Translation is a mathematical problem:An analysis of Chinese-English and English-Chinese word equivalents


  • Herbert Mushangwe Hebei University China


Translation, mathematical, equivalents, Chinese and English


This paper is based on the hypothesis that translation involves some complex mathematical problems some of which are yet to be solved. When translating a word from one language to another language, it is like adding or subtracting some meaning components of the word to come up with an equivalent in the target language. In this paper we used simple mathematical equations and formulae to demonstrate how translators consciously or subconsciously employ mathematical skills to come up with equivalents of words between two or more languages. We used youdao online dictionary to check meanings of basic Chinese proficiency level 3 words. A reverse translation of the equivalents of these words shows that about 90 percent of Chinese basic words do not totally equal to their so called English equivalents. Thus, for the majority of words there is no situation where X is totally equal to Y; that is 【X≠Y】, where X represents a given word in a source language and Y representing a supposedly equivalent word in the target language. We concluded that in most cases inter-language word equivalents takes the formula  X is equal to Y plus or minus Z:【X=Y+ or – Z】, where Z represent extra meaning of a given word which can or cannot be accommodated in X. Even though we came up with this mathematical formula we strongly believe that the human mind is able to solve even more complex mathematical problems during translation, some of these mathematical formulas still await discovery.