What does a Russian person mean when they ask another person to do the following: “Do you not want to go for a walk?” Well, they may mean exactly what they say. But they could also mean: “Skedaddle!” This example shows: Anyone working with the world language of Russian (spoken by approximately 280 million people across the globe) will need a profound understanding and a keen nose for allusion. After all, Russian is full of allusions.
Andriy Rubashnyy is 37, a qualified translator , and has lived in Germany for 12 years. Born in Ukraine, he is perfectly familiar with the ambiguity of his native language. He knows the level of understanding it takes to tease out the true meaning of Russian sentences – and what disasters are lurking. Rubashnyy remembers the German subtitles he once saw for a classic Russian film while watching TV. A literal translation of the character’s line would be: “My pipes are burning.” The professional translator still remembers: “The subtitle turned the statement into ‘My heating is bust’.” But its actual meaning was: ‘I’m hungover .’
The ambiguity of Russian phrases makes context all the more important. Translated into Russian, choosing the right words for even harmless German phrases like ‘Viel Spaß!’ (have fun) can be a minefield. It doesn’t take much for them to become salacious comments referring to one’s more intimate life, explains the translation professional. Quick, literal translations are dangerous, says Rubashnyy: “A Russian translation must always reflect the underlying meaning more than the actual words.”
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Besides the grammatical challenges, it is important to note that Russians take a dim view of perceived impoliteness. Translation professional Rubashnyy: “Etiquette is more important in Russian society.” The formal manner of address is used almost exclusively, apart from a few exceptions. “Even family members may address each other formally. And naturally it is obligatory when companies communicate with customers.” You will not be popular by switching too quickly to an informal style. “It may even be perceived as an insult”, explains Rubashnyy.
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Wissen Und Emotionales Verstän
Andriy Rubashnyy was born in Ukraine and has been a professional translator and interpreter from German and English into Ukrainian and Russian for almost 20 years.
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