I have lived on and off in Moscow for nearly 30 years, starting in 1978 as a college graduate with a degree in Russian language and literature. Although I've had a number of different jobs over the years, I have always been translating and interpreting, usually in the literal sense, always in the figurative sense: trying to understand, interpret and translate a new world of words, idioms, connotations, jokes and cultural values into my own language and world. It never really gets easier. There is always another nuance to learn, an allusion to track down, a meaning that mutated over the centuries. In the past decade or so, the language itself has been changing so quickly that you need a dictionary of contemporary slang to watch a TV series, and certainly need on-line translation to read Russian blogs. Today the biggest headaches for translators are the English cognates. You'd think it would be easy, and sometimes it is. Shoping-mol is clearly shopping mall (even if it really should be called torgovy centr, standard Russian for a shopping centre). But words such as glamour, elitist, cottage and actual went through a mysterious process of transformation before they appeared as glamurny
. In Russian advertising copy, glamurny
can be used to describe everything from devushki
(glamorous babes) to keramika (glamorous ceramics!). When translating the word back into English, it's more like glam or glitzy. Elitarny dom
is not a place where elitist snobs live; it's elite housing. Kottedzh
is not a little bungalow for two, it's a four-storey pleasure palace built by one of the country's newly rich. Kottedzhny posyelok
is not a village of cottages, but what Americans call a gated community. And aktualny
has come to mean "the latest rage" of the season. So haircuts and colours and styles are all aktualnye
- the last word in fashion.
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