La Russophobe recently had an interesting e-mail exhange with the linguists at the Language Hat blog. Not being a linguist herself, she queried them about her post on Mark Twain, to see if her points were well made and find out how they might be improved — and got a fascinating response.
Language Hat told La Russophobe that her post was not revelatory, as she thought, but old news, and of no interest to them. To quote Language Hat directly:
“Virtually all Russian translations are terrible in many different ways; translating is regarded in Russia as journeyman work and very poorly paid, and it’s a miracle if the basic meaning is conveyed. To make a big deal out of something as relatively recondite as not reproducing bad grammar is, to my mind, straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel.”
And there’s more. Language Hat informed La Russophobe that her concern about possible politicization of translation may be overblown. Language Hat says that Russians mistranslate not necessarily because of anything as sensational as political bias, but simply because Russian translators are simply not willing to do the “hard work” that would be required to make such translations (i.e., the stereotype of Russia being a nation of slackers is perfectly true, it appears). What’s more, according to Language Hat as quoted above, Russia is a nation of anti-literary morons, who assign their very lowest common denominator to the task of translating foreign literature. (This does make some sense, given the pathetically low wages Russia pays to teachers, doctors and policemen.) Of course, the butchery is very convenient for political purposes even if it is not intentional.
And there was poor, confused La Russophobe thinking that Russia was a nation with a great literary tradition, and a population that worshipped the written word! She thought that perhaps Russians were unaware of how they were butchering foreign literaure, and might want to do something about it. Come to find out, perhaps the whole world already knows that Russia is a nation of slack-jawed xenophobic simpletons who haven’t the faintest idea about the literature of other countries. And Russians themselves may indeed be very well aware of this fact; after all, they certainly know about the ridiculously low quality of medical care, police protection and education they receive, so it stands to reason they may also know how wretchedly they butcher foreign literature. And they just don’t care.
In other words, not only isn’t La Russophobe not too hard on Russia, she’s way, way too soft!
In future, La Russophobe promises to buck things up a bit.
Still, La Russophobe is willing to bet that there are at least one or two myopic, rabid Russophiles out there who think Russia has a grand literary tradition and translates wonderfully well. For them at least, La Russophobe remains convinced that her Twain piece will be revelatory.