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Winter Vol. 14, No.1
SLAVIC LANGUAGES DIVISION
AMERICAN TRANSLATORS ASSOCIATION
www.americantranslators.org/divisions/SLD
SlavFile
SlavFile
Inside:
Confessions of a conference newcomer ................ How to fail as a translator ....................................... 4
SlavFile Lite .............................................................. 6
SLD meeting minutes .............................................. Errors of nonnative Russian speakers ................ Software review ..................................................... 13
SLD Survey Part III am among those who caught the wave of heightened interest in the Soviet Union in the late s. At the time, I had just finished studying the erstwhile “enemy’s language at the Defense
Language Institute, but still appreciated an English language source for stories about Russia and the Soviet Union. That is the point at which I started reading Soviet Life magazine, an English language periodical published in the USSR as a propaganda vehicle. However, as my Russian improved, I took less notice of English language sources, especially those published with obvious propagandistic purposes. Hence, I will admit that I missed the two-part transition in which Soviet Life was first renamed Russian
Life
, and then reborn under the editorship of Paul Richardson (a concise history of the journal is available on the publisher’s website, www.rispubs.com/rlhist.cfm).
As billed in the biographies section of the annual Conference program and further detailed on his personal website, Paul Richardson is the publisher and editorial director of Russian Life magazine and the president of Russian
Information Services, a publishing company he founded in 1990. He is also the author of Russia Survival Guide Business and Travel (six editions, as well as numerous articles on Russia published in Russian Life
and elsewhere. He received a BA. from Central College and an MA. in political science as well as a Russian Area Studies Certificate from Indiana University. In 1989-90, he pioneered one of the first successful
Soviet-Western joint ventures.
During this year’s Susana Greiss lecture, Richardson unpacked the problems he and his staff have faced and solutions they have found in attempting to translate Russia for an En- glish-speaking audience. From a publisher’s perspective there are challenges on both sides of the communicative act.
Richardson delved into both of these aspects while explaining how his magazine has learned to work through the differences.
On the source-text side, Richardson outlined five factors that make it hard to get an “export-quality picture of Russia The first,
which comes as no surprise to Russia watchers, is that it is dangerous to be a journalist in Russia. Recounting the journalists killed or jailed for challenging power, Richardson concludes that the Russian government is intent on eliminating journalism as apolitical force.
The second problem is that it is hard to find competent journalists in Russia. Those that exist generally fit into two broad categories strongly associated with generation. The older generation tends toward what he termed “matryoshka journalism reporting on stories colorfully, but without asking the hard questions. Richardson finds the
Review of the 2004 Greiss Lecture, Translating Russia,”
by Paul Richardson, editor, Russian Life magazine
Reviewed by Joseph Bayerl
younger generation more incisive, but with an inclination toward moralizing commentary.
Compounding the first two problems is a third—the difference in
Russian and US. journalistic cultures. Whereas US. journalism strives to be short and pithy—to get a hook on our attention from the first line and then hold on—Russian journalism is far more verbose and discursive. Therefore, a direct translation is likely to fall short of the American reader’s expectations since, rather than finding the main points upfront, he or she is obliged to search in unaccustomed places, at the end or diffused throughout the text.
Richardson put the fourth problem into a universal context.
Bias is a natural and unavoidable phenomenon and can have positive manifestations, such as a skeptical bias that speaks truth to power. However, in Russia, the journalistic bias tends to be of the bad kind in that it is born out of fear of and subjugation to authority, which leads toward self-censorship.
The foregoing challenges are all aggravated by the fact that,
according to Richardson, journalists generally cannot write. He was quick to add that this is more than a matter of grammar and syntax. Rather, there is a more fundamental issue in that many writers do not know how to tell stories, and do not think of storytelling as their medium. However, he described an instance in which the author of a convoluted (from a US. perspective) article was able to successfully recast the story by thinking of it as a conversation.



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