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Translation and the Russian Language

No surprise that we get so many requests for Russian translation. Russian is the most widespread language over Eurasia. With over 170 million native speakers, it is the 7th most spoken language in the world (or possibly 8th, depending on your source)!. No surprise then that at Atlas Translations, we have lots of requests for translation into Russian, and from Russian to English.

The Russian language has had some influence from German, French and Italian around the 18th and 19th century, but English is the language that has influenced Russian most in modern times.

The alphabet used is Cyrillic, and dates back to the 9th Century. It was created by 2 Greek missionaries who based it mainly on the Greek alphabet. The use of Cyrillic brings some challenges when translating into English, especially names!

Russian is famous for its long words like достопримечательности (dostoprimechatel’nosti) meaning Sights and for its unsual consonant clusters – for example, ткнуть (tknut’) meaning to poke.

There are 3 genders (feminine, masculine and neuter) and then a plural form as well and each follows a different declensional pattern. The stress in Russian is difficult to predict as it changes for different declensions and different conjugations. To add to the mix, Russian surnames vary by gender. Russian names consist of a first name, a family name, and a patronymic name, which is the father’s name plus the ending -ovich for a son and -ovna for a daughter. So if a father named Ivan has a son and a daughter, his son’s patronymic will be Ivanovich and his daughter’s will be Ivanovna.

Russian in Space!

Did you know that astronauts have to learn Russian before going into space? Due to Russia’s extensive space programme, and presence at the International Space Station, it’s now a requirement for all astronauts to have a working knowledge of Russian. So if you have aspirations of going into space, you’d better crack open your Russian dictionary in between studying for the astrophysics exams, or I’m afraid you’ll have to stay down on earth!

English words with Russian origins

Some English words which derive from Russian are Царь (Tsar), Тундра (Tundra), Рубль (Ruble), Павлова (Pavlova) and a particular favourite of mine – Водка (Vodka).

Another word taken from Russian is Спутник (Sputnik) which entered the English dictionary in 1957, the year that the first Soviet artificial satellite was launched.

What not to say

Be careful what you say: if you try and buy a магазин (magazin) in Russia you’ll end up buying a shop, and if someone invites you to their кабинет (cabinet) don’t go and sit in the cupboard – they’re asking you to go to their office.

Expressions that do not translate well in English

В ногах правды нет – “There’s no truth in your legs” an expression used when inviting someone to take a seat.