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Sunday, July 16, 2006

On a Less Frightening Topic 

Sometimes you'll see “Great Patriotic War” as a translation of the Russian or Soviet term for WWII. It's good as far as it goes, but it demonstrates the final impossibility of translation. While it's true that Otechestvo, derived from otets “father”, can mean “fatherland” or “patria”, its usage is different.

For example, here's a bit from Izvestiia about pop music promoters in Russia (now called “promoutery”) and their bid to have Madonna come on tour: “Лучшие отечественные промоутеры спят и видят, как Луиза Вероника Чикконе откликнется на их приглашение.” (“The best promoters in the country dream about Luisa Veronica Ciccone's response to their invitation.”) Here otechestvennye has nothing at all to do with patriotism but with “Russian (as opposed to foreign)”, or “domestic”. In some contexts you could say, as here, “in the country”, or “national”, or “at home”, or even “our own”, governed by the English term's suitability to the sense. And this is where the big problem lies.

People talk about a particular word's being “loaded” or something, but most words are. When you find the dictionary giving five or six meanings for a single word, that's useful, and the only way to go, but it's really the result of analysis. The word itself doesn't mean separate things. Therefore: much work, etc.


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