On the Russian suffix -щина

In addition to indicating certain abstract nouns from Russian history, culture and literature (see excellent discussions here and here), I have discovered that this suffix can also be used to designate certain regions in Ukraine. Thus, for example, “Черниговщина” means “Черниговская область”, or Chernihiv Oblast.

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Google Adwords

I have recently decided to try to attract potential clients to my translation business website by launching a Google Adwords campaign. Though I have read that other translators, and in particular interpreters serving local markets, use pay-per-click advertising in their business marketing strategies, I have not read any in-depth discussions of the practice. Most articles that I have read on marketing for translators describe how translators should apply to agency clients or attract  direct clients by sending materials to them or attending conferences to meet them in person.

My campaign is helping me attract more traffic to my website, which can only be beneficial. I have started to localize my website into Russian in response to large number of visitors from Russia that I have been noticing in Google Analytics. In particular, it is interesting to note the number of Russians visiting my website from Siberia. I would have anticipated that most of my Russian traffic would come from the capitals (i.e., Moscow and St. Petersburg), but it is interesting to observe the interest in my services from what are traditionally thought to be the less cosmopolitan areas (out in “the regions” [в регионах]).

The queries that I have received so far from visitors who have found my website through my campaign are mostly individual requests to translate personal documents. This would seem to confirm my initial impression that AdWords is a tool best suited for selling consumer goods and services. (One of the introductory videos on AdWords talks about an ad for selling “yoga pants” as an example). Translation can also be a consumer service, of course, particularly when it comes to the translation of personal documents, birth certificates, transcripts and the like. I might decide given sufficient demand to target my services in this area. However, a large part of my business is professional services for other professionals, and I wonder whether I will develop any long-term repeating business clients from my ad. (However, I do wonder about the scenario where someone at a business has been assigned a project to translate. Might that person, particularly if they do not have any established channels to go through or have never had to translate anything before, google something like “russian translation” and try out some of the ads?)

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Comments on Introduction to Russian-English Translation

I recently finished reading Natalia Strelkova’s extremely useful and practical guide to avoiding common translation mistakes, Introduction to Russian-English Translation: Tactics and Techniques for the Translator. Strelkova touches on a number of areas, but some of the most useful advice can be summarized as making sure you adhere to the conventions of English and not of Russian when translating. Some of these rules are really quite simple. For example, in Russian letter writing the addressee is addressed with an exclamation point (e.g., “Дорогие коллеги!”), where as in English we use a colon (for formal letters) or a comma (for informal ones). Yet the Anglophone Russian internet (“Runet”) is full of letters beginning “Mr. Smith!” (as though Russians are always shouting at each other when they go to write an e-mail).

One point that Strelkova touches on in some of her examples, but which she doesn’t fully develop, is the need to change the number of a noun from plural to singular when translating many different types of sentences and even nouns irrespective of context in certain individual cases (e.g., “советы” is always “advice” in English, since this noun cannot be plural). The author provides the following example:

То, что требуется, это экономические двигатели, у которых одновременно резко снижен объем токсичных выбросов в атмосферу.

What is needed is an engine that combines economy with a sharp reduction in toxic exhaust (25).

It is possible to use the plural here in English like in the Russian (“What is needed are engines …”). But the singular is better, particularly if the surrounding context (which we are not given) is more focused on a discussion of developing a prototype or model vehicle engine to power new cars. The plural, “engines,” would be more appropriate if the context is considering different types of propulsion systems for various vehicles or different use-case scenarios.

Here is another example from a fairly utilitarian text about public architecture:

Светлые корпуса придают свежий вид всему району

The light-colored brick gives the neighborhood a fresh vibrant new look (54).

The plural Russian noun in the example is the devilishly difficult to translate корпус, which usually means a housing block or estate in this context. But the translator focuses on the exterior appearance of the building, and thus the building material, brick. This translation, though, does presume some further knowledge about the context (that the buildings are made of brick and not reinforced concrete, for example).

This example better than any other imparts the idea that translation is really about adaptation, and that the best translations contain many original elements despite the fact that the practice is inherently derivative. (And this also illustrates how far machine translation has to go, because no computer system, no matter how good it is with pattern matching, is going to be able to switch effortlessly from translating the literal words to adding more contextual information (such as with this brick example) without some more advanced artificial intelligence).

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Avoiding dull, repetitious language in translation

One of my pet peeves with the language services industry is that too many project managers and even some end clients are excessively devoted to the idea of completely consistent language throughout a translation. For example, there are a number of QA tools, such as the ones that come packaged with recent releases of SDL Trados Studio which evaluate a translation on the basis of whether the translator has always translated identical or similar segments of a translation using the same language. Segments are usually sentence-length units of a translated text.

Granted, it is important to use consistent terminology when translating technical concepts and all proper nouns, including names, geographical places, companies and organizations. This kind of consistency and respect for terminological authorities, in fact, is intrinsically important to the research and information seeking process irrespective of translation. (It is articulated within library science through the creation of taxonomies and controlled vocabularies). But applying invariant language to common nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs makes less sense to me, particularly in English, where we value effective variation in order to sustain reader interest in a text. When you tie English too closely to the source language (in my case, Russian), then you are engaging in overly literal translation. This is fine when you are writing cribs for the language learner, but it is bad when what you are writing is meant to be read by a monolingual audience.

Take the following example relating to the translation of the Russian word “карцер” (“prison, lockup”). I have bolded the occurrences of the source word and the translated target words corresponding to the latter:

Я сказал, что если я буду в карцере – значит знай, что я иду еще на один срок. По этой статье очень часто не освобождают – добавляют еще три года […]

Прихожу в отряд и это было, как будто я воскрес. Там все мои вещи поделили. Уже знают, что у меня срок и вдруг я появляюсь. Люди от меня шарахаются, думают, что я сбежал с карцера. Для всех это шок был. Офицеры подходят и с удивлением узнают, что меня выпустили. На следующий день начальник режимной части сказал мне, что сколько существует зона, никого еще не вытаскивали из карцера и не давали свидание.

I said that if they were going to put me in lockup, then it would mean that I would get another sentence. When they sentence you under this article, it means that they probably won’t let you out and that you will get another three years. […]

I came back to my division, and it was as though I was reborn. They had divided up all my things. They already knew about my sentence, but then I suddenly appeared. People shied away from me, thinking that I had escaped from jail. It was a real shock for everyone. Officers came up to me and were surprised to learn that they let me go. The next day the head of the regiment told me how long this prison has existed, and that no one is ever taken out of the sweatbox and not given a sentence.

In the Russian text, the same word is used three times, but I chose in my translation to vary the language. It is important to understand that the word chosen by the author of the Russian is stronger than the neutral term for jail (which would be “тюрьма”). This additional negative coloring of the experience of having been in prison can be transmitted in English by using this kind of variation, and in particular by the use of lower-register vocabulary, such as “lockup” and “sweatbox.”

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