Forword Translations Blog
All things language and translation
A New Sector for an Established Language
In Kazakhstan, most business is done in Russian. Kazakh, the state language, is only spoken by about half the population, and many of those speakers live in rural areas. In the cities, where nonprofits and businesses thrive best, almost all of the day-to-day is conducted in Russian.
Some of that is changing, especially in the south of the country, where the ethnically Kazakh are a majority. But since Russian has been used in these organizations for many decades, the technical vocabulary that nonprofits and businesses use has not been translated into Kazakh. The words that have been translated sound fake (because they are) and the average person even within the industry won’t know what it means.
Globalization in Russian is globalizatsiya. Pretty easy. Kazakhs talking about globalization will use this word, because its newness as a concept means they didn’t use it back in the days of herding cattle and roaming across the steppe as nomads. In Kazakh, the new word is jahandyq. Jahan is an old word for world, and dyq is a common nominal ending. To the average Kazakh, this means something like “macrocosmitude.” Familiar sounds; not a word.
I was trained in the newer, official Kazakh. When I used these words around my co-workers, they would laugh and tell me about another Kazakh word that was always used in Russian. The pentasyllabic mouthful sangyrauqulaq is the new Kazakh word for mushroom, which most will cast away for the easier Russian word grib. A word more pertinent to business is kasiporyn, which means enterprise. It’s on enough buildings that people will have heard the word and know that it has something to do with business, but 90% will use the Russian equivalent. So, “I’m going to eat mushrooms in my new business enterprise, a gas station” would be in official Kazakh versus everyday Kazakh:
Men janarmay ortalyghy degen janga kasiporynymda sangyrauqulaqtardy jeyin dep jatyrmyn.
Men zapravka degen janga predpriyatiyemde gribyny jeyin dep jatryrmyn.
Whoa, what a difference!
So a problem a Kazakh-English translator might face – and there are a lot of them in Kazakhstan right now, due to its burgeoning economy – is whether to use the official Kazakh, as the government suggests, or use the Kazakh that people can understand. What is the best way to forcefully change the vocabulary of a people?
I think the solution lies in footnotes and endnotes. For some reason, modern readers have gotten it in their heads that footnotes are appropriate only in non-fiction, academic writing. Why should this be? You don’t have to read the footnotes; they’re optional. If you really wanted, you could buy an un-annotated translation. But because of all the peculiarities of language and the difficulty of translating them, I think it’s important to add footnotes in order to make the text clearer.
Without footnotes, you’d never know that Odysseus telling the Cyclops his name was Metis was a clever trick to escape because Metis means “no man” in Greek (it also means “guile, cleverness”). You’d never know, if you were not an English speaker, that Dumbledore’s “pensieve” was a play on words. You’d never know a lot of things you currently don’t know but would with footnotes.
Footnotes marking Kazakh technical words with their oft-used Russian counterparts would solve a huge part of the problem. Nonprofits and businesses could use the words that are relevant to both writer and reader and avoid all the confusion. And it’s not just about Kazakh and Russian – the idea is applicable to translations between all languages, because a phrase will never be one to one.