Friday, July 29, 2011

There's a bit more to translation than just looking up the words.

Have you read Machine of Death yet? It's a great idea - a bunch of people, web artists among them, writing stories about people who know (sort of) how they're going to die, and most of the stories were pretty good. Anyway, the thing is not only going to have another volume, but there's an MOD store selling various products. Like this poster.

Which, especially if you're familiar with old-style Soviet posters, is pretty funny. But ... they didn't ask a Russophone to look at, I fear.

СМЕРТЬ - Death.
Она объединяет нас - It unites us
А не делит - rather than divides (lit: and not divides)

And the cards they're holding read:

ТРАКТОР - tractor
ПОЛЕВОЙ- in the field
КОНВЕЙЕР- assembly line

All that's okay. There's a little stylistic weirdness in the "it unites us"; putting the pronoun after the verb is an emphatic construction (like many other European languages, including - once upon a time - English, normal pronoun objects precede the verb). This implies "but it doesn't unite them/everyone" - it's like saying "We're the ones death unites".

But then, at the bottom of the poster (you probably can't make it out, but I don't have a bigger image of it, and mine's on the wall at work where I can't get a picture... ) it says:
Народный комиссариат по гражданин удовлетворительность
Now, this is pretty clearly meant to be "People's commissariat for citizen satisfaction", which is what each word means. But.

It's gibberish. It looks like they just picked the words from a dictionary one at a time.

You can't do noun-noun modification like that in Russian. You could say удовлетврорительность гражданина (or граждан in the plural), which would be "satisfaction of the citizen (citizens)". But "citizen" has to be in genitive; you can't just slap two nouns down side by side. Moreover, Russian would almost certainly use an adjective form of "citizen" here, not the noun. And finally, after the preposition по you need the dative case, not (as here) the nominative.

What it should say is:
Народный комиссариат по гражданской удовлетворительности
I'll be honest. It's a funny poster, but I'm not 100% sure I'd've bought it had I seen that mistake. Probably would have, but it would have been funnier had it been accurate.

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At 10:32 PM, July 29, 2011 Anonymous Kathie had this to say...

...and people wonder why I don't quiver in my boots when they confidently inform me that it's just a matter of (not much) time before computers render human translators obsolete ;-)

At 4:52 AM, July 30, 2011 Blogger darthkittenlover had this to say...

Hi! This is David Malki, I'm the one responsible for the poster.

I'm keenly aware of the need for fluent translation in cases like this. My problem in this case was that I just couldn't find anyone who spoke a Russian well enough! I was able to have a couple of brief conversations with Russian speakers of varying ability, which helped, but as you can see it's still not perfect.

Ultimately, after sitting on the design for about three months trying to find independent verification of the translation, I had to just go with what I had. Luckily, these posters are printed on demand so it's no problem to swap out the file for a corrected version.

I appreciate your feedback, because I want to make it perfect! I would be happy to send you a new copy of a corrected version, if you'd be so kind as to send me an email (info at machineofdeath dot net). Thanks!

At 3:06 AM, February 22, 2013 Anonymous pia had this to say...

Nice post. It shows how rich could a literature be in terms of translation.Through translating shows the rich blend of knowledge and culture in a society.Whether in Russian translation or in any foreign language translation helps one to get acquainted with the thoughts, traditions, principles and actions of the people from the region.

At 6:46 AM, August 27, 2014 Anonymous BDS Translation had this to say...

The Post interesting to read.Translation of any language needs careful handling to ensure that it remains accurate as the original message.


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