Monday, February 23, 2015

One translation all the time is almost never possible

Picture of Poroshenko and Obama, captioned Порошенко пообещал вернуть Крым
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: ,


At 9:17 PM, February 23, 2015 Anonymous Kathie had this to say...

Q. How many translators does it take to change a light bulb?

A. It all depends on the context.

At 9:20 PM, February 23, 2015 Anonymous Kathie had this to say...

Another example I collected today, of a very common problem I encounter with Google Translate:

[Stereotypically female first name], pois, fala de si...
[Stereotypically female first name] therefore speaks of himself...

At 9:26 PM, February 23, 2015 Anonymous Kathie had this to say...

And this, just the other day, which combines not recognizing someone's name with incorrectly determining the person's sex:

Originial text: Vou telefonar à Eduardina Rocha para lhe pedir ajuda.
Google Translate: I'll call the Edwardian Rock to ask him for help.
My translation: I’m going to telephone Eduardina Rocha to ask her for help.

At 9:28 PM, February 23, 2015 Blogger The Ridger, FCD had this to say...

I have an exercise I use in which Google switches back and forth between him and her and even my.

But in this case, plenty of my students would translate it as "return". It's the "one word in Russian has one meaning in English" syndrome.

At 5:15 PM, February 26, 2015 Anonymous Kathie had this to say...

Have you ever had your students search for contexts and alternate translations on the Linguée website? I find it sometimes useful:
Let us know if it helps with the instant example, or others, OK?


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post

Links to this post:

Create a Link

     <-- Older Post                     ^ Home                    Newer Post -->