Translation Issues: Part 2

In the first part of this analysis we have briefly touched upon the history of the Armenian translation, translated literature, we have examined the Armenian translation of the short story “Ligeia” by Edgar Poe by the method of comparison, which was made during the last period of the Soviet Union, thus, on the basis of the examined model, trying to expose the problems of the translation of that period.

In the second part of the analysis we will try to examine and assess the short story “A Christmas Tree and a Wedding” by F. Dostoevsky, which was included in the book “Short Stories” published in 2015, comparing it with the original work and the English translation. This comparison will allow us to assess modern translation and examine their problems thereby trying to provide solutions.

As mentioned above, the Armenian translation of the book was published in 2015 (translated by Alexan Mekhakyan), and the English translation studied by us was done in 1968 (translated by David Magarshak). The original work was published for the first time in 1848. All the three versions of the work appeared in different centuries, so they carry the linguistic mentality of their period and the spirit of the time.

Discussions on the Armenian and English Translations of the Short Story “A Christmas Tree and a Wedding” by F. Dostoevsky

The story is based on a social controversy. It tells about two cases of the witness-author’s life. The cases are linked to each other by their plot. The characters of the story are guided only by their own interests, and against the young girl’s will her parents marry her to rich Julian Mastakovich.

Unlike Edgar Allan Poe, whose prose is lyrical, and the order of the words in the work is primary, Dostoevsky’s prose is more ideological, here the work’s inner content is more primary. Therefore we do not consider it appropriate to examine the translations by language levels, separating phonetic, lexical, morphological, syntactic and stylistic points. We will do the analysis by referring to the current issues and formulating them.

In the Armenian version first of all there is an excess of words and the author uses not only words that are alien to the text, but also words and templates that are not recommended in literary Armenian. In the first paragraph of the short story, for example, there is very much of unnecessary use of the word բան (thing).

Let us compare:

“Свадьба хороша”.

“Wedding was superb”.

«Հարսանիքը լավ բան է»: – (“The wedding is a good thing.”)

Or:

“Это вот так случилось”.

“This is the way it happened”.

«Ինչպես պատահեց այդ բանը»: – ( How that thing has happened)

The excess use of the word բան (thing) obviously makes the sound of the work in the author’s word incomplete. These sentences would benefit more in the terms of the art, if, like the original work, the translation also maintained the appropriate briefness of the word.

Eg. «Հարսանիքը լավն է» – (“Wedding was superb”)

«Ինչպես պատահեց այդ» – (“This is the way it happened”).

The Armenian translation also suffers from the wrong translation of the words and phrases when wrong words are chosen from the series of synonyms, which have wrong definitions and do not match F. Dostoevsky’s discourse. An attempt is made to apply high style homonymous words, which make the speech unnatural.

Eg., “Гладить бакенбарды” is translated into Armenian as «այտամորուսները սղալել» ( “To stroke the whiskers”)

The word սղալել, in our opinion, is not spot on. It would sound more accurate if the synonym շոյել was used. The incorrect word and phrase usages may also lead to the distortion of the innr sense, when the author’s main idea in the translation is missing or is understood incorrectly.

“Тут был еще один господин, у которого, кажется, не было ни роду, ни племени…”

Here is the Armenian translation of the aforementioned sentence: «Այնտեղ մի պարոն էլ կար,  ով կարծես թե ազգուտակ չուներ»: (There was another gentleman present, who seemed to have no family, no trible…)

During the description of the character F. Dostoevsky by a neat expression figuratively describes that his hero is from lower class, that he is foreign in around the rich people, and the inner sense of the word relatives is missing, and the hero is perceived quite as “A man having no relatives”. The Armenian translation does not give the meaning of the division  of social inequality which is central to the story.

The above mentioned phrase is not translated in the English version, but transported in other terms. Just its explanation is given here.

“His appearance was not that of a man of birth or high family”.

In this case, the content of the work, unlike the Armenian translation, certainly benefits, As for the English-speaking readers the main idea expressed by the author becomes accessible, though, the artistic side of the story suffers: the metaphorical meaning is obscure and is expressed in a simple sentence.

The lack of metaphor or just translations of the meanings are also used in the Armenian version.

Let us compare:

“Он прежде всего бросился мне на глаза”.

“He was first to attack my attention”.

«Նա բոլորից շուտ նկատելի դարձավ ինձ համար»:

The verb նկատելի դառնալ (to become noticeablin place of the idiom бросился мне на глаза and merely describes its meaning. The semantic translations of the idioms are acceptable only when there are no equivalents in the language. However, in Armenian the synonym «աչքի ընկնել» exists (to catch the eye),   which would more typically and accurately describe the situation. In the English text, for example, the phrase is not translated but is replaced by the equivalent – to attack my attention.

The Armenian version suffers also from the usage of the phrase “ինձ համար” (for me), where the word համար (for) is unnecessary in this case. It would be more grammatically correct to use the form «Նա բոլորից շուտ նկատելի դարձավ ինձ»:

When talking about the word order, it should be noted that in the English translation it is partly modified: the complex sentences are simplified, some sentences are even just removed from the translated text.

For example:

“Кроме этой фигуры, таким образом принимавшей участие в семейном счастии хозяина, у которого было пятеро сытеньких мальчиков, понравился мне еще один господин”. For this sentence we have the English version: “There was another guest who interested me”.

As it is clearly seen from the example, the English version of the sentence is distorted. The fact of noticing the gentleman is present only, the description of the environment, which is essential for imaging the classes of society, is missing.

However, The Armenian version, unlike the English one, retains the sentence structures and the word order, and the author’s thoughts are not distorted.

«Հինգ կուշտուկուռ տղա ունեցող տանտիրոջ ընտանեկան երջանկությանը վերոհիշյալ կերպով մասնակից դարձած այդ նշանավոր անձնավորությունից զատ ինձ դուր եկավ մի պարոն»:

From the view of the word order, the Armenian version is definitely better, but here there is also an improper translation of the word сытеньких, which is not accurate here.

In Translation Theory, in general, the author’s spelling is also important. When the author deliberately writes the word in a concrete way, emphasizing this or that feature, translators need to preserve it, transferring and adapting to the rules of the language it is being translated into.

F. Dostoevsky, speaking about the central character Julian Mastakovich, describes him with a neat sentence: “Это было Лицо”, which images the character completely. The capitalized word Лицо makes the character typical and emphasizes its personality. In both translations, however, unlike the original text, the epithet is written in lower case, which again, in artistic sense, weaknesses the work.
“He was a personage”, «Սա դեմք էր»:

For a good translation it is also important to maintain the proper names, appellations, the original mythological names. There are many names that are typical to concreate nations and have specific meanings in the given language or culture. In the case of translation one should pay attention to these issues.

For example, in his short story F. Dostoevsky compares the little girl with the angel of love Amur: “прелестная как амурчик”.

In the English translation the simile is completely preserved, but the translator replaces the angel Amur with angel-god Cupid, who has the same function: “lovely as a cupid”.

Neither Cupid, nor Amur are typical…Amur are typical to Armenian culture, hence A. Makhakyan translated the sentences as follows:  «սիրո հրեշտակին նմանվող»:

In our opinion, both versions are not acceptable. The translations would benefit if the translators remained close to the original text, preserved the name Amur and gave its explanation or the synonym in the footnotes.

Thus, having studied the Armenian and English translations of F. Dostoevsky’s short story “A Christmas Tree and a Wedding”, it becomes evident that the Armenian is more successful. It maintains the author’s inner tricks, stylistic devices, structures of the sentences, etc. The latter, however, has its disadvantages, that are obvious in various translations of our time.

Summary

In both parts of the analysis we have discussed and presented the historical overview on the Armenian translation, we have assessed the translated works of the Golden Age, have slightly touched upon the examples of the succeeding centuries, and have tried to formulate the issues posed to the modern translators. As the topic required, in the first part of the analysis we have focused on the translations of 1983, and in the second part – on the translations of 2015.

These comparisons make clear the fact that today in Armenia the art of translation is largely subordinated to previous periods. But we should also mention that today in Armenian market there are high-level translated works, which gradually pave the way for the development of the field. Hence, summarizing the above-spoken, let us come to the following conclusions and try to formulate the measures to solve the existing problems.

Most of our translations are literal, they convey the basic meaning and the content of the work, but they do not give the work’s inner layers and do not make aware of the internal rhythm. For solving the problem, first of all the translator should be fully aware of the author’s writing history, should master the fictional means applied by the author and only after that begin the translation.

  1. The translation should be maximally close to the original work. All the words should be translated, however not literally. The translator should pay attention to the grammatical and syntactic rules of the translated language so that the work fits that language fully. This does not mean that the order of the words must be always changed. The translator must be able to maintain the copyright as much as he/she can, but so that verbal patterns fit the Armenian language. If in E. Poe’s short story the translator changed the sentence structure in many cases, and therefore the translation suffered, in the case of Dostoevsky’s short story A. Mekhakyan possibly remained close to the original, which allowed the reader to get acquainted with F. Dostoevsky’s literary style due to the Armenian text.
  2. When translating the phraseologies or metaphorical expressions it is important to substitute them with equivalents so that the author’s artistic image be obvious, and they must be substituted only with descriptive translation or must be explained in the footnotes only in case of their absence. It is important to maintain the artistic expressions used by the author too, which mostly provide the work’s artistic side. When translating words one should choose not the most complex and beautiful word in the range of synonyms, but the one, which is consistent with the current situation and in stylistic sense, is consistent with the original word. The Armenian versions were full of many words of high style, which made the text unconvincing and unnatural, cutting it from reality.
  3. Besides the issues of lexical, grammatical, syntactic and artistic expressions, the phonetic peculiarities are also very important. In lyrical works the translator should maintain the author’s phonetic devices, which give the work inner melody, and sometimes they even help to organize it .The author’s specific spelling is essential as well.

The main problems of the modern translations are varied, and the most important thing, however, is the translator’s talent. Fiction translator should also have a a talent to write or be a writer himself, in order not only to familiarize the reader with the contents of world literature, but also let foreign writers “speak” their language.


  1. Դոստոևսկի Բ., Պատմվածքներ, Եր., 2015:
  2. Комиссаров В., Теория перевода (лингвистические аспекты), М., 1990.
  3. http://ilibrary.ru/text/28/index.html
  4. http://www.classicreader.com/book/2169/1/


Author: Astghik Soghoyan. © All rights are reserved.

Tranlsator: Syuzanna Mkrtichyan.


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