mobile

3)   Lexical Creation

When we find a new expression or words frequently being used in the target language, we try to coin word equivalence by creating a lexical item. But there lies a confusion, instead of using the words from source text. The readers may not perceive in the same way as the original readers of the source language perceive. There lies a psychological gap.  It is use the word from the target language, there is quite difficult to get meaning over translated words for readers, i.e; general readers.

For example:

English Language             Nepali Language

e-mail                          –           bijuli patra

computer                     –           susankya yantra

network                       –           Karyajlo

Communicative           –           natejhola

interaction                   –           anterkriya

volley ball                    –           hate bhakundo

4)   Substitution

While translating the text, the different items of a language can be translated as a same variety in other language which cannot give the flavor of the items. Source language text is substituted by equivalent text or linguistic item to fulfill the gap in target language. Translator should be very much concern with the lexical item and its meaning of ST with the equivalent meaning of it in target text. In case of cultural terms, source cultural terms are replaced by similar equivalent or generic words in the target language.

For example:

Nepali Language                                 English Language

Dura                                                    Shirt

Surwal                                                 Trousers

Tokari, dalo, doko, kharpan                basket

aamkhora, bela, Lota                          jug

When we use this technique, it may not replicate the exact equivalence and there may still remain linguistic gap as in the above example. So, in this regard we need to give footnotes for further clarification.

  • Literal translation

It is a common way to compensate gaps. Literary work requires a sensitive consideration of form as well as content, and may prompt several translations, each of which emphasizes a different aspect of the original. It may not reflect the flavor of original and reflect the flavor or original. It is called as one to one translation. The translator aims to translate one word to one word or one phrase to other phrase maintaining both lexis and grammar. It is quite difficult to maintain the semantic equivalence at all the cases It can bridge linguistic as well as cultural gap.

For example: Black board (English)   as Kalopati  (Nepali)

  • Definition

Defining particular terminology makes intangible to its user. It makes the text/ linguistic items transparent. It clarifies the words that are not equivalent to the words in both languages.

For example: Christmas in English language can be made equivalent with Dashain in Nepali language but it needs further clarification to make the readers clear about the concept.

  • Recognized Translation

It depends upon the knowledge of translation.  Recognized translation substitutes the SLT with a recognized was in TLT.

For example:

Faculty of Education (Engish Source text) as Siksha Sastrya Sankaya  (Nepali Target text)

(9)        Sense Translation

The translator translates the text only by sense. It is not translated by word to word. This technique is also common in translation. It is mostly applicable in the translation of proverbs and idioms.

For example:  kick the bucket (English) as marnu in (Nepali text)

Sometime in metaphor, sense translation may mislead the meaning due to complex structure.

  • Blending

Blending is a translation procedure which is a part of a source language word and is combined with a part of the target language text. There is fusion of words in this type of technique. In linguistics, it is a process found in the grammatical and lexical construction in which two elements normally co-occur according to the rule without a single unit. It naturalizes the translation to target language. Some parts of SL word is used/ combined with a part of TL wood. For example:

Source Language (English)                   Target Language (Nepali)

Waist coat                                                  istakot

Huckle berries                                           kren beri

Powder milk                                              pauder dudh

  • Paraphrasing

Paraphrasing is an amplification explanation of the meaning of a segment of the text. It is an extended synonymy and inevitably an expansion and diffusion of SL terms. The translator tries to adopt this procedure when he is unable to find the exact or near equivalent term in target language. The main intend of this technique is to simplify and make the term meaningful although it may be elaborative than the original term.

For example:

Source language text (Nepali)                 Target language text (English)

Sindur                                                        red powder used on the forehead by women at the marriage or after the marriage.

Prasad                                                     edible things which are taken as gracious of the god

Janai                                                          a sacred thread put by Hindu males


In this way there are other several ways such as while defining a particular item, whole omitting item. Sometime there may be some loss in the meaning of the source text. The flavor that the source text has is very hard and challenging to maintain in target text, better to say quite impossible to find in translated text. To sum up, there is not a single way to get the same equivalent meaning of each item in the translated text. Translation should meet the four requirements in general: making sense, conveying the spirit and manner of the original, having a natural and easy form of expression and producing a similar response.

Being meaning a heart of translation, it is essential to note that meaning be should be tried to convey the flavor of text in translated text which is challenging thus by above, from various view point we come to the conclusion that ‘Translation is not an exact but a translator should seek for an approximation of the text in target language’.


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Hatim, B. & Munday, J. (2005). Translation: An advanced resource book. London: Routledge.

Hatim, B. (2001). Teaching and researching translation. London: Pearson Longman.

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Venuti, L. (eds.) (1992a) Rethinking Translation. London: Routeledge.

Wilss, W. (1982) The science of translation: problems and methods. Tubingen: Gunterr narr Verlag.

Wilss, W. (1982). The science of translating: Problems and methods. Tubingen: Gunter Narr Verlag.

(*The author is a faculty at department in English Education, Tribhuvan University, Kirtipur, Kathmandu, Nepal and the former teacher trainer at British Council, life member of NELTA, member; South Asia Teachers Association, ELTECs/U.K. and one of the editor of NELTA ELT Forum)



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