English Structure vs Russian Translation Term Paper

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English Structure vs. Russian Translation

This report is about the structure of the English and Russian languages as they pertain to the unique skill of translation. Language translation has always been made difficult by the fact that languages are in constant flux. The English and Russian languages have had to remain current with new fads and technologies like that of the internet and computer technology. Consider that a word like 'cookie' now has taken on an entirely new meaning since the advent of the internet. But other events also influence the structure of languages.

The Russian language has gone through recent dramatic changes as the former Soviet Union and post-Soviet era now dictate a tremendous amount of modernization and broadening which obviously have profound effects on the Russian language and lexicon. Also, language structures of modern English and Russian create noticeable effects on each other whenever translating the Russian language into the English equivalent and vice versa. Therefore, this report focuses on some differences in words and objects meanings, direct translations, sayings, rules in grammar and other critical lexical rules such slang and idiom use. There have been many literature, musical and other works of translation done from Russian to English and these works should never lose meaning or theory simply because of the differences in the languages structure or grammatical uses.

A good idea should flow from one to the other but too often, specific meanings or semantic principles are misused or misunderstood by a translator and therefore alter a work's intention. Another key factor in translation is the concept of a lexical unit or the study of lexicography. The core concern for lexicography is detailed meaning. A dictionary provides meanings for lexical units and because they are geared to provide significance to these units, whenever translating from Russian to English occurs, it is critical for the translation to be as clear and unambiguous as a translation dictionary if possible.

History of Russian in America

The actions of Post World War II Soviet Union and World War II itself were major reasons for Russian becoming a common course in American colleges. Prior to 1940, there were less than twenty universities in America offering Russian language programs and less than fifty percent of those had a true Russian/Slavic department. Other tell-tale signs of the popularity of Russian in American schools can be demonstrated by the fact that there were only three Russian doctoral programs at the time of post World War II Europe. However, relations with the Soviet Union grew as a result of the war which also had the dramatic affect of increasing an interest in the Russian language. The war therefore increased the number of universities in the United States offering Russian to over one hundred ninety in the 1950's.

The next influence on the academic increase of Russian language programs occurred around the end of the 1950's. The Soviet Union successfully launched the unmanned Sputnik and that instantly enlightened the American people to the fact that Russian science was a force onto itself that needed to be dealt with. "During the decade from 1958 to 1969 Russian enrollment in college courses doubled, doctoral programs were expanded to seventeen institutions, and by 1968 Russian was taught in all the states of the union." (The History of Russian Instruction in North America after WWII)

The enrollment in American colleges continued to dramatically increase so American schools had to respond by offering bigger and better Russian language programs which included just fewer than twenty new Russian/Slavic doctoral programs. "Russian studies are in severe decline throughout the Western world, including the U.S., where they were once heavily subsidized by the government." (Judith Armstrong responds to Robert Dessaix)

Today, the popularity of the Russian language in American Universities seems proportionate to the strength of the Russian political system in regard to world economics. For example, as students saw and understood that the end of the cold war would not deplete Russia of world strength, the popularity of the language increased again as students saw that Russia will remain a major language in the realm of world politics, culture, and business. "This meant that while a few spies and Soviet-watchers emerged from the student ranks to be hired as guardians against the evil empire, hordes of graduates entered the ordinary work-place armed with a good understanding of Tolstoy's attitude to adultery or a life-long appreciation of Chekhov's plays. In these post-cold war days, when the spies are cooling their unemployed heels, and both the EU and NATO are expanding to include the healthier Eastern European countries, but excluding struggling, no-growth Russia, the funding for Russian studies has been withdrawn." (Judith Armstrong responds to Robert Dessaix)

Today, translators must be fully cognizant and have an understanding of the various word formations that facilitate an acquisition of vocabulary and therefore promote a smooth fluency in speaking and reading a work after a translation. Like English for translators, the Russian language is no exception and it also requires a solid foundation in the language's structure.


There are three lexicography theories that apply to the translation of the Russian language. Initially, the theory of a word's meaning is considered as the object a thing is named as. By thing it is referring to concrete objects such as a chair or a door. But other meanings apply to certain actions such as the act of reading or running. Meaning also must consider certain states of being such as understanding or knowing. And lastly, there is the concept of abstract notions which can be defined as being honesty or being scared as well as concepts of colors and other abstract understanding. What really is the color green and does a blind person understand the concept?

Obviously this theory has some limitations because it can not explain function words like the word 'no' in English. Other problems for this theory can be shown by having expressions that say different things but mean the same thing like the morning star and the evening star which each literally represent a third meaning, the planet Venus. Also consider that words, concepts and objects are often referred to in different ways at different times such as an orange being referred to as a fruit in one instance and an orange in another. A boy could be a son, a nephew, an orphan, a child, a cousin or any number of other references. Basically, all or none of these could refer to one and the same person.

A second theory was therefore needed. The second theory in lexicography is considered an ideational or a mentalistic theory which creates a new meaning for an expression. Expressions are ideas or thoughts that can be associated to a thing created in the mind of the speaker, writer, listener or reader. Made famous by Ogden and Richards, this philosophy of thoughts and ideas was conceived to be mental pictures or images. Consider that languages need to account for things like griffins and boogie monsters. Both English and Russian have childhood monsters of things that hid under our beds as kids. These objects must be transferable into the opposite language.

Alas, this theory also does not cover all of the intricacies of translation. Every single individual has their own systematic approach to creating mental pictures or images in their mind's eye and these often change on occasion. What was considered an object in the mind's eye on one day may take on an entirely new mental picture or image based on the notion that something is different on a different occasion. Consider that a piece of kitchen equipment like a stove in the twenty-first century may represent a fireplace in the fifteenth century. They each serve as an object of mental imagery yet they are completely different objects. Of course the first two theories do an outstanding job for physical and concrete things like stoves and fireplaces.

Another theory for lexicography was needed for abstract ideas such as honesty, health or happiness. These types of ideas must be associated with unique mental images for each person. When the list of abstract ideas is expanded to cover grammatical words such as be, no, a, or how there is no mental picture created. How should a reader or listener interpret these grammatical words? The third theory of lexicography therefore allows the previous concepts to be overlooked. In other words, a meaning of an expression is considered as the stimulus for whatever creates a response from the listener. Of course the reader or listener has their own interpretation to the stimulus so there may be different ideas from the intended meaning by the writer or speaker.

As can be demonstrated, translation between to language structures such as the Russian language and the English from a lexicography perspective can be considered very difficult because these three theories do not always adequately meet the needs of one language to convey the meaning of another. It is very difficult to account for the speaker or…[continue]

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