English at Work
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Задание на самостоятельную работу (сленг)
Every translator has a notebook for jotting down a new word of usage, or for noting a felicitous turn of phrase used in a translation. A supplemental dictionary is a collective "translator’s notebook”, designed to help foreign speakers navigate the complexities of rapidly changing contemporary Russian, and to help Russian native speakers express themselves in contemporary American English.
Gone are the days when a foreigner with a strong background in standard conversational and literary Russian could watch a film, read a newspaper, or listen to the news on the radio and understand virtually everything. What are we to make of this news item: "Военные операции в Чечне должны завершиться перед тем, как пойдет зелёнка”? And how is that "зелёнка” related to another "зелёнка” that covers the skinned knee of a seven-year old? What does the commentator on the consumer affairs show mean when he speaks of "красная, жёлтая и белая сборка” – and which is the best to buy? What do a candy – "киндер-сюрприз” – and a prime minister have in common? When a friend talks about a "тёлка” he met at a cafe the night before, can he really be referring to a kind of cow? And why does a business associate tell you he’ll prepare a "рыба”, while another fears some "быки”? Given the profusion of wildlife in Russia’s bars and offices, it seems that a "ботаник” might be as helpful as a biologist – but then why does everyone laugh when someone is called that?
A supplemental dictionary provides several possible translations of these and hundreds of other (usually less humorous) additions to the Russian language. The choice of words may seem initially puzzling. At the risk of repeating part of Prof. Burak’s excellent introduction, it would be right to note that supplemental dictionaries choose words, expressions or meanings not found in any of the standard Russian-English dictionaries. These words and expressions range from "neutral” words such as "Федеральное собрание” that reflect the new social and political structure in post-Soviet Russia, to "new” slang such as "прихватизация”, which also reflect the new era (in a less flattering mirror), to "older” words like "профурсетка”, presumably not included in previous dictionaries for political reasons, or the perfectly innocent "северный коэффициент”, which somehow missed inclusion in previous dictionaries. Stylistic notes for the English translations are not unusual, but they are discarded here since the level of similarity in style and tone to the original Russian is as a rule indicated by the way the word(s) are printed. To keep the size of this dictionary manageable, the authors do not include translations listed in other dictionaries. For example, for "значок” you do not have to look for a "badge”, which is the standard translation given in almost all dictionaries, but it would be useful to list "lapel pin”, which is the phrase I use to describe small, usually subtle business, nationality (state / city) or association pins one wears on one’s jacket. (I would use "badge” to describe a larger pin, usually worn as an award or lobbying tool, for example the badges one sees in Moscow "Спроси меня, как я похудел!”).
A special challenge is the criminal slang that has entered the standard language, often becoming less aggressive as it makes its way from the labor camps to the schoolyard. A case in point is the word "кинуть”, which in Russian underworld slang originally meant "to con someone out of something”, in the sense of setting up a sting or scam. As the word made its way into mainstream usage, it first used to mean "to stiff someone, intentionally or not”, but now has been tamed to the point where Moscow teens use it in the sense of "to let someone down”. No one word in English can convey this range of meanings, of course. An experienced translator can only offer several versions for the careful addressee to choose among, depending on speaker and context.
Such a dictionary is a snapshot album of Russia in the transitional period, providing rich material for journalists, cultural anthropologists, historians, and sociologists as well as translators and linguists. It is necessary to expand and update it, as the language changes and we find better or other ways to translate it.
In the meantime, we hope it will be useful to our translator colleagues, and enlightening to anyone who wishes to understand Russia at the beginning of the third millenium.
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