It Has to be “Love”, in Pushkin’s ‘To. . .’

Alexander Sergeivich Pushkin

Alexander Sergeivich Pushkin

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

Amused by Language

amused by language

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

My Approach to Translating Russian Prose to English

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. translating Bulgakov Continue reading

Leningrad, by Osip Mandelstam

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. on a canal in Leningrad (St. Petersburg today

Here is my translation:
Osip Mandelstam
(1930) Continue reading

Googlisms- Russian to English

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

Google-translate: original Russian vs Google vs Me

Sentences from Master and Margarita, by Bulgakov, with google-translate’s result (“googlism”), and my translations.


original– Тут безумный расхохотался так, что из липы над головами сидящих выпорхнул воробей.

Google-Translate– Here insane laugh, so that over the heads of lime sitting sparrow fluttered

me– Here the lunatic burst out laughing such that a sparrow perched in the linden above their heads fluttered off. Continue reading

On Literary Translation

I want to write a little about literary translation of Russian to English. I will focus here on how I go about formulating written translation, and what I get out of it. Discussions of particular forms—mainly the novel and verse—and of specific works, will follow in future posts.

Recently I’ve somehow hit on the joy of translation. Its appeal for me is the same as that of word puzzles. But instead of an ordered grid of unrelated words and black squares, the product of cracking a tricky translation is a story, somebody’s brilliant idea, a work of art. Since starting on a translation of a Soviet-era Russian novel, I haven’t touched my Times Crossword app.

Speaking of apps, I love that what twenty years ago would have been a bookshelf full dictionaries and references can fit in my shoulder bag and weigh no more than two pounds. Continue reading