Handling equivalent-lacking forms and structures 

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Handling equivalent-lacking forms and structures

It has been mentioned that the source language may have a number of grammatical forms and structures which have no analogues in the target language, and some procedures were suggested for dealing with such equivalent-lacking elements.

The English grammatical form that has no direct equivalent in Russian may be a part of speech, a category within a part of speech or a syntactical structure. A lack of equivalence in the English and Russian systems of parts of speech can be exemplified by the article which is part of the English grammar and is absent in Russian. As a rule, English articles are not translated into Russian for their meaning is expressed by various contextual elements and needn't be reproduced separately. Translating the phrase "the man who gave me the book" with the Russian «человек, который дал мне книгу» the translator needn't worry about the definite article since the situation is definite enough due to the presence of the limiting attributive clause. There are some cases, however, when the meaning of the article has an important role to play in the communication and should by all means be reproduced in TT. Consider the following linguistic statement: 'To put it in terms of linguistics: a sentence is a concrete fact, the result of an actual act of speech. The sentence is an abstraction. So a sentence is always a unit of speech; the sentence of a definite language is an element of that language." It is obvious that an entity cannot be both a concrete fact and an abstraction. The difference between "a sentence" (любое отдельное предложение) and 'the sentence" (предложение как понятие, тип предложения) should be definitely revealed in the Russian translation as well.

Even if some grammatical category is present both in SL and in TL, its subcategories may not be the same and, hence, equivalent-lacking. Both the English and the Russian verb have their aspect forms but there are no equivalent relationships between them. Generally speaking, the Continuous forms correspond to the Russian imperfective aspect, while the Perfect forms are often equivalent to the perfective aspect. However, there are many dissimilarities. Much depends on the verb semantics. The Present Perfect forms of non-terminative verbs, for instance, usually correspond to the Russian imperfeclive verbs in the present tense:

I have lived in Moscow since 1940.

Я живу в Москве с 1940 г.

Progressive organizations and leaders have been persecuted. Прогрессивные организации и передовые деятели подвергаются преследованиям.

The Past Indefinite forms may correspond either to the perfective or to the imperfective Russian forms and the choice is largely prompted by the context. Cf.:

After supper he usually smoked in the garden.

После ужина он обычно курил в саду.

After supper he smoked a cigarette in the garden and went to bed.

После ужина он выкурил в саду сигарету и пошел спать.

The Past Pefect forms may also be indifferent to these aspective nuances, referring to an action prior to some other action or a past moment. Cf.:

I hoped he had read that book.

(а) Я надеялся, что он читал эту книгу, (б) Я надеялся, что он (уже) прочитал эту книгу.

And, again, the broader context will enable the translator to make the correct choice.

Of particular interest to the translator are the English syntactical (infinitival, participial or gerundial) complexes which have no parallels in Russian. Translating sentences with such complexes always involves some kind of restructuring.

A special study should be made of the translation problems involved in handling the Absolute Participle constructions. To begin with, an Absolute construction must be correctly identified by the translator. The identification problem is particularly complicated in the case of the "with"-structures which may coincide in form with the simple prepositional groups. The phrase "How can you play with your brother lying sick in bed" can be understood in two different ways: as an Absolute construction and then its Russian equivalent will be «Как тебе не стыдно играть, когда твой брат лежит больной(в постели)» or as a prepositional group which should be translated as «Как тебе не стыдно играть с твоим больным братом».

Then the translator should consider the pros and cons of the possible translation equivalents. The meaning of the Absolute Participle construction can be rendered into Russian with the help of a clause, an adverbial participle (деепричастие) or a separate sentence. Each of these methods has its advantages and disadvantages. Using a clause involves the identification of the specific adverbial function of the construction: " Business disposed of, we went for a walk." - Когда (так как) с делом было покончено, мы отправились погулять. This can be avoided by using an adverbial participle, but then care should be taken to refer it to the subject: Покончив с делом, мы отправились погулять. (Dangling participles are common in English but are usually not used in literary Russian. Cf.: "But coming from West Indies, his chances were very slim" and «Подъезжая к станции, у меня слетела шляпа».)

The same sentence can be rendered into Russian by two separate sentences: Работа была закончена. Мы отправились погулять. This method is not infrequently used by the translators, whenever it suits the style of the narration.

Specific translation problems emerge when the translator has to handle a syntactical complex with a causative meaning introduced by the verb 'to have" or "to get", such as: "I shall have him do it" or "I shall have him punished". First, the translator has to decide what Russian causative verb should be used as a substitute for the English "have" or "get". Depending on the respective status of the persons involved, the phrase "I shall have him do it" may be rendered into Russian as «Я заставлю его (прикажу ему, велю ему, попрошу его и т.п.) сделать это» or even «Я добьюсь (позабочусь о том, устрою так и т.п.), чтобы он это сделал». Second, the translator must be aware that such complexes are polysemantic and may be either causative or non-causative. The phrase 'The general had his horse killed" may refer to two different situations. Either the horse was killed by the general's order (Генерал приказал убить свою лошадь) or he was killed in combat and the general was not the initiator of the act but the sufferer (Под ним убили лошадь). An error in the translator's judgement will result in a distorted translation variant.

Many equivalent-lacking structures result from a non-causative verb used in the typical causative complex. Preserving its basic meaning the verb acquires an additional causative sense. Cf.:

They laughed merrily.

Они весело смеялись.

They laughed him out of the room.

Они так смеялись над ним, что он убежал из комнаты.

In such cases the translator has to choose among different ways of expressing causative relationships in TL. Cf.:

The US Administration wanted to frighten the people into accepting the militarization of the country.

Администрация США стремилась запугать народ, чтобы заставить его согласиться на милитаризацию страны. Неtalked me into joining him. Он уговорил меня присоединиться к нему.

It should be noted that such English structures are usually formed with the prepositions "into" and "out of as in the above examples.


Modality is a semantic category indicating the degree of factuality that the speaker ascribes to his message. A message can be presented by its author as a statement of facts, a request or an order, or something that is obligatory, possible or probable but not an established fact. Modal relationships make up an important part of the information conveyed in the message. There is a world of difference between asserting that something is and suggesting that it should be or might be.

Obviously a translation cannot be correct unless it has the same modality as the source text. The translator must be able to understand various modal relationships expressed by different means in SL and to choose the appropriate means in TL.

English makes use of three main types of language units to express modal relationships: modal verbs, modal words and word groups, and mood forms.

Modal verbs are widely used in English to express various kinds of modality. The translator should be aware of the fact that an English modal verb can be found in some phrases the Russian equivalents of which have no particular modal forms. Compare the following sentences with their Russian translations:

She can speak and write English.

Она говорит и пишет по-английски.

I can see the English coast already.

Я уже вижу берег Англии.

Why should you say it?

Почему ты так говоришь?

There is no direct correspondence between the English and the Russian modal verbs and the translator should choose the appropriate word which fits the particular context. The meaning of the verb "should", for example, in the sentence "You should go and see him" may be rendered in various circumstances by one of the Russian verbs expressing obligation: (а) Вы должны навестить его. (Ь) Вам необходимо навестить его. (с) Вам следует навестить его. (d) Вам следовало бы навестить его, and so on. For the same reason the modal meaning expressed by the confrontation of the two modal verbs in the English original may be rendered into Russian not by two modal verbs but by some other modal forms:

Were you really in earnest when you said that you could love a man of lowly position? - Indeed I was. But I said "might".

— Вы на самом деле не шутили, когда сказали, что могли бы полюбить человека небогатого? — Конечно нет. Но ведь я сказала «может быть, смогла бы».

"It may rain today," he said. His companion looked at the sky. "Well, it might," she said.

— Сегодня может быть дождь, - сказал он. Его спутница подняла голову и посмотрела на небо. — Вряд ли, — ответила она.

Most English modal verbs are polysemantic. So "must" can express obligation or a high degree of probability. "May" implies either probability or moral possibility (permission). "Can" denotes physical or moral possibility, etc. Compare the following sentences with their Russian translations:

You must go there at once.

Вы должны тотчас же пойти туда.

You must be very tired.

Вы, должно быть, очень устали.

Не may know what has happened.

Может быть, он знает, что произошло.

Не may come in now.

Теперь он может (ему можно) войти.

I cannot do the work alone.

Я не могу (не в состоянии) один сделать эту работу.

I cannot leave the child alone.

Я не могу (мне нельзя) оставить ребенка одного.

But when a modal verb is used with a Perfect Infinitive form, it loses, as a rule, its polysemantic character. Thus, "must have been" always implies certainty, "may have been", probability, while "can't have been", improbability. It should also be noted that the Perfect Infinitive may indicate either a prior action (after "must", "may", "cannot") or an action that has not taken place (after "should", "ought to", "could", "to be to"). Cf.:

He must have told her about it yesterday.

Должно быть, он сказал ей об этом вчера.

Не should have told her about it yesterday.

Он должен был (ему следовало) сказать ей об этом вчера.

Special attention should be given to the form "might have been" where the Perfect Infinitive can have three different meanings: a prior action, an action that has not taken place and an imaginable action. Cf.:

I might have spoken too strongly. Возможно, я был слишком резок.

You might have done it yourself. Вы могли бы это сделать сами.

То hear him tell his stories he might have won the war alone. Если послушать его рассказы, можно подумать, что он один выиграл войну.

Among other means of expressing modality mention should be made of parenthetical modal words: "certainly", "apparently", "presumably, "allegedly", "surely", "of course", "in fact", "indeed", "reportedly and the like, as well as similar predicative structures: "it is reported", "it is presumed", "it is alleged", etc. They may all express various shades of modal relationships and the translator cannot be too careful in selecting the appropriate Russian equivalents. For instance, "indeed" may be rendered as «более того, поистине, фактически» и т.п., "in fact" — «на самом деле, более того, словом» и т.п., "above all" - «прежде всего, более всего, главным образом».

Не was never a useful assistant to me. Indeed, he was rather a nuisance.

Он никогда не был мне хорошим помощником. Более того, он скорее даже мне мешал.

Some of the modal adverbs ("surely", "easily", "happily" and the like) have non-modal homonyms. Compare:

What should he do if she failed him? Surely die of disappointment and despair.

Что с ним будет, если она его обманет? — Несомненно, он умрет от разочарования и отчаяния. (Неге "surely" is a modal word.)

Slowly, surely as a magnet draws he was being drawn to the shore.

Медленно и верно, как будто магнитом, его тянуло к берегу.

The English mood forms give relatively little trouble to the translator since he can, as a rule, make use of the similar moods in Russian. Note should be taken, however, of those forms of the English Subjunctive (the Conjunctive) which are purely structural and express no modal meanings that should be reproduced in translation:

It is important that everyone should do his duty. Важно, чтобы каждый выполнил свой долг. I suggest that we all should go home. Я предлагаю всем пойти домой!

While handling modal forms the translator should not forget that while the English language has practically no modal particles, the Russian language has. Whenever necessary, Russian particles (ведь, хоть, мол, де, дескать и др.) should be used to express modality which is expressed in the source text by other means or only implied:

After us the deluge.

После нас хоть потоп.

Не was in wild spirits, shouting that you might dissuade him for twenty-four hours.

Он пришел в неистовство и кричал, что вы можете его разубеждать хоть круглые сутки.



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