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Translator's Preface to the Russian Edition

Translator's Preface to the Russian Edition

Language International, February 2001 (Vol.13, No.1)

Author: Natalie Shahova

In 989 AD, when Cyril and Methodius were translating the Bible from Greek into Old Slavonic, the ancestor of modern Russian, they had to devise a special alphabet, which has evolved into the modern "Cyrillic." And their challenges didn’t end there: they had to borrow Greek words for many concepts. I don’t mean to compare our team to the Bible’s translators (or Bill Gates to its author), but the tasks were similar. Russian doesn’t yet have standard terms for many concepts that figure in Gates’ book, and we were forced to choose from among the various possibilities. The inevitable compromises this entailed will probably draw varying reactions from our readers.

The difficulties began with the cover itself. By translating Business @ the Speed of Thought to Biznes so skorost’yu mysli ("Business at the Speed of Thought"), we lost an essential element. The @ symbol, which corresponds to the word at in English, is a ubiquitous component of e-mail addresses. But we didn’t dare add it to the Russian alphabet, so we omitted it from the translated title, eliminating the author’s obvious reference to e-mail. Fortunately, we were able to compensate by including the symbol as a decorative graphical element on the cover.

It’s already standard practice to write Internet in Cyrillic and decline it according to Russian grammatical rules, but there is no consensus yet when it comes to the Web. We decided that since English has shortened it from the cumbersome World Wide Web to the simpler Web, why not drop the pretentious Vsemirnaya Pautina in favor of Set? But we still had to retain veb-uzly (Web sites) and veb-tekhnologii (Web technologies)—there was just no way around them.

One of the most difficult problems was the expression knowledge worker. An Internet search and poll of specialists revealed that this term is understood inconsistently in English: some use it to refer to so-called IT-industry workers, while others apply it to all who have extensive knowledge and are engaged in creative information processing in any field at all. In choosing between accuracy and brevity, we settled on rabotnik intellektual’nogo truda and intellektual’nyi rabotnik (which mean roughly "performer of intellectual work").

We had to swallow hard before adopting such monstrosities as reinzhiniring biznes-protsessov (re-engineering of business processes). But you will agree that reorganizatsiya delovykh protsessov (without new borrowings) is not much better, and the meaning is less clear.

I would like to make a special note of transactions. It turns out that this word has entered the Russian language simultaneously in two forms: economists and certain other specialists write transaktsii, whereas computer scientists write tranzaktsii. Time will tell which will prevail.

The development of terminology always lags behind technological progress: first people invent the wheel, and then they name it. And names often change with time. A few years ago I received a text describing kletochnyye telefony (cellular telephones), but now that seems laughable; everyone knows cell phones are called sotovyye (literally, "honeycomb").

It’s impossible to discuss innovations without using new words, but awkward names simply don’t survive. At the dawn of aviation, Russian added a slew of new terms: aviator, aeroplan, etc. But with time, many of these were displaced by native coinages: lyotchik, samolyot, with the Russian root lyot ("fly").

To put it briefly, in order to convey American thoughts in Russian, we had to choose terminology at our peril. And the acceptance or rejection of our choices will ultimately be for the Russian-speaking community to decide.