Translation transcription, transliteration

Transcription is a method of writing down speech sounds.

It is essential to differentiate between a phonetic transcription and a practical (or translation) transcription. In a phonetic transcription, sounds are depicted by special symbols on the basis of their articulatory and auditory identity. A phonetic transcription is an intralinguistic operation, that is, it deals with only one language: Anchorage [`xNkqrIG], Oakland [`qVklxnd].

A practical transcription is an interlinguistic operation as it deals with two languages: the sounds of the source language word are rendered by the letters of the target languge: Anchorage – Анкоридж, Oakland - Окленд. Because the English (Latin) and Russian (Cyrillic) alphabets and sounds do not coincide, there are special rules48 for representing English sounds by Russian letters and Russian sounds by English letters.

One should pay special attention to transcribing East Asian (Chinese, Japanese, and Korean) words into English and Russian, especially when doing tertiary translation of Asian words from English into Russian or vice versa.

It is neccessary to remember that because of the difference in phonetic systems, East Asian sounds are designated differently in English and Russian. Thus, in Japanese words, the sound symbolized by the English sh is somewhere between [s] and [S]; therefore, in Russian it is transcribed by the letter C: e.g., Hiroshima – Хиросима, shogun – сёгун. The letter L can indicate the sound quality between [l] and [r]. For example, the name of the Korean president Kim Il Sung corresponds in Russian to Ким Ир Сен.


Abroad, transliteration, defined as writing a word in a different alphabet,49 is often associated with transcription.However, strictly speaking, the notion of transliteration is based on representing written characters of one language by the characters of another language.

There are a number of different systems for transliterating the Cyrillic alphabet. Different languages have different equivalents for Russian letters. Thus, the Russian name Лапшин can be rendered in English as Lapshin or Lapšin, in French as Lapchine, in German as Lapschin, in Italian as Lapscin, in Polish as Lapszyn. Even in English there are several systems for transliteration of modern Russian, which range from the system suitable for works intended for the general reading public to those suitable for the needs of special in various fields.

The major systems for transliterating Russian words into English are the British Standards Institution (BSI), the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the Library of Congress (LC), and the Permanent Committee on Geographic Names (PCGN) systems.50 The chart in Appendix 1 will give the idea of the differences between these systems and will be helpful in practicing transliteration.

When transliterating, it is best to use the version which most closely approximates the source language word. Thus the forms ruble, kopek, tsar are preferable to the alternatives rouble, kopeck, czar.

The mute r is always transliterated in Russian: Morning Star – газета ’’Морнинг Стар” whereas the mute e is usually omitted: Fosse – Фосс.

Transliteration and transcription often compete, so that sometimes it is difficult to state how to render a word (especially a personal or place name) in the other language. But transliteration is preferred to transcription in bibliographical citations found in publications: Arakin, V. Sravnitelnaja tipologija anglijskogo i russkogo jazykov.

In the dispute between transcription and transliteration, some factors should be kept in mind:

• modern and outdated traditions: these days the English great physicist Newton is known in Russia as Ньютон (transcription), though in the 18th century M. Lomonosov wrote about Невтон (transliteration).

• national traditions: in the source language the form of a name can follow the spelling traditions of its original country. The target language form often follows the original pronunciation tradition: Mozart – Моцарт; Dvořak – Дворжак, Singer – Зингер.

Special attention should be given to transliterating Chinese words into Russian and English, especially in tertiary translation. There are two ways of transliterating Chinese syllables (and words) into English. In the English-speaking world since 1892 Chinese words have usually been transliterated according to a phonetic spelling system called Wade-Giles romanization, propounded by British Orientalists Sir Thomas Wade and Herbert Giles. Since 1958 another phonetic romanization known as Pinyin (spelling) has had official standing in the People's Republic of China, where it is used for telegrams, mass media and in education. Therefore a Chinese loan word can have two English scripts: e.g., Мао Цзэдун – Mao Zedong, Mao Tse-tung; Пекин – Beijing, Peking (in these words the difference in form is caused, beside the transliteration systems, by different dialect origins of borrowing). When translating words borrowed from Chinese, it is recommended to consult special charts of transliteration Chinese syllables (see Appendix 2).

The main principles of correspondence between English and Russian syllables in transliterating Chinese words are as follows:

• the English combination ng corresponds to the nonpalatalized Russian н, e.g. kung fu – кун-фу;

• the English n corresponds to the the Russian palatalized нь: fen – фэнь (фынь);


Lexical transformations change the semantic core of a translated word. They can be classified into the following groups:

1.Lexical substitution, or putting one word in place of another. It often results from the different semantic structures of the source language and target language words. Thus the word молодой is not always translated as young; rather, it depends on its word combinability: молодой картофель is equal to new potatoes. This translation equivalent is predetermined by the word combination it is used in. This type of translation can hardly be called substitution, since it is a regular equivalent for this phrase.

Deliberate substitution as a translation technique can be of several subtypes:

a) Specification, or substituting words with a wider meaning with words of a narrower meaning: Will you do the room? – Ты уберешься в комнате? I’ll get the papers on the way home. – Я куплю газеты по дороге домой. The underlined English words have larger scopes of meaning than their Russian counterparts and their particular semantics is recognized from the context.

b) Generalization, or substituting words of a narrower meaning with those of a wider meaning: People don’t like to be stared at. – Людям не нравится, когда на них смотрят. If we compare the semantic structure of the English and Russian verbs, we can see that the English stare specifies the action of seeing expressed by the Russian verb. The Russian смотреть can imply staring, facing, eyeing, etc. The specific meaning in the Russian sentence can be expressed by the adverb пристально. Another reason for generalization in translating can be that the particular meaning expressed by the source language word might be irrelevant for the translation receptor: She bought the Oolong tea on her way home. – По дороге домой она купила китайского чаю. Oolong is a sort of Chinese tea but for the receptor this information is not important; therefore, the translator can generalize.

c) Differentiation is a rather rare technique of substitution. It takes place when we substitute a word by another one with parallel meaning, denoting a similar species: bamboo curtain – железный занавес. Both bamboo and железо (iron) are materials known for their hard nature. They are used figuratively to denote the barriers between the Western and Communist countries (bamboo curtain in reference to China, железный занавес in reference to other Comecon (Council for Mutual Economic Aid) states. There are no hyponymic relations between the notions of bamboo and iron (though the referential area of железный занавес is of course much wider than that of bamboo curtain.)

d) Modulation is a logical development of the notion expressed by the word: But outside it was raining. -– Но на улице шел дождь. The primary equivalent of the word outside is снаружи. But it is impossible to say in Russian *Но снаружи шел дождь. By means of unsophisticated logical operation the translator finds another equivalent: на улице. Thus he takes into consideration a tradition of the word combination and acceptability of collocation. He is aided in this by the metonymical closeness of word meanings based on contiguity of the two notions.

2.Compensation is a deliberate introduction of some additional element in the target text to make up for the loss of a similar element in the source text. The main reason for this transformation is a vocabulary lacuna in the target language. For example, one of the Galsworthy’s characters was called a leopardess. But there is no one-word equivalent of the same stylistic coloring in Russian. Therefore, the translator compensated the word by using the word тигрица to characterize the lady.

3.Metaphoric transformations are based on transferring the meaning due to the similarity of notions. The target language can re-metaphorize a word or a phrase by using the same image (Don’t dirty your hands with that money! – Не марай рук этими деньгами!) or a different one (Он вернет нам деньги, когда рак свистнет. – He will pay us our money back when hell freezes over). The source language metaphor can be destroyed if there is no similar idiom in the target language: Весна уже на пороге. – Spring is coming very soon. Or, on the contrary, the target text is metaphorized either to compensate a stylistically marked word or phrase whose coloring was lost for some reason, or merely to express a source language lacuna: Он решил начать жить по-новому. – He decided to turn over a new life.


Grammar transformations are morphological or syntactical changes in translated units. They are subdivided into the following types:

1. Grammar substitution, when a grammar category of the translated unit is changed. Thus a passive construction can be translated by an active voice verb form: Martin Heidegger is generally regarded as one of the most influential founders of existentialism. – Мартина Хайдеггера обычно считают одним из самых значительных основоположников экзистенциализма. The reason for this transformation is stylistic: in English the passive voice is used much more often in neutral speech, whereas in Russian this category is more typical of the formal style.

Or there may be substitution of the noun number category, the singular by the plural or vice versa: Her hair is fair and wavy. – У нее светлые волнистые волосы. This transformation is due to the structural difference between the English and Russian languages: in English the analyzed noun is Singularia Tantum, in Russian it is used in the plural.

Parts of speech, along with the parts of the sentence, can be changed: He is a poor swimmer. – Он плохо плавает, where the noun is substituted by the verb, the adjective by the adverb; simultaneously the predicative is substituted by the simple verb predicate. The reason for this transformation can be accounted for by language usage preferences: English tends to the nominal expression of the state, Russian can denote the general state by means of the verb.

2. Word order change. Usually the reason for this transformation is that English and Russian sentences have different information structures, or functional sentence perspective.* For example, A new press conference was held in Washington yesterday is naturally equivalent to Вчера в Вашингтоне состоялась новая пресс-конференция, where the adverbial modifiers, subject and predicate are positioned in a mirrorlike fashion.

3. Sentence partitioning is the replacement of a simple sentence in the source text with a complex sentence (with some clauses), or a complex sentence with several independent sentences in the target text for structural, semantic or stylistic reasons: I want you to undestand this transformation. – Я хочу, чтобы вы поняли эту трансформацию. Моя машина не завелась, поэтому я не смогла заехать за вами. – My car wouldn’t start. Therefore, I couldn’t pick you up.

4. Sentence integration is a contrary transformation. It takes place when we make one sentence out of two or more, or convert a complex sentence into a simple one: If one knows languages, one can come out on top. – Зная языки, можно далеко пойти. In ancient Rome, garlic was believed to make people courageous. Roman soldiers, therefore, ate large quantities of it before a battle. – Перед боем римские воины съедали большое количество чеснока, поскольку в Древнем Риме полагали, что чеснок делает людей мужественными.

5.Grammar compensation is a deliberate change of the grammar category by some other grammar means. Compensation takes place when a grammar category or form does not exist in the target laguage and, therefore, cannot produce the same impact upon the target text receptor. This can be illustrated by translating a sentence with a mistaken pronoun form from English into Russian. Since a similar mistake in using the pronoun is impossible in Russian, it is compensated by a mistaken preposition: ''Take some of the conceit out of him,'' he gurgled. ''Out of who?'' asked Barbara, knowing perfectly well that she should have said 'whom' '' - «Поубавь немного у него тщеславия,» - буркнул он. «С кого?» – спросила Барбара, хорошо зная, что ей следовало сказать ‘у кого’». As a result, the translator showed the character's illiteracy.

Наши рекомендации