Because translation is all about words, I have started a ‘word of the week’ post on my Facebook page. The process of translating something from one language into another is not merely a case of systematically replacing each word with its equivalent in another language. Even machine translation has moved on from there to a certain extent, although it still has a long way to go (not surprisingly this is a hugely controversial subject in the translation community, so I will discuss it more fully in a future post).
A translator, especially in the field of literary translation, must have a ‘feel’ for both languages – the language of the original text (the ‘source’ language) and that of the translated version (the ‘target’ language. This deeper understanding of language can only be acquired by using the language as much as possible, for example by living in a country where it is spoken, being immersed in its culture, talking with other speakers of the language, reading, watching TV and films, listening to the spoken word and songs, and so on. Then, with experience, you begin to realise that no words are absolute equivalents: they all have their own nuances, cultural backgrounds and connotations, variation in usage etc., so that every word becomes a subject in itself.
As a translator, I work with words all the time, juggling them and trying to find the best fit into the great crossword that is the translated text. As a result, I encounter so many fascinating words and am constantly adding to my vocabulary as well as learning new things about words I thought I already knew. So, I decided I would choose just one word each week – often Russian, but also English, French, or any other language – and share what I have discovered along the way. There are so many words in the world, and how they are used is changing all the time, so there will be plenty of material to keep me going for a lifetime of learning!
This week I have picked a rather weighty word to kick things off: Cудьба [sud’ba], meaning ‘fate’, ‘destiny’, or perhaps something else…