Sunday, April 26, 2015

Things can be tricky even when they don't look it

At, Oleg Kashin has an article called Почему Россия проиграла войну на Украине, or Why Russia has lost the war in Ukraine.*

The article itself is fascinating, but I'm just interested here in one little phrase: не чета. Чета is couple or pair, often referring to a married couple. Не чета in the negative means 'not a pair'; not a match is how it's usually translated. But there's a problem with that ... See how he uses it, talking about Putin's calling the dissolution of the Soviet Union "the greatest geopolitical disaster of the 20th century":
Может быть, Путин имел в виду несколько локальных войн, которыми сопровождался распад СССР – Карабах, Приднестровье, Таджикистан, Абхазия? Войны – это плохо, но в ХХ веке было много других, гораздо более кровопролитных войн, то есть в этом случае катастрофу распада СССР никак не назовешь крупнейшей. Распад Югославии тоже никому не придет в голову называть геополитической катастрофой, хотя уж там-то воевали не чета даже Карабаху.

Maybe Putin had in the various regional wars which came along with the fall of the Soviet Union - Nagorno-Karabakh, Transnistria, Tajikistan, Abkhazia? Wars are bad, but the twentieth century had many others, much bloodier; that is, in this situation you simply can't call the dissolution of the Soviet Union the worst. Nor has anyone ever been tempted to calls Yugoslavia's collapse a geopolitical disaster, though the fighting there was no match even for Nagorno-Karabakh.
That seems a bit odd in English, doesn't it? A isn't a disaster, nor is B even though it's not as bad as A.

The problem is that although literally не чета means "not a match", Russian and English approach that concept from different angles. In English, "you're no match for him" means "he's better than you" (or, if what you're measuring is the bloodiness of wars, "Yugoslavia's no match even for Karabakh" means "Yugoslavia's less bloody even than Karabakh"). But in Russian, it means "you're better than he is" (or, "Yugoslavia's bloodier even than Karabakh").

You look at a Russian-English dictionary (such as Multitran and you get "no match". That is right in one way and yet totally wrong where it counts - in what it actually means. But if you go to Russian-Russian sources and get a definition, you'll get Не чета кто-что кому-чему (разг.) - не ровня,лучше кого-чего-н. в каком-н. отношении. Ne cheta kto-chto komu-chemu, someone-something is no match for someone-something (colloquial) - not equalling, better than someone-something in some quality. The Russian dictionary tells you what the translation means - and in this case, tells you (if you are a native speaker of English, any way) that the translation is wrong.

I tell my students to use Ozhegov or some other Russian defining dictionary rather than relying on translating dictionaries, or at least to go to Ozhegov when something seems a bit hinky in your translation.

Unfortunately, they don't always listen...

* He concludes thus:
Политическое и военное поражение России на Украине (а зафиксированное в Минске требование «особого статуса отдельных районов» – это уже поражение) – это только следствие смыслового и ценностного поражения, случившегося тогда же, еще прошлой весной. Государство начинается не с армии и не с аппарата, а с идеи, со слов. «Мы пришли в Донецк, чтобы…» – а дальше тишина, дальше сказать просто нечего и приходится нести ахинею про хунту и бандеровцев – впрочем, и эта ахинея теперь звучит все тише или вообще не звучит.

Этот год показал, что удел России – вечно пережевывать советскую победу 1945 года и радоваться кадыровскому миру в Чечне, любая дополнительная идея обрушит Российскую Федерацию. Именно поэтому война за Новороссию быстро превратилась в войну ни за что, а войну, которая ведется ни за что, выиграть просто нельзя – особенно если противник воюет за родину. Время переписать черновики будущих президентских посланий. Крупнейшая геополитическая катастрофа – это не распад СССР, бог бы с ним. Год украинской войны показал, что сама Россия теперь – крупнейшая геополитическая катастрофа, которая всегда с тобой.

The political and military defeat of Russia in Ukraine (and the demand put on the record in Minks for "the special status of specific regions" is a defeat already) is just the consequence of the defeat in meaning and values which took place back in last spring. A state begins not with an army and not with institutions but with an idea, with words. "We came to Donetsk in order to..." - and the rest is silence, there is simply nothing further to say and they are forced to carry on with their drivel about a junta and Banderist fascists - drivel that is, by the way, heard less and less now if it's heard at all.

This year has shown that it is Russia's fate to relive forever the Soviet victory in 1945 and rejoice over Kadyrov's peace in Chechya; any other idea will tear down the Russian Federation. And that is why the war for Novorossiya quickly turned into a war for nothing, and a war which is waged for nothing simply cannot be won - especially if the enemy is fighting for their homeland. The time has come to rewrite the drafts of future presidential Messages*. The worst geopolitical disaster** was not the dissolution of the Soviet Union, let that go. The year of the Ukrainian war has shown that Russia itself is now the worst geopolitical disaster, and one that is always with us.

* Russia equivalent of the State of the Union address
** An allusion to Putin's statement in Minsk that "for the EU, the time has come to rewrite the history of Crimea before someone else does it for you"

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At 11:08 PM, April 26, 2015 Anonymous Kathie had this to say...

Likewise, I sometimes get my best help from a Portuguese-Portuguese dictionary. Occasionally I then need to cheat by copying/pasting the definitions into Google Translate, but shhhh, don't tell anyone ;-)


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