In general, we do not have enough materials comparing the lexical systems of the English and Russian languages. Preparing such materials demands fluency in both languages. Lynn Visson meets this criterion: for her, both languages are native. As Visson explains, translating language means translating culture. Lexicological gaps are often the direct consequences of cultural gaps between the two languages; they also arise from distinct differences between two cultures.
The job of the translator or interpreter is to find the term whose meaning provides the closest equivalent to the word in the source language. This often entails careful consideration of the nuances of the given word. Both translators and interpreters need to pay close attention to the various stylistic shades of the meaning of the word. Throughout her new volume, Visson shows that she understands such subtle usages, as for example, when she discusses the differences between “geek” and “nerd” (52-54). She argues that the former has lost most of its original negative connotation, while the latter maintains much of it.
The abundance of abbreviations or shortened words in English, particularly in the digital age, can present a real challenge for the Russian translator. Examples include words like “skeds” or “creds” (57). Visson warns that trying to render such terms can be a “dangerous process with unforeseen consequences” (57). Some shortened words can present a challenge, particularly in the ambiguity they can raise (like “docs,” which might refer to either documents or doctors). The exercises and notes that Visson has created to accompany her relatively short chapters (six in total) are brilliant. For example, the Russian word “glamurnyi” does not correspond always to the English term “glamorous,” or its nominal partner “glamourex.” The expression “glamurnye liudi” is not necessarily “glamorous people,” but can be translated as the “fashionable set,” “socialites,” or “celebrities” depending on the context (see p. 60). Visson also explains the nuances of word combinations like “eye candy,” “arm candy,” “air kisses,” “chic lit,” and “gangsta lit,” among others (64-65). The author meticulously explains the nuances in expressions like “drop-dead” (i.e., “drop-dead gorgeous”) or “spot-on” to the Russian speaker.
The fourth chapter “Me, Myself and I” deals with various gaps in the Russian lexicon as a direct result of Russia’s history (such as the lack of certain notions of “psikhotrep” /“psycho trash talk”/), which again causes problems for both interpretation and translation. Phrases like “I’ve gotta do what I’ve gotta do” or “one day at a time” can be difficult for non-native English speakers to understand. Visson offers both detailed research and useful hints on translating a variety of terms and phrases such as “in-your-face,” “to push the envelope,” “moment” (as in “a senior moment”), “bond,” “bonds,” “a friend with benefits,” “to hook up,” “to commit,” “to engage,” “wired,” “to connect,” “closure,” and many others.
Slova-khameleony i metamorfozy v sovremennom angliiskom iazyke consists of an Introduction and six chapters. The creative titles of each chapter reflect Visson’s approach to translating: “What Does Hello Mean?” “A Love for Abbreviating Words,” “The Fruits of Mass Enlightenment,” “Me, Myself and I,” “Polysemy and Politics,” and “The Business Jargon of Big Business” [all translations mine]. The volume also contains a brief chapter entitled “Instead of a Conclusion” as well as a helpful “List of English Polysemic Words.”
I highly recommend Visson’s work to linguists working in the Slavic field, to both translators and interpreters, and to instructors, especially to those working in post-Soviet countries and teaching both Russian and English. It has been already used in Ukrainian Universities.
Valerii Polkovsky, Ostroh Academy National University