In the course of my studies of Russian language and literature, there has long been the enormous, looming figure of Alexander Sergeivich Pushkin (1799-1837), Russia’s most celebrated poet. Thinking it was about time I tried translating some of his work, I turned to a poem that is one of the handful of Russian poems that I have committed to memory (another is Osip Mandelstam’s Leningrad, my translation of which is included in an earlier post). The process of trying to render the poem, К. . . (To. . . ), into English has led me to consider some things about the nature of language and translation. I will write a little about these musings before presenting my translation. Continue reading “It Has to be “Love”, in Pushkin’s ‘To. . .’”
As I was translating a passage from Master and Margarita, it dawned on me that what I was reading was the author’s own reflection on the kinds of changes that Moscow had gone through during the two decades that saw World War I, revolution, the end of Tsarism, the establishment of Communist Party rule, Civil War and the creation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Given what I know of Russian history, I found this little aside in chapter V to be enormously interesting, bold and insightful. Continue reading ““The Old-Timers in Moscow Will Remember! . .””
This post is not so much about my studies of Russia and Russian, but about language in general, and some observations on humorous mistranslations. I could go on about my fascination with language and words, but for the sake of brevity I will try to limit myself here to examples of language gone wrong. I will focus on three categories of bad English, all of which relate to efforts to translate something from another language to English—the first includes the rather quirky results that the web-app Google-translate often produces, which I have already looked at in a previous post, Googlisms- Russian to English; for the next I will give two examples of dubious dictionary definitions; and finally I will look at some of the many hilarious examples of English “translations” of menus, signs, ads, etc. found in non-English speaking countries. Continue reading “Amused by Language”
I want to examine the methods I have developed, to this point, for translating Russian prose to English. As mentioned in an earlier post, I am currently working on a translation of the Soviet-era novel Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov. I will use a single paragraph from this novel to illustrate each step in my process of transforming Russian writing into what I hope is a readable English that accurately and fully captures the meaning and style of the original. Continue reading “My Approach to Translating Russian Prose to English”
“Mother teaches heart phone morgue” is how google-translate renders the seventh line of another glasnost-era Russian pop song that recently caught my attention. I had a Russian radio stream playing as I puttered around the house one day this summer, but wasn’t really paying attention until a repeated line in the chorus of a song grabbed my ear. I stopped what I was doing and thought, did they just sing “Alain Delon speaks French?” In fact, that was exactly what they were singing. I felt the urge to know why a Russian band would record a song about a French actor speaking French. A little research into this song revealed a degree of cultural interconnectedness that I was unaware of in the nineteen eighties when this song was produced in the still existing, and I presumed still closed, society of the Soviet Union.
It turns out that this song–A Look from the Screen (Vzglyad s Ekrana, which google-translate gives as “Sight Screen“)–by the group Nautilus Pompilius, was inspired by, and is even described as a “free translation” of, the song Robert De Niro’s Waiting, by the 80’s British pop band Bananarama. The line repeated in the chorus of the Brit song—”Robert De Niro’s waiting, talking Italian”—becomes, in the Russian song, “Alain Delon is speaking French” (Alen Delon govorit po Frantsuzkiy). Continue reading ““Alain Delon is Speaking French” (in Russian)”
In an earlier post, The “Foreigner”, I wrote about my fascination with finding what looked like a Russian critique of an especially Russian view of outsiders. Much has been made in the Western media recently about attempts by the Putin government to blame domestic political unrest on foreign influence; Notably, the signing of a law in July labeling Russian NGO’s that receive money from abroad as “foreign agents”, and the expulsion in October of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). These actions are described in the West as efforts by the Putin government to curb protests against alleged fraud in recent elections, and to repress dissent generally. I will argue that this reporting is somewhat unbalanced, but first I would like to briefly examine the history of Russia’s approach to the outside world, highlighting some of those things that have contributed to Russia’s reputation in the West as xenophobic and inherently distrusting of foreigners. Continue reading “Russia and the Rest”
The following is a poem by Osip Mandelstam that I translated recently. This poem has particular appeal to me for a number of reasons: it is inspired by a city that I lived in long enough for it to get into my heart, and become a friend; it speaks to the history of the name changes it has gone through in the 20th century-from St. Petersburg, to Petrograd, to Leningrad and back to St. Petersburg; the imagery in this poem is dark, and intimate at the same time.
Here is my translation:
(1930) Continue reading “Leningrad, by Osip Mandelstam”
In a previous post I commented about use of comedy, satire, absurdity and fantasy in Russian literature to mask political or social commentary, and hopefully avoid censorhip. I found in the first chapter of Master and Margarita what could be read as a critique of policies that were at the foundation of the Communist Party’s attempt to realize a socialist/non-capitalist economy in the Soviet Union—the Five Year Plans.
But first a brief overview of the history of Soviet economics: Continue reading “All According to “The Plan””
I am amused, and sort of reassured, when I use Google-translate to try get the meaning of a Russian sentence, and it comes up with something like, “Here insane laugh, so that over the heads of lime sitting sparrow fluttered.” Usually one can sort of see the meaning of the original in the translation generated by Google, but often only on a basic level. Continue reading “Googlisms- Russian to English”