Russian Dialects

map of Russia

Unlike Spanish translators, who struggle to make their translation usable in multiple Spanish-speaking areas, Russian translators don’t really have to worry about locales.

Are there regional dialects in Russia?

Most academic resources, like this one, will tell you there are two (or three) main Russian dialects, the most prominent difference being pronunciation. However, the extent of dialectal variation must not be overestimated. Due to population migrations and relatively unobstructed geography, Russian is much more uniform than some languages spoken on smaller territories. The Encyclopaedia Britannica contrasts Russian with Swiss German dialects:

It is also typical that phonological differences are more far-reaching in Switzerland between Swiss-German dialects than throughout the vast territory where the Russian language is spoken, extending from St. Petersburg to eastern Siberia. Such a situation results not only from migrations of the Russian population (as compared with the centuries of Swiss stability) but also from the contrasting geographic configurations: in Russia there is unobstructed communication in many directions; in mountainous Switzerland the territory is carved into small isolated units.

I have lived in Chelyabinsk (in the Urals) and Moscow, and  I have family in the Northern Caucasus (South of Russia). I have not noticed any significant dialectal differences beyond pronunciation and occasional word choice and don’t imagine these differences would have any bearing on the translation of, say, a technical manual.

The Extent of Variation

When I tell my colleagues about the lack of significant dialect variation in Russia, I hear their incredulous “But sure people in Vladivostok talk differently from people in Moscow.” Since territory is the largest cause of their disbelief, let’s use the US as a comparably large country. Granted, there are vocabulary distinctions — think of the infamous “soda” and “pop” — and grammar quirks (“the car needs washed”). However, these are unlikely to play any role in the authoring or translation of business or technical communication for the US. The main reason for that, both in Russia and the US, is that regional dialects are mostly spoken and seldom make it to written communication (with the possible exception of fiction and marketing, where dialectal idiosyncrasies may be preserved for their dramatic effect).

What does it mean for a client looking for a translation into Russian? Russian is fairly uniform across regions and countries; for better or for worse, there is one standard of written Russian. Except for specific fields that may require local terms, like advertising or legal, there is one standard for Russian. Get in touch today for your Russian translation needs.

Move to Rochester

Some big changes happened in my life lately, and I thought I should share them with my readers. I have finished my Master’s in Translation at Kent State University and have now moved to Rochester, New York for my new job as a project manager. I am still available for freelance work on weekday nights and on the weekends.

Volunteer Translation

Volunteer translation is a great way for both new and seasoned translators to gain experience, get their foot in the door, and contribute to a good cause. Many fellow translators are probably aware of some way to volunteer in this way. I will list some of the bigger organizations that require volunteer translation.

  1. Translators without Borders
    As stated on its page, this organization “facilitates the transfer of knowledge from one language to another by creating and managing a community of NGOs who need translations and professional, vetted translators who volunteer their time to help.”
  2. Kiva
    This organization enables microloans to people in developing countries.
  3. The Rosetta Foundation (not affiliated with Rosetta Stone)
    Similarly to TwB, this organization provides translation for NGOs.

April Issue: Things to Consider for Localization into Russian

Browser Window
image by wagg66

In my personal and professional life I have often encountered social networking that have been localized into Russian. More often than not, localization into Russian reveals internationalization issues that should have been addressed at the design stage. I would like to point out some of the things to consider if you plan localizing your site into Russian.

  1. Russian is an inflective language, meaning that constructions like “Jim’s albums,” where an apostrophe and an S are added to the person’s unchanged name are problematic. Russian has different possessive forms depending on the person’s gender and the last letter of their name.
  2. Past-tense verbs have gender and number. Therefore, “Jim added a photo” will be different from “Jane added a photo.”
  3. Russian numbers are a nightmare even for Russians. The noun following the number will have a different form depending on the number. Luckily, there are “only” three forms.

Solution? While not every language quirk can be accounted for at the design stage, perhaps introducing variables accounting for gender and number could save localizers a lot of pain.

Do you know any examples of things that do not get localized nicely into your language?

March Issue: Difficulties of Audio Transcription and Translation

People transcribing audios
Image by robinsonma

I have recently done a project where I had to translate from English into Russian an interview for a watchmaking magazine that was only available as an audio. Needless to say, this type of assignment is much more involved and time-consuming than a translation of the same subject matter and level of linguistic difficulty. Here are some of the main challenges of this type of project and some ways of overcoming them.

  1. Non-native speakers of English
    The interview was conducted in English, but neither participant spoke English as their first language. A Russian interviewer talked to a Francophone representative of the watch company. To make matters worse, the interviewer was far from fluent in English and seemed to be surprised at the lack of interpreting.
    Luckily, the magazine had sent me the list of questions in Russian, which was very helpful in understanding what the interviewer was trying to say. In addition, that list provided me with some key terminology, which I then used in my translation to ensure consistency with the in-house lingo of the magazine. Ideally, a glossary and style guide would be sent, too, but that was not the case with this translation.
  2. Misunderstandings
    The second difficulty partly followed from the first — as the interviewer struggled to express his question in English, the guest inevitably misunderstood him. Consequently, the guest gave a very detailed answer to the question that was never meant to be asked!
    My solution was to provide a note indicating the question from the original list that I believed the interviewer was trying to ask and the question that he ended up asking. I will be very curious to see what the magazine did about it.
  3. Proper and brand names
    Anything having to do with business and production will inevitably feature names of products, enterprises, and people. These are not always easy to identify in hearing or to research online.
    However, if you look up a general description of your company’s products and services, you may come across the right name. In addition, the unclear word may be explained further in the interview as the guest dwells upon the subject. Such was the case in the watch interview, where the guest talked about the origin of the name of their new collection. Finally, if you have contact with the company or if your client does, you can always ask them. In any case, you may want to indicate any areas of uncertainty in your translation so that these may be clarified before the interview is published.

February Issue: Naïve Comments About Russian

Russian-Hebrew-English Keyboard
image by aleazzurro

Having been exposed to several languages for most of my life–even though I was far from fluent in most of them–I am sometimes amused by the questions I get about Russian. I do not mean to be judgmental as I fully understand that a person who has never been exposed to a non-Latin-script language or, in case of the US, to any language but English cannot have an understanding of how multi-script input and communication works. So, I thought it was worth going over some of the questions I’ve been asked and provide a short explanation.

“How do you type in Russian?”

(I have actually been asked that)

If you have Windows on your computer, you can install additional input keyboards in the “Region and Language Options” menu in the Control Panel. Once you have several languages installed, you should see a language bar. You can switch languages by choosing one from the Language Bar list. However, I normally toggle languages by pressing Alt+Shift. You get used to doing that if you run a non-English Windows because you still need to switch to English to input URLs and email addresses.

“I take it you’re Greek”

(librarian checking out Russian books to me)
I think the reason for this one is the fact that people recognize some of the letters they’ve seen in math problems or on fraternity houses. It is true that the Cyrillic alphabet is partly based on the Greek alphabet, as is the Latin alphabet. So, I can’t really blame people who aren’t regularly exposed to non-Latin alphabets for mistaking one for another.

Do you ever get naïve comments about your working language?

January Issue: Standards for Scholarly Publications

Man Doing Research
image by MikLav

As part of my Master’s in Translation training, I am now writing my Case Study, a final paper required to complete the program. For this project, I need to translate a 500-word text and provide an analysis discussing the decisions I made in the translation process.

For my Case Study, I will be translating a journal article “Быть или не быть гей-прайду: опыт двух столиц” (English working title “To Be or Not To Be for a Gay Pride Parade: The Experience of Moscow and St. Petersburg”). This article appeared in the Gender Studies Journal published in Ukraine in the Russian language.

As you may have gathered from the title, the article talks about the recent developments in gay activism in Russia, the attempts to hold a gay pride parade, and the reaction of the authorities to these attempts. While the subject matter is fairly involved and worthy of discussion, I would like to concentrate on the format and style of this article as an indicator of the state of scholarship in the Russian-speaking realm.

Those of you who have studied or done research in the United States–and perhaps, in Western European countries, too–are probably familiar with the standards of scholarship there. Every reference has to be properly attributed and documented. There are well-developed style guides for in-text citations and bibliographies.

Some of the problems I have encountered while translating stemmed from the lack of an equally-developed system in Russian scholarly circles. Some of the manifestations of less rigorous standards were misspellings of names (Volker Berk instead of Volker Beck), factual errors (the Australian/New Zealander scholar Annamarie Jagose is called an American scholar), improperly documented citations, and excessive quoting. To bring the otherwise very well-written article to the standards of American scholarship, the translator needs to address these issues. One the positive side, these discrepancies give me plenty to write about in my analysis.

December Issue: Language School in Germany

Heidelberg Bridge

This year, I’ve decided to spend my winter break brushing up my German. I took German all through college, but because I had few opportunities to practice it in the USA, my language skills started becoming rusty.

So, I did some research on the Internet and found a few language schools that weren’t closed for the holidays. After some consideration, I chose a school in Heidelberg. When I arrived in town, I tested into C. However, there were no general language classes for this level, so I joined a DSH (German university admittance exam) preparation course.

My overall impression of the course is very positive. It must be said, however, that the school I studied in was fairly traditional in its approach (writing and grammar exercises, etc.), so beware if you are used to the communicative method, which is more popular in the USA. Also, since most students were younger people, who had just graduated from secondary school, the teachers were direct with them in a way that could be considered offensive elsewhere. For example, a teacher could tell the student they had done poorly on an assignment in front of the class. Finally, language classes seemed to be a more long-term commitment for most students than they were for me, with most students coming for at least a few months. As a result, the instruction was very thorough, but perhaps not very dynamic. Our group had students who had joined at different points for a different amount of time.

I would say you have to set some time aside to be able to get a solid grasp on the language through language courses, but for the purposes of brushing up on the language and immersing myself in the environment, the three weeks of my vacation worked just fine.

First Time at the ATA Conference

conference hall

At the end of November, I attended my first-ever American Translators Association (ATA) Conference. The event took place in Boston, Massachusetts.

I would like to share some of my impressions from the event. My fellow translators will forgive me if some of my first-timer observations sound naïve. I am by no means an expert on this organization, which I only joined last year.

My first and strongest impression, which came as no surprise, was the prevalence of Spanish at the conference. Spanish was to be heard everywhere, and was, in many cases, the “default foreign language.” Some interpreter training programs that shall remain unnamed failed to mention the fact they only worked with Spanish, perhaps thinking that it went without saying?

In addition, I felt that it was up to the individual to make the most out of this networking opportunity, even though the organizers did set up some events that helped people network (the speed networking session, where you had two minutes to talk to a stranger, and the job marketplace, where you could leave your résumé and business card). Still, once I had almost given up hope to hear from people not looking for Spanish or agencies not looking for all languages of the earth for good measure, I was randomly approached by English-Russian translators. So, the networking side definitely works, but you need to be proactive about it.

It terms of outcomes, I have since been emailed by a couple of translation agencies looking to expand their pool of translators. Nothing personal, but that’s already something.

All in all, I thought the conference was a good chance to get a feel for the industry, but, considering the cost of attendance (some $180 for student members), perhaps not something you want to do every year.

Fellow translators, what was your experience at the ATA Conference like? How do you feel about it?

October Issue: Subtitles for Jess+Moss

I am currently working on the Russian subtitles to the American independent movie Jess+Moss.  Here is a description of the film from its official website:

Jess, age 18 (Sarah Hagan) and Moss, age 12 (Austin Vickers) are second cousins in the dark-fire tobacco fields of rural Western Kentucky. Without immediate families that they can relate to, and lacking friends their own age, they only have each other. Over the course of a summer they venture on a journey exploring deep secrets and hopes of a future while being confronted with fears of isolation, abandonment and an unknown tomorrow.