SPLASH THE FROG IN SPLASH THE SWAMP SPLASH PLOP, SPLASH PLOP, SPLASH PLOP...
THE DIFFICULTIES IN DOING RUSSIAN-GERMAN AND GERMAN-RUSSIAN TRANSLATION
It would be hard to imagine life without their Volkswagens, Opels and Audis as well as doing without their numerous home appliances. We are thrilled, listening to W. A. Mozart and J. S. Bach and effusive in our praise, while reading J. W. Goethe and E. M. Remarque. We admire their law-abiding behavior and punctiliousness while we are surprised how their attitude toward blowing your nose in public runs counter to their ubiquitous correctness.
They consider it an achievement to have read War and Peace by L. N. Tolstoy. They are dumbfounded by our short-sighted and careless attitude toward certain things. And they have adopted the popular Russian word – "Babushka."
We may love or fear each other, but we will never be indifferent. Our cultures have been closely bound together for a long time. And we definitely have something to learn from them, and they – from us...
However, let's face it – we really admire the German people and culture despite the complex history of our relationship. And professionals who genuinely love the German language, become excellent translators. This profession is full of little specific joys and interesting, often humorous, nuances. We translators of LogrusGlobal have decided to relate some of those joys and illustrate some of the nuances of our work – i.e., those we face every day while creating high quality materials for you and committing not only our knowledge of the German language and culture, but also a bit of our soul.
Glück – THIS IS NOT A GLITCH!
He who does not know foreign languages, does not know anything about his own.
Johann Wolfgang Goethe
Continuing the conversation about our cultures being tightly bound together for a long time, we hasten to cite a couple examples as proof. In describing the modern home, we use many words (yes, and inventions), which have been borrowed from the Germans. Some of these terms have become quite familiar and probably only lovers of "Doich" (Deutsch - this is what the Germans call their language) would be able to "unmask" their foreign origin. Others clearly betray their foreign identity, but it is unlikely that a person who does not know a foreign language, could guess their origin. We'll disclose a small sample of these words and their literal translation:
- Sandwich - Butterbrot ("butter"+"bread")
- Tie - Halstuch ("neck,"+"scarf")
- Migrant worker - Gastarbeiter ("guest "+"work")
- Toll-gate — Schlagbaum ("strike"+"tree")
- Accountant - Buchhalter ("book"+"holder")
- Prodigy - Wunderkind (" miracle"+"child")
- Backpack - Rucksack ("back"+"bag")
- Fireworks - Feuerwerk ("fire"+"work product")
All of them - whether they are said in Russian or German - sound about the same. The German language has had an especially great influence on Russian technical terminology. Try to recall some of these words - you will have no trouble finding them: plug, bracket, clamp, box office. There are a great many of them. And that is a real gift for a translator! However, there are among such terms, those that are called " false friends." Although they sound like terms we are accustomed to, they signify completely different things: "Krawatte"- is not a bed but a "tie;" "Familie" - is not a surname but a "family;" "Tank" - is not tank but a "gas can;" "Glück" - is not a glitch but "happiness."
Actually, they don't clean the streets with soap, but you can never knock the punctiliousness out of them... What is the secret? The answer from our linguists…
I can understand the German language just as well as the maniac who invented it, but I'd rather express this idea through an interpreter.
In the middle of the last century, linguistics and psychology merged, forming the science that studies the interaction of language, consciousness and thought – psycholinguistics. One of the most controversial issues, around which there is still much debate, remains the question of the influence of language on the thinking and the consciousness of the individual.
Probably, a person who has not studied foreign languages would never think about how a language system can affect worldview and behavior. It is difficult to say whether this thought came to the minds of those who studied foreign languages ... But this theory persistently wanders back and forth between the two sciences - psychology and linguistics, which merged together not so long ago. And, when observing the behavior of representatives of a particular nation and, at the same time, knowing certain features of their languages, you can make some interesting conclusions.
One of the most striking features of the German people is their desire for order. ("Oрднунг"- "order" borrowed from the German language is a word that probably is understandable to any Russian person). Punctiliousness and anticipation of details run in the blood of Germans. The Germans are used to scheduling meetings with friends a month in advance and leaving for important events with time to spare in order to arrive on time. When buying a car, he evaluates, first of all, its practicality; otherwise, it simply will not be possible to quickly and profitably resell it in two or three years. He will never cross the street on a red light, even if there is not a single speeding vehicle in sight. In general, he is law-abiding, consistent and logical.
But what is the secret of such self-organization? Finding a reliable answer to this question is very difficult, if it exists at all! After all, there can be many explanations for this, and it is not feasible to determine which one is the most accurate. But let's return to psycholinguistics and its controversial hypotheses. The idea that the structure of a language affects the worldviews and the perceptions of its native speakers, as well as their cognitive processes, is called the theory of linguistic relativity, or the hypothesis of Sapir-Whorf. It is worth mentioning that it has not yet been backed up by scientific facts and evidence, and it has many opponents. However, the validity of this theory has also not been disproved, and at present the study of the connection between language and thinking is only gaining momentum. And so... Do you admit that the organization and orderliness of the German may be directly linked to the features of German sentence structure? The words in the sentences follow a strictly regulated order, and each element has its own rigidly defined position. If it is a simple narrative sentence, then the subject (noun, pronoun, etc.) will be in first place, and the predicate (verb) - in second place. That is, in narrative sentences, the verb will always be in second place! If the verb is at the very beginning, then you know it is an interrogative sentence. And if the predicate consists of two verbs (in the case of modal or temporal constructions), then the main (semantic) verb will always stand at the end of the sentence, and the auxiliary verb... will still remain in the same position - second place!
The moral: "Order" comes in handy when studying the language of this nation, which is outstanding in all respects.
A FEW REASONS TO LISTEN TO THE END
The German dives into a whirlpool of phrases, and, holding his breath, he swims under the waves of verbosity, coming up on the other
shore holding the verb in his teeth!
The desire to understand the meaning of a sentence can play a cruel joke on you, unless you listen to it to the end. To avoid long explanations, we will give a simple and illustrative example. Let's recall a famous song sung by the beloved German band Rammstein: "Du hast." Or, more exactly, let's turn our attention to the first sentence of its chorus and translate the words in the same sequence, in which they appear in the song.
|...du hast...||...you have...|
|...du hast mich...||...you have me...|
|...du hast mich gefragt!||...you have me asked!
(But in Russian: "You asked me!")
It seems that the word order of the sentence is no accident: the authors wanted to add a bit of subtle humor to their work. And, fortunately, this humor is understandable not only to Germans, but also to Russians. But that doesn't always happen. And it is not about the differences in mentality and life’s realities, but about the difficulties of translation. But more about that later...
Let's return to the peculiarities of the construction of German sentences and consider more complex examples this time. Note: the main verb is shown in boldface, and all other sentence elements that are logically associated with this verb are in italics.
- Im achtzehnten Jahrhundert lebte in Frankreich ein Mann, der zu den genialsten und abscheulichsten Gestalten dieser an genialen und abscheulichen Gestalten nicht armen Epoche gehörte (P. Süskind „Das Parfum. Die Geschichte eines Mörders“).
- In the eighteenth century, in France there lived a man, who belonged to a group of the most ingenious and most heinous figures of an era that was not lacking in ingenious and heinous figures (P. Süskind 's Perfume: The story of a Murderer).
Comparing the German and Russian versions, try to imagine how much information has to be absorbed and kept in mind before the main idea of the whole sentence becomes clear. If this example is not enough to understand all the complexity of the situation, then also try to take into account all the nuances of simultaneous interpretation. If you are a simultaneous interpreter, say, at a political conference, it means that it is necessary not only to master the specific vocabulary and to keep abreast of political news, but also to be able to comprehend a sentence and produce the Russian version in not more than a couple of seconds
|Deshalb ist es auch in seiner Bedeutung gar nicht hoch genug einzuschätzen, dass außer den USA alle übrigen G20-Staaten in der Abschlusserklärung die Vereinbarungen des Pariser Klimaabkommens und ihre entschlossene Umsetzung bekräftigt haben.|
To translate this excerpt from the speech of German Chancellor Angela Merkel (at the Annual Meeting with the Diplomatic Corps in Miesberg Castle on July 13, 2017), the translator must wait until the end of the utterance to hear the verb in boldface:
|Therefore, it is impossible to overestimate the importance of the fact that all the G20 countries, except the United States, approved in the final statement the Paris agreement on climate and its rapid implementation|
Perhaps, after such "language challenges," you involuntarily learn to think ahead and anticipate events! Whether you want to or not – you will be foresighted and practical, like a German!
There is yet another reason to listen to the end of an utterance: verbs with separable prefixes. Obeying the same rule on word order as sentences do, separable prefixes "go" to the end. For example:
|Meistens verlöschte die Kerze bald und in dem dunklen Kerzenrauch trieben sich noch eine Zeitlang die versammelten Mücken herum (F. Kafka „Kinder auf der Landstraße“).|
In this example, the verb herumtreiben is translated as "loiter, stagger," but if you drop the prefix, the verb will mean something quite different: "engage in" or "bring into some state."
By the way, we have the means to take "revenge" on the Germans for their syntactic traps: absolutely free word order in the Russian sentence! And let's not forget that free order can influence the shades of the meaning of the entire sentence. The most vivid example that comes to mind is a simple utterance of the Russian language from the humorist Mikhail Zadornov:
- I love you! (meaning: "And that’s the way it is!")
- I LOVE you! (meaning: "Calm down already and don’t bother me while I’m watching TV!")
- I love YOU! (meaning: "And not Lyuska in apartment No. 5.")
What is the most interesting is that a Russian will understand all the shades of meaning even without the explanations given in parentheses.
In the German language, "Ich liebe dich!" is simple and fixed. The meaning of this sentence can be changed but only with the help of intonation and subsequent explanations. “Ordnung muss sein” — there must be order!
Moral: There is a reason why the Russians are famous for their ability to adapt to any situation and find a way out (and perhaps several) of any situation. It's all about the flexible structure of their language!
"THE EGG TRIES" AND OTHER TRAPS SET TO ENSNARE AN INTERPRETER
There does not exist such a text that a poor translator could not ruin by churning out a bad translation.
We have already talked about how difficult it is for a simultaneous interpreter to translate German speech on account of the peculiarities of the sentence structure. Unfortunately, that is not the only obstacle that an interpreter has to overcome.
In the German language, there are certain spelling rules, which, in the case of reading, likely facilitate the process of understanding. However, when comprehension depends on listening, a peculiarity such as writing nouns with a capital letter is of no use to an interpreter. Let's look at some examples that clearly show how varied the meanings of a phrase can be and how they relate to writing.
|Der Gefangene floh.||The prisoner ran away.|
|Der gefangene Floh.||A captured flea.|
|Der Gefangene Floh.||The prisoner Flo.|
These phrases sound exactly alike. Therefore, when an interpreter hears one of them in isolation, it is very difficult to understand its real meaning. Only posing a question or knowing the context (well, or the extraordinary insight of the interpreter) will help here.
Can the Russian language compete with this peculiarity of German? Let's turn to a certain anecdote to refresh our memory about how "great the mighty Russian language is."
|A husband and his wife are arguing and screaming. Suddenly, she sharply tells him, "And now cool down!" He is stunned, "What verse?" "‘Cool down’ is a verb! Sit down and cool down!" ["Cool down" and "verse" can both be translated in Russian as "стих."]|
So, we too have nouns that cannot be distinguished from verbs - even in writing!
In this chapter, it's impossible not to mention also of those funny utterances that occur because some words and phrases sound alike. As a rule, such words or phrases are a cause for laughter. For example, the noun Eifersucht ("jealousy") can be heard as the combination of the noun and the verb "Ei versucht" ("The egg tries"). These kinds of linguistic "gifts" are often used in witty writings and comedies. However, in this situation, there is someone who is not disposed toward laughter… A play on words, which is clear and understandable to native speakers, is usually very difficult for the interpreter to translate. Only high-flying interpreters are able to find equivalents in their native language that evoke the same emotion in the listener and at the same time preserve the meaning of the wordplay. And, sometimes, this task simply cannot be done. In this case, knowledge of the foreign language will perhaps drop to second place. Here interpreters must rely on the substantial supply of the lexical resources of their native language and on skillfully applying them, a feat which is not within everyone's reach.
And now an example in the Russian tradition:
- - Trainer to boxer: "After yesterday's fight, I analyzed bout one."
- - Boxer to trainer: 'Bout which one? Chagaev or Parker?"
AND NOW BEING SERIOUS ABOUT WHAT’S FUNNY AND FUNNY ABOUT WHAT’S SERIOUS
Translations are like women: if they are true, then they're ugly, and if they are untrue, then they're pretty.
To be serious, the greatest and most important task of a translator is to adequately convey the meaning of the text.
It must be stressed that in the world of professionals, literal translation is not acceptable at all. Freely paraphrasing a text is also not welcome Consider this very simple example for starters - noun "Hexenschuss," consisting of the words "Hexe"("witch") and "Schuss"("shot"). The word-for-word translation is (“witch’s shot”); however, such a translation would be completely wrong because it does not adequately convey the intended meaning of the word. Actually, “Hexenschuss” should be translated as "sciatic attack." Or, what would you do with the expression "eine gemütliche Haut," which is literally translated as “comfortable skin”? Those who are not familiar with this expression will be surprised that it has nothing to do with clothing as such! Now try to guess how it is translated. The answer is at the end of article!
It's unlikely that Google Translate will be of much help in solving the riddle because the weak spot of any machine translation is its extensive use of literal translation and the absence of personal communicative and cultural experience, which could shed light on how to interpret the text. This is probably why human (especially professional) translators are still in demand, although sometimes you can use an online translator to get a few laughs. It's always fun for us to read such ridiculous loan translations from a foreign language:
|Servicepersonal konnte nur Russisch.|
|Service staff can only Russia|
|Service personnel speak only Russian|
|Ich gebe zu, daß so etwas den Mann am anderen Ende erbosen kann, aber Kinck hätte sich wegen meiner gelegentlichen Fehler trotzdem nicht so anzustellen brauchen (E. Ambler, Schmutzige Geschichte).|
|I admit that such a thing can enrage the other person's end, but Kinck does not need to have to do this because of my random errors in any way.|
|But a professional would translate this as:|
|I admit that something like this can make the man at the other end angry, but Kinck does not have to get like that because of my occasional mistakes. (E. Ambler, Dirty Story).|
Perhaps, there's no need for further clarification here. The result, as they say, is obvious and becomes even more so when you use Google’s “abracadabra” translations.
The moral of this fable is this: to be a professional translator, you have to do more than simply memorize thousands of foreign words. At the very least, you have to know how to capture the meaning of a phrase and adequately convey it in another language. And, to be the very best, you must preserve the extralinguistic elements of the phrase, i.e., along with the meaning, you must keep everything that goes beyond the linguistic structure: the style, attitude, double meaning, word play, cultural aspect, and in special situations – the volume and rhythm (as in the case of slogans and poetry).
A FEW MORE GERMAN “DELICACIES” FOR DESSERT
Some German words are so long that you can view them in perspective. When you observe such a word, it gets narrower toward its end like railroad tracks.
If you use a search engine in the hope of finding a list of the characteristics of the German language, you will eventually end up with hundreds of pages, which will undoubtedly mention, among other traits, a "love" of long words such as these:
- Metallsauerstoffverbindung – metal oxide compounds
- Geschwindigkeitsbegrenzungsüberschreitung — Exceeding the speed limit
- Fussbodenschleifmaschienenverleih – Rental of a floor-polishing machine
To the multitude of similar complex words, you can immediately add numerals, which are also written as one word:
- eintausendneunhundertsechsundachtzig (or neunzehnhundertsechsundachzig, or if this is a year) — one thousand nine hundred eighty-six
- zwanzigtausendfünfhundertdreiundsiebzig — twenty thousand five hundred seventy-three
Moreover, the numbers from 21 to 99 are not read as we are used to, but in reverse - first the units, and then the tens: "one-and-twenty," not "twenty-one," or "nine-and-thirty," and not "thirty-nine."
It should be mentioned that the Russian language has very long words, although not so often (and, mainly, in specialized areas): автоэлектростеклоподъемники (autoelectrowindow-lifters or power windows), фиброэзофаго-гастродуоденоскопия (fibroesophagogastroduodenoscopy), метоксихлордиэтиламинометилбутиламиноакридин (methoxychlordiethylaminomethylbutylaminoacridine).
And the Germans find Russian names and patronymics incomprehensibly long: Konstantin Vyacheslavovich or Veronika Vladimirovna.
In the case of technical translation, the subject of complex compound nouns stands out. We sometimes not only have to try to find an adequate translation equivalent but also to invent it. For example, the translation of the term "Einbaumotor" is not hard to find. The dictionary offers these options: "built-in engine," "hinged engine," "internal engine," "transport engine," "plug-in engine" and so on. All these translations are close in meaning with only minor differences; however, none of them conveys the true semantics of the word. The fact is that "Einbaumotor" is not just a plug-in engine but an engine that was produced by one manufacturer and built into the mechanism of another manufacturer. In this situation, the translator either has to keep the sentence structure and thereby lose the deep meaning of the term (in such cases, training manuals advise to still make footnotes with explanations), or deviate from the syntactic model of the original and enrich the text with a description of the technical reality.
And a word like "Überrollprofil" will not be found at all in any dictionary. Neither will you find a substantial description of it in the vast reaches of the Internet. Therefore, it was up to our translators to invent the translation: "safety profile during rollover." Here the main objective was to clearly convey the semantics of the term and make it understandable to the native speaker, into whose language it was being translated.
There is yet another feature that is difficult to get used to when you are studying the German language: nouns of the same name have a gender different from the one used in the Russian language. What is more, to designate the gender of nouns, the German language uses special parts of speech – articles. They are divided into definite (der, die, das) and indefinite (ein, eine), and you have to know when to use one or the other type. They say that even the Germans themselves sometimes make mistakes in the use of definite and indefinite articles. So, keep in mind: along with memorizing many German nouns, you will immediately have to learn which grammatical class they belong to. Sometimes it is very difficult, because where it seems that characteristics should match up, absolutely unexpected circumstances emerge: the "girl" is neuter in gender (das Mädchen); the "child" is also neuter (das Kind); but the gender of "apple" and “summer” is masculine (der Apfel, der Sommer); and "narcissus” and “million" are feminine (die Narzisse, die Million). By the way, for Germans, all drinks as masculine, except for "das Bier" ("beer"). But there are no exceptions for the word "vodka" – its gender is also masculine (der Wodka)!
It is also important to remember that the meaning of certain nouns can be different depending on the gender. For example:
- der See — lake and die See — море;
- das Steuer — steering wheel and die Steuer — tax;
- der Tor — a fool and das Tor — the gate.
Undoubtedly, Germans find it equally as hard to learn the Russian language when it comes to the gender of nouns and their declensions.
In any case, it is impossible not to love the German language despite all its complexities and differences with Russian. It is clear and logical, and the more you immerse yourself in this coherent and orderly world, the more organized you yourself become. At the same time, it is impossible not to love the Russian language for the flexibility and freedom it offers in manipulating its structures and units.
Translating a work from one language to another is like removing its skin, taking it across the border and there clothing it in the national costume.
In this article we tried to light-heartedly and subtly shed some light on the difficulties encountered not so much by translators as by people who are simply studying German or Russian as foreign languages. Discussions about professional translation would have turned out to be much more complex and comprehensive and would have been similar to a textbook. Nevertheless, we hope that we succeeded in at least hinting at how difficult and many-sided this ancient and ever-in-demand profession is. To those who believe that a translator’s abilities are limited to having a massive vocabulary and skillfully adapting it to grammatical rules, we want to earnestly say again: in addition to vocabulary and grammar, the translator has to grasp the cultural and moral aspects, always keep up with the news and continuously learn, read and memorize! This endless and serious work is not only done for yourself but also on yourself! A highly specialized translation (be it medical, technical or scientific) requires learning tens of thousands of terms and the ability to work out the complex relationships within a sentence. As a rule, specialized texts contain many lengthy constructions with numerous subordinate elements and additions inside. Given the peculiarities of the structure of German sentences mentioned above, the subject and predicate may be separated by dozens of other syntactic units. In order not to lose the semantic and logical threads when translating such documents, the interpreter needs to use special techniques, consisting of temporarily dropping secondary elements of the sentence structure. It goes without saying that it is not unusual for translators to have to rearrange the structure of the sentence (change word order and parts of speech) to produce not just a translation but an adaptation while constantly adhering to the rules of the language and taking culturally-conditioned concepts into consideration, Therefore, do not rush to underestimate one of the most important professions by calling a professional everyone who knows more than 5,000 foreign words.
Well, and for those who have not yet managed to find out what the idiom "eine gemütliche Haut" means (literally “comfortable skin"), we reveal that's what they call a pleasant, good person. In Russian, the expression is translated as "shirt-guy" and refers to a sociable fellow.