Okay, this is a bit of a hobby horse with me, but hey, it's my blog.
Порошенко пообещал вернуть Крым, reads the caption on the Russian paper's Facebook story. Poroshenko promised to вернуть Crimea
. The verb вернуть is what I want to talk about.
Most of the Russian-English dictionaries I know say it means "to return". If you plug this sentence into Google translate, it yields "Poroshenko promised to return the Crimea". Interestingly, if all you put in is вернуть, Google offers you "retrieve". Interestingly, because that's a better translation than "return", though not entirely felicitous when you're talking about a peninsula.
The core meaning of вернуть is to put back
, meaning to return to its proper place.
In English, that may be - and often is - "to return". But sometimes "return" doesn't work. As here. Poroshenko most emphatically did not
"promise to return Crimea".
He promised to "get Crimea back".
What English verb you use depends on whose the thing was and who's putting it back where it belongs. If Poroshenko succeeds, Putin
will be "returning" it.
And yes, there is a definite argument to be made that Putin "took Crimea back", since it was Russian up until 1954 and Khrushchev's giving it to Ukraine was an empty gesture at the time. (There's an equally definite argument that the Crimean Tatars should be the ones who get it back, but that's not going to happen...) But regardless of your opinion on just where Crimea belongs, you must admit that when Poroshenko vows to regain control of the peninsula, "Poroshenko promised to return Crimea" is a poor translation. Even if you add "to Ukraine" as many papers did, it doesn't really work. You can't really "return" something you don't have hold of. If someone walks off with my cell phone, I can't say "I'll return the phone to me", can I? And you certainly can't just say "I'll return it". Context does matter.
Anyway, many of my students just automatically translate вернуть as "return". I'm showing them this in the morning.
Labels: Russian, translation