Translation of proper nouns is one of the problems that a translator faces. It is certainly not a simple task as it can be problematic, rather ambiguous and occurs within a given cultural context.
A proper name is “a name for an individual person, place, or organization having an initial capital letter . Proper names have no plural forms, are used without articles and do not accept restrictive modifiers . Translators working with proper names are never working with just two languages, as proper names often require knowledge of other languages, in so far as they contain a considerable amount of history .
Generally speaking, proper names include several categories. There are names of:
- geographical places and political subdivisions;
- zodiac signs, etc.
Geographical names often have specific forms in other languages (exonyms), which may differ in pronunciation, spelling and morphology . There is no unified scheme to translate proper names; however, there are several ways to translate names from Russian into English: transliteration, transcription and calquing.
Transliteration implies the use of transliteration tables with the Russian alphabet. Although there is a certain GOST to translate proper names, but it is not alone. There are several problems with translation of certain groups:
- hissing sounds (zh, kh, ts, ch, sh, shch);
- some vowels (е, ju, ja);
- letters of –“j”, -y, hard and soft signs.
When we translate the Dnieper River, we use transliteration. There are many variants such as:
- Dniapro or Dnyapro.
It happens because the river runs through three countries: Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, where Dnieper has a different spelling. Another example is “Крым”. It should be translated as “the Crimea” and not as “Krym”. Using transliteration, “Кольский полуостров” may be transliterated as “Kol'skij poluostrov”; however, it is traditionally translated as “the Kola Peninsula”. “Комсомольск-на-Амуре” should be transliterated as “Komsomol'sk-na-Amure”; however, it is used as “Komsomolsk-on-Amur”.
Transcription uses the sound of a word. Moreover, phonetic transcription is different from the simple writing of words and transfers the spelling rules of the source to the target language. There might be some difficulties as the same word could be pronounced differently in English. As a rule, transcription keeps the approximate historical sound in proper names.
The emphasis is often shifted in transcription. For example, Washington in Russian language has the accent on the last syllable, and Florida on the second syllable. However, in English both these place names have the accent on the first syllable.
Calquing implies translation in parts: translation of morphemes if it is a word, or translation of words if it is a word combination. For example, historically the translation of Russian suffixes “-чик”, “-щик”, “-ель” correlate with English suffixes “-ist”, “-er”, “-or”; Russian prefixes “не-”, “без-” correlate with “un-”, “non-”, “in-”, “im-”. The use of calquing is very common in borrowed words.
Calquing is often used in the translation of geographical names:
- the Black Sea;
- the Rocky Mountains;
- Ladoga Lake;
- the Pacific Ocean;
- Saint Helena Island, etc.
On the whole, translation of proper names is complicated owing to different patterns of naming that exist in different cultures, subtle allusions hidden in proper names and language structure. Thus, when the translation of a geographical name is not available, the translator should keep the place’s name in its original language to make it recognizable.
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2. Castañeda-Hernández G. Navigating through treacherous waters: the translation of geographical names // Translation journal. 2004. Vol. 8, No. 2.
3. Nord Ch. Proper names in translations for children. Alice in Wonderland as a case in point. http://www.erudit.org/revue/meta/2003/v48/n1–2/006966ar.html (accessed April 23, 2015).
4. Pearsall J. Concise Oxford English dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press 2002. 1728 p.