Posts Tagged ‘Russian’

Recommendations for things to read in French

June 9, 2019
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In order of size…that’s the way

Our friend Kseniya is now feeling bored living in Israel.  I suggested that she ought to read some French literature in the original, which would show she was a person of distinction and refinement who had better things to do with her time than look for a job.

So I assembled the items above from my bookshelves, guided by the principles of contemporaneity and concision, with some hope of impossible romance.  (Actually only Le Grand Meaulnes fits that particular bill).

Some discussion on Facebook yielded in addition:

Maupassant, Boule de suif. Or other short stories

But that’s really French literature as she is known in Russia and BdeS relates to a specific juncture of the Franco-Prussian war.  Also Turgenev, Chekhov and Bunin all did the same kind of thing with much greater subtlety and lightness of touch, or better as we simple souls put it.   But on the other hand ‘Misti’ has a cat in it of course and embodies animal cruelty to humans rather than the reverse, which tends to be the case in Maupassant.

I have recently read a few things by Jean-Christophe Rufin with mixed enthusiasm. But the one I’d really recommend, Rouge Brésil, is definitely long!

608 pages, and it looks like the kind of thing that Robert Nye used to turn out by the yard in the 1970s…

How about Beauvoir Le sang des autres?

310 pages!

And from Twitter:

Gaël Faye, Petit Pays (recent winner of the Goncourt des lycéens)

I think our client, as a right-thinking Russian girl, is interested in Metropolitan France, and in particular Paris, and specifically the few particular streets in Paris that all right-thinking Russians dream of.

JMG Le Clézio, L’Africain (Nobel Laureate)

Actually this looks interesting, but it still takes place in Africa (see on Gaël Faye above).

Further suggestions will be more than welcome!

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Ordered by date this time

 

How to make best use of Conversation Exchange?

April 3, 2019

language-exchange

We have been asked give some advice on the use of Conversation Exchange, based on something like 4 years’ experience of Russian-English exchange with 10 or so partners, both in  person and over the Internet.

Clarify objectives

To start off, you should be clear from the beginning what you were looking to get out of the exchange and what exactly you could offer in return.

Control discomfort

It is useful to have defined topics of conversation to avoid either having the same conversation time after time or getting into details of one’s life, thoughts and feelings that one would not necessarily want to share with a stranger or chance acquaintance.  The aim is really to keep a level of linguistic discomfort that helps you to learn things that might not be entirely straightforward.  One way of doing this is to set a target of I am going to learn (say) five new things during this conversation–if you meet your target, it really doesn’t matter how many mistakes you make or how stupid you feel.

Exchange between equals

I think you need either a reasonable level of the target language (I think that the site used to say that you needed Upper Intermediate for conversation to be any good–compare the definitions) or a degree of linguistic sophistication so as to make use of material you didn’t necessarily understand immediately.

It is probably also a good idea to explicitly agree on how long the session is going to last and to split the time so that half of it is spent in language A and half in language B.  There is always a tendency to drift into chatting in the language with the stronger learner (let’s say it’s language A), which of course minimises overall effort but then not speaking to foreigners at all reduces it still further.  So you should have discussion of points in language B and correction of mistakes in language B in language B, to avoid getting into language A as a lingua franca.

There is a tendency for some people to want their conversation partners to teach them language X, which is generally not realistic unless the partner is a language teacher by trade–and if they are, then they ought to be paid for their work.

Politeness and safety

Following the general rules for meeting people on sites of various kinds, you should avoid criticising other people you have met there (because the person you are talking to will fear you criticising them to others) and certainly give it up immediately if what is going on makes you feel uncomfortable at a personal level.  More on this here.

Time matters

There are also a number of practical points, which may apply especially to sessions of Internet contact.  It’s best to have a set time each week, because then you’re subconsciously preparing yourself for it.  It’s very difficult to arrange things on the fly with someone who is essentially a stranger–you don’t know what constraints they are operating under or what their conventions are regarding punctuality.  If you’re dealing with somebody from  another cultural background, while it may be clear to you that at five o’clock means some convenient time before 5:30–how are they meant to know that?

Conversation Exchange, use and abuse

November 21, 2018
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FIGURE 1:  COMPARATIVE M/F INDICATORS BY LANGUAGE SOUGHT

Once my Conversation Exchange partner Kseniya (from the provincial town of X, well-known in 19th century literature) and I discussed the proper use of that resource.  I had some opinions as set out here.

Kseniya felt that these points were of frightening irrelevance. She thought that it was very difficult to find an English speaker who wanted to practise Russian and many of those you did find were in fact just looking for a woman.

I said that there were plenty of sites for that and these days you could surely speak to your intended via Skype on one of those. She had asked one of her undesired contacts about this and he had said that all the women there were crazy. I also said that she could look for female conversation partners, but they were apparently likely to want to talk about clothes and cosmetics.

She asked me why such men were looking for women particularly from Russia or Ukraine.  I said that since I wasn’t one of them I didn’t really know.

Anyway, the aim of the present study is to see whether there is evidence of men looking to use CE specifically to make contact with women from Russia/Ukraine (that is, Russian speakers) rather than to enhance their language skills.

The hypotheses to be tested as indicators of this behaviour were:
i) There is an excess of M over F for ENG->RUS;
ii) This surplus is more marked below Upper Intermediate;
iii) This excess is greater for ENG->RUS than for comparator languages.

Here by ENG->RUS and so on we mean English speakers seeking to exchange with Russian speakers.  From the data at https://wp.me/pBfTB-28k we take Portuguese, Italian, Turkish and Japanese as comparators, because they seem to be languages of similar importance and popularity to Russian among English speakers and also to avoid excessive labour in counting instances.

We give some results below.  (Data was collected on 18/19 November 2018.)

TABLE 1:  NUMBERS OF CE USERS LOOKING TO EXCHANGE ENGLISH FOR RUSSIAN BY SEX AND LEVEL

ENG-RUS via chat M F
Beginner 1205 219
Elementary 276 52
Pre-intermediate 160 41
Intermediate 153 35
Upper intermediate 65 13
Advanced 40 15
Proficient 11 2
TOTAL 1910 377

A comparison of males and females as in Table 1 above certainly showed an excess of males, which is strange in view of the belief that the vast majority of students of modern languages in English-speaking countries are female.  However, this anomalous pattern was repeated for the other languages considered, for instance Italian as in Table 2 below:

TABLE 2:  NUMBERS OF CE USERS LOOKING TO EXCHANGE ENGLISH FOR ITALIAN BY SEX AND LEVEL

ENG-ITA via chat M F
Beginner 675 570
Elementary 332 249
Pre-intermediate 265 154
Intermediate 264 173
Upper intermediate 125 66
Advanced 82 44
Proficient 26 9
TOTAL 1769 1265

Now then, Italian is really only spoken in Italy and Switzerland, so it is hard to see the excess men here all looking for an exploitative relationship with a woman from a poor country.

We can also see from the data above that a great many of the users of CE do not claim to be at a level to make use of it effectively.  But we can compare the difference in the percentage of M and F declaring themselves to be below Upper Intermediate level.  For instance, with regard to those seeking Russian speakers (Table 1), 93.93 % of men assign themselves to a level below UI as opposed to 92.04% of women, a difference of +1.88%, indicating that the men report themselves as less linguistically advanced than the women.  Similarly, the ratio of M to F here is 5.07.

Table 3 below shows these indicators for English speakers seeking the languages indicated:

TABLE 3:  COMPARATIVE INDICATORS OF M/F RATIO AND PERCENT <UI BY LANGUAGE SOUGHT

RATIO PCDIFF
ITA 1.40 -3.76
POR 2.87 -4.71
RUS 5.07 1.88
TUR 2.12 -6.81
JAP 2.23 -2.03

These results are illustrated in Figure 1 above.  We see that by comparison with the other languages considered, those seeking Russian are marked by a large number of men relative to women and a large number of these men assigning themselves to lower levels of proficiency.

To summarise:  this study provides support to the hypothesis that such men were looking for women particularly from Russia or Ukraine.

Красный цвет, “червонность”, и “Смерть Сталина”

September 26, 2018

 

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Данный киноплакат из Любляны (в июне) интересен тем, что:

а) в Словении также издеваются над кириллицей;

б) русский и словенский отличаются от всеж других славянских языков тем, что у них красный цвет никак не червонный.

Tu so barve, po slovensko, angleško in v Sanskrtu. Dodal pa sem še sanskrtske glasoslovne vzporednice (fonetične paralele) z angleškim prevodom: 
Slovensko English Sanskrit // English – Sanskrit
Barva – color varna // to digest – bharv
Bela – white – balakša // power, the sun – bala
Rumena -yellow – hariman // yellow – hariman
Oranžna – orange – naranga varna // orange tree – naranga
Rdeča red – rakta, lohita // growth – rddhi 
Violična (lila) – violet – nila lohita // blue – nila
Modra (plava) blue – nila // sea (swim)-samudra (plava)
Zelena – green -samula // fluid, water – jala
Rjava – brown – kadru // honesty, nobility -aryava 
Siva – grey -dhumra // bright – šveta 
Črna – – black -kršna // powder – čurna

Интересно, спасибо. Думаю, что red/rdeča восходят к праиндоевропейскому корню *h₁rewdʰ-, означающему то же. По каким причнинам русские и словенцы отказались от червей (и от братских славян) в этой связи мне остается неизвестно.

Česky by to šlo napsat jako čer(ven)ná komedie. Černa = black, červená = red. Opravdový český titul je ale “Ztratili jsme Stalin” (We’ve Lost Stalin) se sloganem “Komedie, při které uvidíte rudě” (A comedy which will make you see red).

Смотрел фильм здесь в Лондоне, никак не фигурировал красный цвет. Кажется, что интерес к этой теме возник впервые в Восточной Европе. Не знаю, насколько такая любовь к красному цвету харатерна для всех славян (оставляя в стороне русских).

An interesting shop sign in Ljubljana

June 5, 2018

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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.

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
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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 good value from your knowledge of Shakespeare.  In many ways, an instantiation of what the contemporary English novel is.