The flood of English loanwords into Russian to handle economic and technological situations has cause quite the challenge for Russian translators.
Every language and culture is unique and has its own unique problems and challenges as time goes on, ranging from a decline in use by younger generations to repression by a government run by another ethnic group to the simple invasion of loan words that seem to cripple and attack the foundations of the language itself.
Some countries like France have enacted many regulations and laws designed to defend the language from such invasion, with varying degrees of success and awkwardness, and this approach causes plenty of its own problems. Other countries, like Russia, have taken no concerted effort to fight off invading terms and words, and the result is quite different: A population at peace with an influx of American terms and English words, and a group of translation professionals faced with a peculiar challenge.
English in Russia
Russia’s recent modern history is one of a lengthy period of stagnation in economic and technological terms caused by the mismanagement of both spheres by the Communist Party followed by an explosion in both released by the fall of Communism itself. While Russia is by no means some ideal democratic nation today, it is a country where social mobility and economic opportunity have soared when compared to previous years.
As a result of the speed of this expansion into the modern age, some corners were cut, most notably in language. Russian lacks many words and terms for new technology; instead of allowing for a process of natural or artificial creation of Russian equivalent terms, the Russian people opted instead to simply borrow all the words they needed, primarily from English. As American popular culture, long a fascination for Russians, was allowed to enter Russian life, many of these words were also borrowed wholesale.
The result is astonishing: Most Russians simply use the English words in their everyday life or business dealings, and as a result the words have become commonplace and universally understood. They’re not Russian words, of course, but they are used without blinking an eye. For most of these terms, exact equivalents do not exist – rather there are only lengthy and awkward explanatory phrases that more or less translate the English word into Russian.
The Translator’s Challenge
This of course makes for quite the challenge for your local translation hero in Russia. When they encounter these loanwords, they have a choice: They can either leave the word as is, without changing it, because they know that almost everyone in Russia will understand the English word perfectly well, or they can construct one of those awkward explanatory phrases. Neither would seem to be the ideal solution, but it’s what they have to work with.
The solution chosen seems split by generation: Older translation pros choose to write out the explanation, younger ones usually leave the word untouched. Either way, the work gets done and the ideas are transmitted – but in time I suspect a more elegant solution will come.
Image courtesy languages.utah.edu