TRANSLATING PERSONAL PRONOUNS



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ЗНАЕТЕ ЛИ ВЫ?

TRANSLATING PERSONAL PRONOUNS



 

One of the most difficult problems is translating pronouns of the second person. The modern English you corresponds to the Russian ты and вы, though Russian ты also corresponds to the English archaic thou, now used only in poetry. To select a proper equivalent to the English you, a translator should clearly understand the function of this pronoun in the sentence. The Russian ты and вы differ in their social status, ты indicating a person of lower status. For example, “The American Tragedy” by T. Dreiser has an episode describing Clyde’s transfer from one prison to another. “And girls and women …[were] calling to him gaily and loudly as the train moved out from one station to another: ‘Hello, Clyde! Hope to see you again soon. Don’t stay too long there.’” This episode has been translated the following way: «И бывало, что какая-нибудь женщина или девушка ,,, громко и весело кричала вслед отходящему поезду: “Хэлло, Клайд! Мы еще увидимся. Смотрите, не задерживайтесь там”.» Evidently, it is unnatural that passersby address a prisoner using the polite вы.

Sometimes the meaning of ты as an indicator of a person’s low social status can be derogatory. In Russian-to-English translation it can be compensated by expressive means. For instance, Да вечно ли ты мне дорогу перебегать будешь? – Damn it… you’re not always going to stand in my way, are you? The English sentence expresses irritation and manifests the addressee’s low social position, as it begins with a very emphatic interjection and ends in a tag-question.

Another function of the Russian ты is to demonstrate friendly or intimate relations between the speakers: Я ведь думала, что ты там… у дяди! – You see, darling, I thought you were at your uncle’s. As you see, again compensation is of great help here.

In some cases explicatory translation can be used to render the meaning of the Russian ты: Они говорили друг другу ты. – They spoke to each other like two old friends.

A translator should be familiar with ethical norms characteristic of the cultures in question. These norms may affect the usage of the pronouns. For example, English-speaking countries’ ethical norms allow people to talk about a person who is nearby in the third person singular (by employing the pronouns he or she). In the Russian community the usage of он/она is considered impolite if the person spoken about is in the same room.

Pronoun usage in a political and economic context can imply certain conclusions. For example, the pronoun she is sometimes employed when developed countries are spoken about. In contrast to she, the pronoun it often refers to developing countries (though it may also be neutral in political sense). For example, When Italyinvaded Ethiopia, she was not yet checked by the League of nations. … it [Ethiopia] was not sufficiently advanced to enter the League. – Когда Италия вторглась в Эфиопию, Лига наций не остановила ее. ... Та (Эфиопия) еще была недостаточно развитым государством, чтобы войти в Лигу наций.

Furthermore, there is a traditional reference in English to a vehicle (a boat, car, etc.) in the form of she: Look at my new car – isn't she beautiful? – Посмотри на мою новую машину – не правда ли красивая?

There is also some pragmatic difference between using English and Russian personal pronouns. English, being an egocentric language, is speaker-centered; Russian is considered to be an “alter-egocentric” listener-centered language. Therefore, in English speech the pronoun I sounds much oftener than in Russian, so in translation it is frequently substituted by ты/вы: How do I know this? – А как вы это докажете? I wonder what he did? – Что он такое сделал, как тыдумаешь? I’ll take eggs and ham. – Давай яичницу с ветчиной. No doubt, one shouldn’t overuse this transformation. This is merely a tendency, not a fixed rule.

It should be kept in mind that pronoun repetition can lead to differences in the sentences. Cf., Mom came in the room and turned off the lights. – Мама вошла в комнату и выключила свет. Mom came into the room and she turned off the lights. – Мама вошла в комнату, и это она выключила свет. The first sentence expresses a succession of two actions; the second, a sort of complaint about Mom’s turning off the lights, is emphasized in Russian by an expressive construction.

An English co-referential pronoun can precede the noun, which is alien to Russian. Therefore, a translator should not be confused by who is meant in the sentence: When he arrived, John went straight to the bank. – Приехав, Джон сразу отправился в банк. A visit to her invalid parents in Indiana… gave New York City actress Gretchen Cryer an idea. – Когда нью-йоркская актриса Гретхен Крайер навестила своих больных родителей в Индиане, ей пришла в голову одна идея. If a pronoun must be verbalized,there should be a change of word order.

When translating from Russian into English, students are sometimes baffled by a form of English pronouns, used in certain positions. Such is a long-standing problem of competitive pronouns in the Nominative case and those in the Objective case in the predicative function: Это я (он, она и т.д.). - It’s I (he, she, etc.) or It’s me (him, her, etc.). After long arguments, grammarians came to the conclusion that the first version (It’s I) sounds very formal, whereas the second version (It’s me) is neutral and informal.

The same holds true in reference to comparative structures: Он старше меня. – He is older than me. / He is older than I. The latter English version is more formal. The same stylistic coloring differentiates sentences with a personal pronoun after but: Никто кроме меня не сделает этого. – Nobody but me can do it. / Nobody but Ican do it. The latter form, being hypercorrect, is no longer used.128

In coordinate phrases with the conjunction and/or, the case form depends on the pronoun’s syntactic function. As a subject, pronouns take the Nominative case form; as an object, they take an objective case form: You and I should be friends. In alter-egocentric Russian, this conjoint meaning is expressed differently, with the pronoun I avoided: Мы с тобой должны быть друзьями. That should be between you and me. – Это должно остаться между нами. She didn’t hit him or me. – Она не ударила ни его, ни меня.

 



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