Posts Tagged ‘Russian’

An interesting shop sign in Ljubljana

June 5, 2018

DSCN0323.JPG

At first sight, this sign has two points of interest.  It turns out that trg pronounced ˈtə́rk is just square, like torv in Danish say or torg [trade] in Russian–trade happens in a square.

It does seem at first glance that GERM is an unfortunate woman’s surname though… 

On further investigation, we find that Germ is a Slovenian surname, but the less-worrying echt-Slovene form is Grm (grm being Slovene for bush), which may have arisen from somebody localising the German surname Busch: https://www.dnevnik.si/1042412578

Gosh, how exciting!

On a less happy note, the mention of Danish led a friend to point out that Sick is a surname there.  A site devoted to German surnames says that was originally the same kind of thing as Siggi, a nickname derived from the root Sieg/victory: http://www.deutsche-nachnamen.de/index.php/herkunft-a-z and it’s common in Schleswig-Holstein, which is next to DK.

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Some resources for Russian translators (and other interested parties)

February 3, 2018
lubensky
Robert Chandler writes as follows:

I am sending out a message I keep on my computer and send out now and again.  

The most important [resources] are in bold!


1.  Michelle Berdy’s THE RUSSIAN WORD’S WORTH (GLAS) is brilliant.
  

Michelle is an American who has lived in Moscow for the last 25+ years.  This collection of her articles about translation problems is elegantly written and very funny.  Few people know more than her about Russian life and the difficulties many Westerners face as they try to understand it.

2. Sophia Lubensky, RUSSIAN-ENGLISH DICTIONARY OF IDIOMS REVISED EDITION (Yale Univ. Press, JAN 2014).

Truly outstanding – and a fantastic bargain given the many, many years of work that have gone into it.
An earlier version can be found here:
Idioms: http://phraseology_ru_en.academic.ru/
Большой русско-английский фразеологический словарь. — М.: ACT-ПРЕСС КНИГА. С.И. Лубенская. 2004.

3. Cardinal Points  (a literary journal which I co-edit)

http://www.stosvet.net/stosvet_eng.html
You will find my article about translating Kapitanskaya dochka here. And I esp. recommend Stanley Mitchell’s moving essay (his ONEGIN, by the way, is  superb). 

 

4.  Anna Wierzbicka, Semantics, Culture, and Cognition: Universal Human Concepts in Culture-specific Configurations (brilliant book comparing words like ‘fate’,’soul’ etc across different cultures)

5. Boris Akunin’s witty and informative lecture
on translating in theSoviet Union: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_8ME1aAaEV0

6. A good resource for contemporary Russian language: 
http://www.bash.im/
http://tinyurl.com/n9s9ryh

7.  A FEW Online dictionary sites:

http://www.gramota.ru/slovari/dic/ is brilliant (Clare Kitson recommends it highly!).
http://www.lexilogos.com/english/russian_dictionary.htm
http://slovco.ru/
http://multitran.ru/c/m.exe?a=1
http://www.ruscorpora.ru/
http://www.linguee.com/
http://dic.academic.ru/  Gives results from monoling dicts & quotes from books and films

The Russian Grammatical Dictionary
http://seelrc-iis.trinity.duke.edu/russdict/

Morphological dictionary:  http://starling.rinet.ru/cgi-bin/morphque.cgi?flags=endnnnn

8. Journals interested in publishing translated work:

http://www.pen.org/journals-seeking-work-translation

9.  Two outstanding books, both by by Genevra Gerhart & Eloise M. Boyle:

The Russian’s World: Life and Language 
The Russian Context: The Culture Behind the Language


10. Most important of all – here are some excellent email forums, both open to everyone:

http://seelangs.wix.com/seelangs#!howsubscribe/cee5

If you would like to join the UK-based
russian-literary-translation-network@googlegroups.com
then you should write to Anne Marie Jackson
 
And, to join the ETN (Emerging Translators’ Network), write to Roland Glasser

11.  The translator George Butchard adds: 
dtSearch, an excellent free resource:
https://dtsearch.com/
You can create searchable indexes of all your documents, so if you’ve
got a sense that you’ve come across a word/phrase before but can’t
quite remember where, you can easily track it down.
 
12. Museum of Russian Icons iconography glossary:
 http://www.museumofrussianicons.org/pdf/JournalOfIconStudies/IconTerms2014Opt.pdf

13.   All thick Russian journals in one place:
http://magazines.russ.ru/

And a collection of fiction and nonfiction texts:
http://postnonfiction.org/narratives/
14.  THE PENGUIN BOOK OF RUSSIAN POETRY:  
this site gives the Russian texts of all poems not under copyright:

https://pbrp.wordpress.com

The War Has Not Yet Started, Southwark Playhouse 18 January

January 20, 2018
war_one

Picture from British Theatre Guide

This £12 preview had a large and enthusiastic audience–perhaps the actors were famous or something?  They were certainly very very good, and there was at most one early-run fluff that I noted.

Someone in the audience had pointed out that the programme didn’t tell you what the play was about, though there was some suggestion it was connected with war as a metaphor for human relationships.  Then the set was specifically enough a late-Soviet flat though the action of the twelve separate scenes, all with different characters and situations, seemed to be taking more or less in the present.   References to presentations and clients seemed to fix the period, while a character in the first scene drinking vodka and then beer to get calm determined the locale closely enough.

And you could see that war was somehow present in most of the scenes, although the couple copping off at the party and then him saying she was his first and only one might be difficult to fit into that.  And also the robot with an absurdity implant waiting to see the doctor.  The scenes at the beginning did recall actors doing improvisation exercises, which was all very clever but did they need an audience?  Interest did however grow as the evening went on.

A critic on the 172 bus afterwards said she liked the way the women played men and the man played women.  I think that wherever possible Sarah Hadland played a man and Mark Quartley played a woman, while Hannah Britland was not so typecast.  But it did seem to me her T-shirt was artfully billowed to disguise pregnancy–of the woman not of a character–, and so I was frankly terrified during a scene that threatened domestic abuse.

Now then, in his local media  playwright Mikhail Durnenkov gave a very straightforward interpretation of the play–it was meant to fix the period of its writing, when preparations for war were apparent and Russians were subjected to ceaseless propaganda.  That gave rise to incomprehension, hatred and violence in ordinary life.  The play was written with love for humanity and in the hope that Russia would not fall into the waiting abyss. To me that all makes sense:  the inbreaking of war, and rumours of war, result in dislocations–violent dislocations–of everyday life.

And also of sex roles, which might well be more of a shock in Russia than here.  The original text says that the thing is meant for three actors who can play the different characters without regard to age and sex.  Personally I would have gone for masks and probably a chorus as well.  With regard to that text, the translation was more in the line of an adaptation–the original robot just had an absurdity module, while from Thursday I remember an implant, between the second and third vertebrae.  A lot of the dialogue had also been normalised from the demotic and individual to general speech of educated people as well.

Certainly a lot to think about!

Are there any good Russian words in English?

October 26, 2017

Bistro

That is a question I have often asked myself over the decades.  Russian words in English tend to fall into two categories:

i)  specifically Russian/Soviet referents:  tsar, rouble, Gulag, commissar, perestroika, glasnost, vodka, cosmonaut [Russian spaceman], sputnik [Russian satellite], samovar and so on

ii) terms with a negative connotation:  Gulag, commissar, ukase, pogrom, [actually maybe this is not a separate category].

So what might there be that is neither Russian nor pejorative?

It seems hard to derive bistro from быстро on chronological grounds, whatever the sign above might say.

Sable

The sable is tenné, not sable

Sable, as well as being an animal that lives in Russia and Poland is a highfalutin term for black as used by Shakespeare among others.  There are a lot more соболь in Russia than there are soból in Polish, but Poland is nearer.  Intelligentsia with that kind of spelling looks Russian rather than Polish (inteligencja) and the concept itself is just foreign rather than specifically Russian.

I quite like the word bolshie as a candidate here.  While it is clearly derived from Bolshevik (so Russian rather than Polish) it has no trace of Russianness attached to it and indeed has a semi-affectionate diminutive quality.  While the meaning of ‘difficult, recalcitrant, uncooperative’ may not seem especially positive, to the English mind these are not necessarily bad qualities–it may be different elsewhere, of course…

Agonising death

October 19, 2017

minsk1

My attention was caught by this Belarusian cigarette packet on the streets of South London, probably by the word ‘Minsk’ in Latin script.I suspect that is what the Belarusian consumer would notice too. We also have ‘Superslims’ in English and a customs stamp which makes it all look all right, and then an emaciated photograph resembling an X-ray with ‘Agonising death’  written on it in Russian, which probably also counts as prestigious in Belarus.

minsk2

The other side has ‘agonising death’ in Belarusian and ‘Minsk’ in Cyrillic characters together with ‘Superslims’ once again in English, which is of course were the prestige is. Apart from that, catastrophic warnings tend not to work because the addressee smokes a packet of cigarettes, does not drop dead, in fact feels perfectly OK, and then starts to discount them more and more until it’s too late.

A pretty comprehensive example of ineffective tobacco control I would say–I wonder how much tax they collected from it…

What to read in English?

October 4, 2017
171004books2

Concision against contemporaneity

We are sometimes asked what books (novels) it is worth reading in English by those studying or teaching the language.

We once shared our thoughts on this subject with students in Perm, and on the basis of ten years’ book club experience.  The criteria employed were:

Interest:  you ought to want to read the book for its own sake

Accuracy:  please use the English language precisely and don’t just spread words over the page

Britishness:  rather than American-ness, translations or indeed science fiction.  It should show language in use to describe something recognisably British

Contemporaneity:  and not language and mores of the 19th century

Concision:  it gives you a feeling of achievement to say ‘I have read X [a short book]’ rather than ‘I have read some of Y [a long book’.

We give below the books recommended on that occasion, together with some further comments.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (C. S. Lewis; Лев, колдунья и платяной шкаф)

Both a children’s fantasy story and a work of Christian apologetics, this book gets a great deal into a very few words.  It is also one of those books that everyone has read as children and so forms part of the general stock of common knowledge and allusions.  The last time I read it, I was struck by how much it was infused by the spirit of English medieval literature–which was Lewis’s academic speciality–commingling the Christian and the pagan-fantastical.

Stump (Niall Griffiths)

Describes the lives of ex-drug-addicts and small-time criminals with wonderful precision and focus.  A rather different world from the one you often meet in novels.  At his best, Griffiths makes you feel what it would be like to live with no skin and no defences.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (Mark Haddon) Что случилось с собакой ночью/Марк Хэддон)

The world as seen through the eyes of a boy with…autistic spectrum disorder…or a predilection for mathematics.  Very precise language and also defamiliarisation–he sees and experiences things but doesn’t know what they mean or why they happen, in the same way that a foreigner doesn’t.  You also get some value out of your familiarity with the Sherlock Holmes stories.

Restless (William Boyd)

Describes a relatively unknown aspect of WWII–the struggle to bring the USA in or keep it out.  Again, the language is very clear and the descriptions of what one would do or need to do in various extreme situations very precise.  You can amuse yourself wondering where the heroine’s surname comes from.

Skin Lane (Neil Bartlett)

It is 1967 and Mr F goes every day from his flat in South London to work as a furrier in the city.  Then he begins to dream of a naked young man.  At the end, he has become Mr Freeman and this book is pure literary magic.

Troubles (J. G. Farrell)

I’m not so sure about this one now.  It’s rather long, and there were an awful lot of novels in the 1970s that offered various metaphors for the collapse of British Rule (in Ireland in this case).

Brooklyn (Colm Toibin)

A young woman goes from Ireland to America and back in the early 1950s.  Very economical evocations of ordinary life, together with tactful application of symbolic realism, and he gets the words right!  Then again, the background of drearily prospectless lower middle class life in the back of beyond, alleviated by the prospect of emigration, was all too familiar to me.

The Night Watch (Sarah Waters; Ночной дозор, Сара Уотерс)

Combines hyper-realistic descriptions of women’s lives during and after wartime with reverse chronology and a truly terrifying backstreet abortion, and also ensures you get god value from your knowledge of Shakespeare.  In many ways, an instantiation of what the contemporary English novel is.

 

How popular is Russian in the UK?

October 2, 2017

171002russnumb

The table above gives the numbers of people studying for examinations at various levels.  The school examination numbers refer to the numbers of entries as given on the JCQ site while the ‘Degree’ figures refer to first-year full-time students doing first degrees, as on the HESA site.  Here, in the ‘Degree’ column, we have assigned all of ‘Russian and East European Studies’ to Russian and all of ‘Modern Middle Eastern Studies’ to Arabic.

The table below gives the same data expressed in terms of ranks.

171002russrank

We see that Russian ranks between 5th and 9th, depending on the particular stage we are looking at.

From a slightly different angle,  British Council report Language Trends 2014 gives the percentage of schools in the state and independent sector where particular languages are taught at any level (including non-examination/extra-curricular) as below:

171002anylevel

Taking account of proportion of the total school population in independent schools, we might estimate that about 7% of children attend schools with some provision for Russian.

We can then ask what the position Russian ought to hold. A British Council report on Languages for the Future dating from 2013 gives as below in  terms of importance for Britain:

britcosum

So Russian may be about as popular as it ought to be.  We will not venture an opinion as to whether the same holds for the popularity of Russia.

Why did I tear myself away from you before it was time?

September 29, 2017

iliad6

So now I’m worrying about the remark in Barbara Graziosi’s edition of Iliad 6 that Mandel’shtam describes the encounter between Hector and Andromache from Andromache’s point of view in the following line:

‘Why did I tear myself away from you before it was time?’ (the translation is by Nina Kossman).

We can perhaps believe that Andromache did the tearing:

ἄλοχος δὲ φίλη οἶκον δὲ βεβήκει
ἐντροπαλιζομένη, θαλερὸν κατὰ δάκρυ χέουσα. [Il 6.495-6]

though she was of course just doing what Hector told her to:

ἀλλ᾽ εἰς οἶκον ἰοῦσα τὰ σ᾽ αὐτῆς ἔργα κόμιζε
ἱστόν τ᾽ ἠλακάτην τε, καὶ ἀμφιπόλοισι κέλευε
ἔργον ἐποίχεσθαι: πόλεμος δ᾽ ἄνδρεσσι μελήσει
πᾶσι, μάλιστα δ᾽ ἐμοί, τοὶ Ἰλίῳ ἐγγεγάασιν.  [Il. 6 490-4]

so who was really doing the tearing is not so clear to us.

But in the Russian original the speaker has to be a man: Зачем преждевременно я от тебя оторвался! and the same holds true in Italian translation:  Perché mi sono separato da te prima che fosse tempo?

It could just be a misprint [Andromache ~ Hector], or more interestingly it’s what Andromache thought Hector should have thought, which would be atypical either for Mandel’shtam or for lyric poetry in general.

Rather than a misprint, the mistake is surely the idea that the poem is about Troy rather than about Mandel’shtam’s own experience. Mikhail Gasparov investigates this point rather systematically and concludes that the speaker cannot be any Greek or Trojan, not even Paris in relation to Oenone.

So perhaps it was a misprint, but the intended meaning was wrong as well…

 

Teaching important languages

September 26, 2017
bricolong

British Council ordering

As we have seen, the British Council report Languages for the Future gives a priority ordering of languages as above.

The question then is how this matches up with what is actually taught.  A further British Council report Language Trends 2014 gives the percentage of schools in the state and independent sector where particular languages are taught.

stateschoolang

Languages taught in state schools

indscholang

Languages taught in independent schools

We see that there is no particular sign of Arabic becoming widespread, nor even of Chinese doing so(though that is more common). We presume that ‘Arabic’ is Modern Standard Arabic in all cases and that ‘Chinese’ is Mandarin unless otherwise stated.

We can also look at the numbers of people studying for examinations at various levels.

exam_table

Numbers studying for various examinations

Here, the school examination numbers refer to the numbers of entries as given on the JCQ site while the ‘Degree’ figures refer to first-year full-time students doing first degrees, as on the HESA site.  Here, in the ‘Degree’ column, we have assigned all of ‘Russian and East European Studies’ to Russian and all of ‘Modern Middle Eastern Studies’ to Arabic.

We can try putting these various activities on a common footing by giving them a weighting based on the amount of time in years they take up (taking account of subsidiary languages/subjects for the Degree column).

weightings

Table of weightings

We would then like to compare the input for various languages with their importance according to the British Council report.  There is no obvious common unit of measurement between these two things, so it seems safest just to compare the rank of the languages according to these two measures. The table below refers.

comparison

Comparison of importance according to British Council with resource input, by ranks

On this crude basis, Arabic (especially), Portuguese and Turkish are under-provided, while Polish (heritage speakers) and the traditionally-taught languages French and German may be relatively over-provided, along with Italian.

But if you were just interested in studying languages and wanted to know which ones would be most profitable, the obvious course would be to do Spanish at school–which seems quite possible these days–and then Spanish & Portuguese at university..

Which foreign languages are most useful?

September 25, 2017

booktranslations_v1

The picture above (from the WEF site) gives one answer in terms of the most influential languages as reflected by book translations.  There seem to be definite nodes at English, French and Russian, then less clear ones at Dutch, German and Chinese.  But it is hard to give an exact interpretation of this figure, or indeed the other ones displayed at the same place.

Otherwise, the Internet reveals a number of attempts at weighting-and-ranking:

BRITISH COUNCIL

A British Council report on Languages for the Future dating from 2013 takes account of 1. current UK export trade 2. the language needs of UK business 3. UK government trade priorities 4. emerging high growth markets 5. diplomatic and security priorities 6. the public’s language interests 7. outward visitor destinations 8. UK government’s International Education Strategy priorities 9. levels of English proficiency in other countries 10. the prevalence of different languages on the internet and their table of English proficiency by country is quite interesting:

engprof

From the point of view of importance to Britain, they give a ranking of:

britcosum

This may well be the answer from the British perspective!

WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM

A further study (2016) from the WEF considers languages under the criteria of 1. Geography: The ability to travel 2. Economy: The ability to participate in an economy 3. Communication: The ability to engage in dialogue 4. Knowledge and media: The ability to consume knowledge and media 5. Diplomacy: The ability to engage in international relations and comes up with the following results:

powerlang

LIST 25

List25 gives a list of the world’s 25 most influential languages as of 2014, where the rankings are not just done according to how many people speak the language. Of course this is taken into consideration but so is how many people speak it as a second language, its impact on global commerce and trade, and its lingua franca status around the world.

They have some nice maps, for instance for French:

french

and come up with a ranking of 1. English 2. French 3. Spanish 4. Arabic 5. Mandarin 6. Russian 7. Portuguese 8. German 9. Japanese 10. Hindustani (Hindi/Urdu) 11.  Malay…

CBI

Meanwhile, the CBI Skills Survey for 2017 gives the following:

skillsurvey

So, English is clearly the most important/useful/influential language of all times and peoples, and we will set it aside in what follows.

Using the British Council rankings as a starting point, we can summarise the results as below, where languages outside the British Council list are ranked by number of occurrences and then average ranking where listed:

britco1

Or we can apply the same procedure for all of the languages that occur more than once without privileging the British Council rankings, so that we rank first by number of occurrences and then average ranking where listed:

britco2

So, the world’s second most important language might be French, Spanish or Mandarin.  In fact, the top 5 for the British Council and the combined ranking have the same laguages, if not quite in the same order:  French, Spanish and German (the languages most widely taught in British schools) together with Mandarin and Arabic (rarer and more challenging, one might say).