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Language Lab: An Adequate Translation.

Language Lab: An Adequate Translation.

Since January of this year, I’ve been attepting to put my BA in Russian to good use. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t intend to become a teacher.

Instead, I’ve been preparing to take the Diploma in Translation exam, which, I discovered, has an alarmingly low pass rate of 30%. After the course I was on was cancelled due to low re-enrollment after the summer, possibly caused by nervousness about this statistic, I managed to arrange a weekly session with a former college tutor of mine.

This week, a word arose that demonstrated the way translation can be frustrating and fascinating (at least to me) in equal measure.

The word in question was ‘адекватные’ (adekvatnyye), the plural form of the adjective ‘адекватный’ (adekvatnyy). It bears an obvious resemblance to the English word ‘adequate’, and that’s how, after some deliberation, I decided to translate it.

I was translating a piece on molecular biology and the study of aging, and the sentence concerned mentioned the Russian government investing ‘adequate’ sums of money into scientific research.

But ‘адекватный’ isn’t always ‘adequate’.

The Russian language has incorporated a number of loanwords in recent years, but often with meanings slightly different to their English counterparts – hence my tutor recounting an anecdote wherein somebody told him a translation he had done was ‘абсолютно адекватен’ (absolyutno adekvaten).

In English, ‘absolutely adequate’ is about the definition of damning with faint praise, but the Russian phrase was clearly intended as a compliment. In this case, ‘absolutely spot on’ might be a more accurate English translation.

Back to Russian science: ‘adequate sums’ might be an acceptable translation, but ‘substantial’ or ‘significant’ or even ‘large’ sums might be closer to the intention of the original, depending on context.

In short: ‘adequate’ is an adequate translation of ‘адекватный’, except when it isn’t.

I told you translation was fun.