Translation Issues: Part 1

Translation is one of the ancient forms of human activity. Even in the preliterary period of languages, oral translations (interpretations) were made from one language into another: various works of folklore, particularly tales were translated, and the wandering plots – versions of the same tale among different nations – are significant examples of this: we can bring as an example the fairy tale “The Red Flower” which exists under different names and with various plot nuances in the folklores of nations living far from one another.

The role of translation has certainly been more appreciated in the literary period. In the Armenian reality this phase has begun since the 5th century. At the dawn of development of the Armenian literature alongside writing their own works, the Armenian authors began to translate foreign books as well. The first translation into Armenian is that of the Bible and this first work shines with perfection of language and style. The Bible has been followed by Greek and Assyrian original texts again interpreted with great mastery by Armenian authors. The works of Plato, Aristotle, Philo of Alexandria, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory the Wonderworker and others have been translated into Armenian.

The 5th century translations were done in two ways: semantic (the main meaning was conveyed) and literal (the author’s word order and words were preserved and the translated version was as close as possible to the original).

In case of semantic translation the text very often acquired an Armenian coloring: the Armenian translators made valuable changes and made annotations (“The Book of Needs”, which is evidently a translation but has an emphasized Armenian coloring and is ascribed to historian M. Khorenatsi should be mentioned). Speaking of John Chrysostom’s (Golden-mouthed) work, academician H. Atcharyan mentions that its Armenian translation has such a rich language that it seems that Chrysostom spoke Armenian and not Greek, and that the original is the Armenian, while the Greek version is its unsuccessful translation.

In case of literal translation, Armenian translators tried not to deviate from the original text and preserve the author’s speech and applied expressive means. In order to do it, they started borrowing not only Greek words, but word formation affixes, syntactic patterns and stylistic means as well. Various linguistic patterns unfamiliar to Armenian were used beside Armenian words: the beginning of the Philhellenic Armenian was laid.

The Armenian language was shining in translations and the latter’s high value gets to prove that a nation which had not have literacy until then could not leave such an impressive translation heritage. Therefore, according to some Armenian scientists, the art of translation was not new for the 5th century authors: it should have had its roots.

Armenian authors treated this art with the utmost seriousness, and translated works were later edited as well. Doctor of Historical Sciences M. Shirinyan is convinced that the Armenian translation of the Bible was being edited until the 7-8th centuries, which is proved by the fact that citations from the Bible in the works of Khorenatsi, Agatangeghos and others do not coincide with its 5th century translation. According to the historian, these authors made their own translations while citing fragments.

It is worth mentioning that philhellenic translations are of great value for not only Armenians, but also Greeks: due to them some lost originals (e.g. False Xenon’s writing) reached us. Being extremely literal, philhellenic translations allow us to get an idea about the lost original.

It becomes clear from the above mentioned that the 5th century translations highly valued and even later the Armenian versions of the pearls of world literature were shining with their tuneful language. Among them are very valuable and beautiful the translations of Shakespeare by Kh. Dashtents and H. Masehyan, A. Pushkin by Hovh. Tumanyan, L. Tolstoy by St. Zoryan, S. Yesenin by V. Davtyan.

The Armenian language is very rich and melodious in ancient, medieval, new and modern translations, but nowadays Armenian translations face a serious problem: the Armenian reader is not familiar with the contemporary world literature, and the problem lies probably in the lack of knowledge or poor command of languages, but the absence of translations or their incompleteness is also a great problem.

Today numerous books are being written in the whole world, there are new genres, literary directions, and the world literature follows its new course, but the Armenian reader, literary criticism and translation stand apart from those enormous and significant novelties. While the Russian translators translate at great speed prominent works of American and European literature, only a small part of the Armenian readers can read these works, and moreover, in Russian. Many contemporary books do not have their Armenian versions, and besides, the Armenian translations do not have the same quality as the Russian variants. The Armenian translations are more literal, they transfer the main meaning and content, but they do not convey the writer’s linguistic mentality and the image system and literary means applied, which comprise the greatest part of the work’s literary value. Thus, it is not difficult to state that in case of scientific texts where the above mentioned features are overlooked and the meaning is of primary importance, translations are more successful. While literary texts suffer in this respect.

In order to support the above-mentioned with facts, we will try to present and assess the Armenian and Russian translations of an eminent representative of American Romanticism Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “Ligeia”, drawing a comparison with the English original. Both translations were done during the last years of the Soviet Union’s existence (at the stage of relatively “good translations”).

This analysis will allow us to actually notice the existing problems in the field of translation and the means of fixing them.

Reflection on the Armenian and Russian Translations of Edgar Allan Poe’s Short Story “Ligeia”

While comparing the three variants we will rest not only upon the content, but also on the vocabulary, grammar and the expression of the figurative system, i.e. how the means applied by the author have been conveyed in the translated versions.

Before starting the stylistic analysis we will try to give a brief summary of the plot.

This short story of horror genre tells about the main character’s first wife, Ligeia, the latter’s death and the character’s second marriage with the Lady Rowena who also dies months later. On the night of her death, when the husband is sitting beside his wife’s body wrapped in a shroud, it suddenly rises up and the author sees the first wife, Ligeia, in the corpse of the second wife.

The master of writing horror stories, Edgar Allan Poe, achieves success in his stories first of all due to the right choice of words, inverted word order and application of horrifying idioms and vivid epithets. Certain repetitions of words and appropriate use of complex sentences create an inner musical rhythm, which makes the text even more frightful. Thus the author’s eminence is in his right choice of linguo-stylistic means.

Let us see how the above mentioned features have suffered or to what extent they have been preserved or exceeded in the translations.

First of all, we will speak about the translators and periods.

The short story “Ligeia” by Edgar Allan Poe was published in 1838, the Russian translation (by I. Gurova) was done in 1972, and the Armenian version (translated by Artashes Emin)-in 1983.

The 134-145-year gap between the periods of the original and the translations somewhat complicates the work of the translators, as along with the change in the period, the linguistic thinking also changes to some extent.

Now the stylistic values of the translations will be considered on separate language levels.

Phonetic level

Examining the two translations from the standpoint of phonetic level, only the foreignism լեյդի [leidi] in the Armenian version can be stressed which the translator has borrowed from the original while in the Russian version we see the form леди [ledi]. The application of the form լեյդի [leidi] is valuable in the sense that it gives the Armenian translation an American coloring and used in the description of the woman makes the character more typical than the variants տիկին or լեդի could make.

Lexical level

The value of the translations is mostly observed while examining the lexical level.

Some essential words and phrases of the original have been altered or completely omitted in the translations. From this viewpoint, the Russian translation is more worthwhile, as it mainly preserves the important words and phrases of the original.

Compare the following:

In the Armenian version it is simply translated: «չեմ կարողանում հիշել» (“I cannot remember…”)

In the English original: “I CANNOT, for my soul, remember”.

In Russian: “Ради спасения души я не в силах был бы вспомнить”. (For the sake of salvation of my soul, I would not be able to remember).

The existence of this sentence indicates more clearly not only the fact of not remembering but also great and vain efforts which are even compared to salvation of the soul.

Or:  Փորձելով վերհիշել վաղուց մոռացված մի բան»:

To recall to memory something long forgotten…”.

Пытаясь воскресить в памяти нечто давно забытое…”.

Instead of the plain sentence in Armenian where the translator has omitted the character’s attempts to recall the bitter memories and only the fact of recalling is expressed, in Russian variant we can observe a full image – metaphor.

Omission of words and phrases entails not only distortion of meaning, but also absence of important epithets, metaphors and similes.

Compare another passage:

It was the radiance of an opium-dream -a airy and spiri-lifting vision more widly diyine than the phantasies which hovered vision about the slumbering souls of the daughters of Delos”.

Это было сияние опиумных грез – эфирное, возвышающее дух видение, даже более фантасмагорически божественное, чем фантазии, которые реяли дремлющими душами дочери Делоса”.

«Նրա դեմքը ողողված էր ափիոնից ներշնչված անուրջներին հատու եթերային մի փայլով, որն իր վեհությամբ գերազանցում էր նույնիսկ Դելոսի դուստրերին՝ հոգին պարուրող չքնաղ երազներին»:

Unlike the Russian translation, the Armenian translation lacks the beautiful comparison between fantasy and reality, as well as the term “фантасмагорически” which represents a unique fusion of pain, dream, love and opium in a single word. With absence of this word the Armenian text suffers a great stylistic loss.

Paying attention also to the phonetics of the texts, the tunefulness which is more vivid in the original (“Slunsering souls of the daughter of Delos…”) can be observed in the Russian version.

The author’s apparently observed poetic language is not expressed in the Armenian version.

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In the Armenian version the vivid epithet “opium-dream” («օփիոնե անուրջ», “опиумных грез”) is also omitted and replaced with the phrase «ափիոնից ներշնչված անուրջներ».

Loss of words can be observed also in the Russian translation where the omission of an epithet leads not only to a flaw in the stylistic coloring, but also to absence of an important symbol.

Let’s draw parallels between the following sentences:

Ligea ” that I bring before mine eyes in fancy the image of her, who is no more”.

Лигейа – воскрешаю я перед своим внутренним взором образ той, кого уже нет”.

«Լիգեյա, կարող է աչքերիս առաջ բերել կերպարը նրա, ով, ավաղ, այլևս չկա»:

In the original we see the word “fancy” which is the short variant of the word “fantasy” and it again brings the fusion of the imaginary, real, opium and insanity. Both translations lack this term which is distinctive for Ed. Poe’s work and becomes a unique symbol of the author’s worldview.

Translation can suffer not only in case of the omission of words, but also in case of replacing it with a synonym having a similar meaning.

In the Armenian text we have the following sentence: «Աստվածացմանհասնող կրքոտ նվիրվածություն…», meanwhile the author has used the synonym of the word աստվածացում (deification) idolatry (կռապաշտություն). The latter is preserved in the Russian version: “…пылкая преданность достигала степени идолопоклонства…”.

In the Armenian version the word has been artificially altered. These words which are at first sight so similar in their meanings have an essential underlying difference. In the original the woman becomes an idol for her beloved, and a parallel is drawn between their love and the pagan worship. Yet, the term “deification” does not convey this inner sense.

The Armenian translation is distinguished by another negative aspect – inappropriate use of elevated words. In some parts the Armenian translator uses a series of words which are “artificial” in the given context and express an excessive sentimentality.

Let’s compare:

«Վեհ ու անբռնազբոսիկ կեցվածք ուներ նա, ինչքան ճկուն ու թեթև էր ճեմում»:

…the quiet ease, of her demeanor, or the incomprehensible lightness and elasticity of her footfall”.

Непринужденность ее осанки, или непостижимую легкость и грациозность ее походки…”.

This phenomenon makes the text unnatural and unconvincing; the image portrayed by the author is lost: we should not forget that each word selected by Poe is felicitous and expressive.

Morphological level

The use of linking words in the Armenian text when they are not found in the original is the only morphological feature distinguished. This is mostly done in order to give the text a certain shade of attitude.

Here are some examples from the Armenian translation:

«Լիգեյա, կարող է աչքերիս առաջ բերել կերպարը նրա, ով, ավաղ (alas)այլևս չկա»:

«Հիրավի (indeed), կամքի խորհուրդը և զորությունն անկարելի է ճանաչել»:

Syntactic level

The differences between the three versions are obvious on the syntactic level as well.

The structures with inverted word order which allow the author to stress the important words and phrases by bringing them to the end are frequently used in the English and Russian versions. Meanwhile, in the Armenian version, the word order is mainly direct which leads to weakening of meaning and neglect of important words.


Thing that was enshrouded…”.

Фигура завернутая в саван…”.

«Պատանքով փաթաթված կերպարանք…»:

The issue of simple and complex sentences is also an important peculiarity on the syntactic level. In order to stress a feature it is presented as a secondary clause in the English and Russian versions, while in the Armenian text simple sentences prevail.

Compare the following:

She who had been dead…”.

Та, что была мертва…”.

«Մեռած կինը…»:

This obvious difference definitely weakens the literary aspect of the work and reduces the effect of horror.

Word repetition is another important syntactic characteristic: words with profound meanings are repeated several times having a greater impact on the reader. The Armenian version mostly lacks word repetitions as well.

E.g., “Can I never, can I never be mistaken…”.

Figurative means

Examining the peculiarities in the figurative means it should be mentioned that the Russian translation exceeds the Armenian in this issue, too.

Some examples of epithets have been given while mentioning the peculiarities on the word level. Now we will present another example of absence of an epithet in the Armenian text.

Compare the following phrases:

High moon” – “глухая полночь” – «կեսգիշեր» (midnight):

The original and the Russian translation include certain metaphors which make the description more expressive: the author attempts to create an atmosphere of fear, while in the Armenian version they are expressed through a single word and there is no metaphorical meaning.


…paralyzed ” had chilled me into stone…”.

Парализуя меня, превращая меня в камень…”.

«Ես քարացել էի…»: (I had stiffened).

Similarly, a vivid example of simile applied by the author can be replaced in the Armenian version.


…hair, it was blacker than the raven wings of the midnight…”.

Волосы – они были чернее вороновых крыл полуночи…”.

«Սաթի պես սև մազեր…»: (hair black as amber)

In the original in order to describe more expressively the hair of the wife who has returned from the afterlife the author compares it to the wings of the black midnight raven, but in the Armenian text her hair is simply compared to dark amber.

Thus, examining Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “Ligeia” and its Armenian and Russian translations it becomes clear that in case of prose Russian translation exceeds the Armenian with lexical, morphological, grammatical and figurative features as it stands closer to the original and mostly expresses the latter’s peculiarities.  Russian translation is able to express all the inner traits of the work of horror genre: the growing horror and the philosophy of word become available for the reader when reading that variant, while the Armenian version is weaker and depicts merely the content lacking the art of horror-creating word typical of Edgar Poe.


  1. Աճառյան Հ., Հայոց լեզվի պատմություն, երկրորդ մաս, Եր., 2013:
  2. Շիրինյան Մ., Քրիստոնեական վարդապետության անտիկ և հելլենիստական տարրերը, Եր., 2005:
  3. Պո Էդ., Մղձավանջներ և անուրջներ, Եր., 1983:
  4. Комиссаров В., Теория перевода (лингвистические аспекты), М., 1990.

Author: Astghik Soghoyan: © All rights are reserved.
Translator: Lusine Marutyan.