Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Ignoring the grammar

In an article I'm using in class, an interview with a Russian novelist, he is asked if he thinks state subsidies will help literature. He answers that he believes they will only repeat the Soviet experience. He would hope, he says, that state funding would go to films that would showcase Russian culture and art, but he doubts it.
Но боюсь, что госзаказ будут получить такие филмы как «Распутин».

But I fear, that state money are going to get such films as Rasputin.
He doesn't like Rasputin because it practically turned the man into an angel. What I don't like is the way my students translated the sentence. Almost all of them put "I fear that state funding will receive such films as Rasputin" and that's just wrong.

Now, in English we can't write "state funding are going to receive such films". Even though the grammatical endings are correct for what this is - an inverted sentence, object - verb - subject - English speakers are going to interpret that as bad grammar and translate it in their heads the same way my students did. What's in front of the verb is the subject, and that "are" must be an error.

Problem is, in Russian this is a perfectly normal (though not neutral) sentence. Placing the subject at the end can be done (as here) to put extra stress on it, or (as here, too, to a lesser degree) for information structuring (the preceding sentences were about state subsidies, and the following ones were about the movie Rasputin), or even for syntactic purposes (say a very long relative clause was going to modify the subject). The translator's task is to produce an English sentence that both transmits the correct information (in this case that "such films" will be where the state funding goes) and the proper emphasis or emotion.

Here, you want to either flip the action of the verb (instead of "are going to receive" try "are going to go to" - same action, funding to film, but with the actors reversed so that "films" comes last), or try a focusing device (it's films like Rasputin that will receive the state funding).

My task is to make my students aware that they're being betrayed by their English background: just because plain vanilla Russian is almost always SVO doesn't mean that all Russian is. In fact, the higher the level of the text - anything beyond simple "just the facts" reporting of events - the less likely it is that the word order will be SVO. They know the grammar - if I ask them what case a noun is, or what number the verb is, they can tell me. They just don't pay any attention to when they read.

And that means they don't really understand what they're reading. So they might be able to answer multiple choice questions (if their interpretation isn't on of the distractors), but they can't translate.

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At 11:43 PM, October 30, 2013 Anonymous Kathie had this to say...

I wonder if the verb "to get" might be a reflexive construction (express or implied), so the sentence could be translated, "But I fear that state money will get THEM [or IT] such films as Rasputin" (where the reflexive refers to "the state"). My preference would be for a slightly looser translation: "But I fear that state money will go to films such as Rasputin." But as someone who knows no Russian, I realize that my free advice is worth every ruble you've paid for it ;-)

At 5:11 AM, October 31, 2013 Blogger The Ridger, FCD had this to say...

No, here the verb is a simple "receive": the films will receive the money. My original "literal" translation is an attempt to show the plural number of the verb, which English doesn't mark on its modal auxiliaries. "Funding will receive films" doesn't show you that the construction is transparent in Russian; "funding are going to get the films" does. (It's a horrible translation, of course, but it does illustrate the problem.)

Your suggested translation is in fact the best one - changing "will receive" to "will go to".

At 1:31 PM, October 31, 2013 Anonymous Anonymous had this to say...

How about "But I fear that state money will RESULT IN [or YIELD] films such as Rasputin"?

At 1:39 PM, October 31, 2013 Blogger The Ridger, FCD had this to say...

That's not bad, since what he's saying is that state money will result in propaganda instead of either truth or art.

At 2:16 PM, November 01, 2013 Anonymous Kathie had this to say...

A professor of Portuguese I know (elsewhere) teaches a course in translation-into-English, in which he sometimes presents his students with an original and a rough translation of his making, then assign them to turn the rough translation into a polished final version. Would this technique ever be relevant to your students?

At 2:18 PM, November 01, 2013 Blogger The Ridger, FCD had this to say...

I've done something like that - usually with Google Translate or some other such thing. It can be a very good exercise for them.

At 3:33 PM, November 01, 2013 Anonymous Kathie had this to say...

I've been running all the original texts of my work through Google Translate lately, in order to collect some real bloopers with which to regale folks I meet (whom I'd hardly call friends) who seem to find it uproarious to inform me authoritatively (ha!) that human translating is about to be rendered obsolete by computer translation. I have so many samples that I'm thinking of someday giving a paper on the topic.


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