Tagged with russian

Captainess Kirk: Musings on language and culture

Captainess KirkBy Kathleen S. Kirk

In my experience with language, nothing is exactly the same when you translate it. Direct, literal translation is impossible to accomplish in many languages without corrupting, or downright destroying, meaning.

For example, in English, we can say, “He has a ball.” This is a simple idea to us, conveyed by possession and ownership, in what we believe are simple, universal terms.

And, yet, when translated into certain languages, it becomes something much different.

In Finnish, “He has a ball” becomes “Hӓnellӓ on pallo.” To translate this literally would be “He is ball.” The form of the verb “be” used here takes this phrase from a state of being to a state of ownership. It gets more complicated in Russian. That same phrase gets translated as, “У него есть мяч,” which is, in English, “At him there is ball.” This is how ownership, or the closest thing Russian has to ownership, gets conveyed. To further complicate things, let me point out that “ест” (in this circumstance “there is”) is also a tense of the verb “есть” (“eat”).

Effectively, this also allows us to argue that “У него есть мяч” can also be directly translated as “At him to eat ball,” but that is a linguistics battle for a different day. Continue reading

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Captainess Kirk: The Russian Kate

Captainess Kirkby Kathleen S. Kirk

From a young age, I was very used to responding to variations of my name. I was called Katherine and Katelyn, Kathy and Kate, and everything else in between, and I always took it in stride. It was never very difficult to weed out what I might be called or how someone might interpret my name.

Then I began a relationship with my Militantly Nerdy Boyfriend Alex, an odd hybrid of Russian strappings and vibrant American patriotism. He was born in the Soviet Union and immigrated with his parents at the age of three, becoming a naturalized American and even joining the military. When he’s not using terms of endearment for me, my name gets shortened to an affectionate “Kath.”

I suppose this was the warning sign I should’ve looked for, but everything else was going so well in our relationship that I hardly spent much time dwelling on it. However, by the time I met his grandparents, I knew I had fallen haplessly into a bottomless pit of foreign moniker confusion.

Alex had, at my request, told his whole family that they could call me Katya, since “Kathleen” has sounds that don’t exist in Russian, especially that difficult “th”. I don’t think I have ever been called Katya once, though.

When I first met Alex’s grandparents, his grandfather, beaming at us, announced that he would call me Kate. Alex explained later, amidst the broken English, that his grandfather felt he was being more respectful to me by translating Katya back into English again and calling me an English name, even if he couldn’t pronounce my actual name.

Eventually they became comfortable calling me “Ketlin”, which is essentially the Russian pronunciation of “Kathleen.” But that is when the floodgates opened, so to speak. I started thinking of it as a game, and in the beginning it actually was kind of funny, if not even fun.

I had always gone by “Kathleen,” or “Katie” around family, but now I also learned to prick my ears at the sound of a “Kath,” “Kate,” or “Ketlin.” Soon “Ketlin” bifurcated and I found I also had to listen for “Ketrin.”

Now, this may not seem too terrible, and it wasn’t, in English, but I usually was trying to listen for my name amidst a flurry of Russian, a language full of that hard K sound. My ears were constantly primed for anything that sounded similar.  Continue reading

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Captainness Kirk: English, Kusipää, Do You Speak It?

By Kathleen S. Kirk

A few days ago, I was watching Burn Notice, one of my favorite shows. It’s about a famous spy, Michael Weston, who gets blacklisted and effectively booted from the CIA. He’s made out to be this brilliant linguist, fluent in Russian, and his name was known all over Russia.

Before I started learning Russian, I could’ve believed this. Now, not so much. I’m quite certain any and all Russians who heard him would’ve laughed him out of Russia, possibly even out of Europe.

It came down to one simple word, спасибо (pronounced spa-si-buh). And he was pronouncing it like it was spelled cпасибва (spa-si-bva). The subtitled translation simply said, “Thank you.”

No, this could not be.

Continue reading

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