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Today my second-year Russian students encountered the word надолго, which means ‘for a long time.’ Despite knowing what the word meant, the students had a difficult time translating it well in actual sentences. It turns out not only human beings have trouble with these sentences. I typed the question «Таня надолго пришла в библиотеку?» into a couple of online translation apps, and this is what they came up with:
babelfish.yahoo.com: Tanya is for a long time alien into the library?
translate.google.com: Tanya came in for a long time library?
When I finally stopped laughing, I understood it was time discuss approaches to translating it. Let's start by glossing the sentence word for word:
The context of the sentence is that Tanya is now at the library and someone else at the library is asking a third party a question. The sentence means “Has Tanya come to the library for [the purpose of spending] a long time [here]?” There are a couple ways to put this in English that more or less corresponds to the Russian original, and they are:
B. Has Tanya come to the library for a long time?
Sentences A and B probably sound normal to some speakers of English. They sound slightly awkward to me, and they also have the potential of being misinterpreted as meaning “How long has Tanya been coming to the library?” But the main problem with them is this: when we want to ask in English how much time someone intends to spend in the place they have just arrived at or just departed for, we most commonly phrase the question quite differently. The most normal way to ask these questions is not to use a motion verb at all, but instead use a plain verb "be" or the verb "stay":
D. Will Tanya be at the library for long?
E. Will Tanya be at the library for a long time?
Let's say you are a translator. These sentences will put you in a bit of a pickle, and to resolve it, you will have to consider your target audience. If your target audience for the translation consists of people who have the regrettable desire of getting translations that maximally reflect the wording of the original, then you want to choose translations modeled on A or B. But remember this: the purpose of a professional translation is to accurately reflect the communicative goals of the original text/speech, and a professional one should always flow decently in the target language. The best professional translation will choose C, D or E. Sad to say, there are times when a really professional translation is rejected by an unsophisticated purchaser, and to get paid we translators have to dumb it down to a more awkward translation. Such is life. Not much you can do about it.
Let's take a look at five more sentences from our textbook. First we will give a word for word gloss and then a good translation.
|Will Lena be at her friend's place for long?|
|Кевин и Оля||надолго||уехали||в||Звенигород||?|
|Kevin & Olya||for-long||have-departed||for||Zvenigorod||?|
|Will Kevin and Olya be in Zvenigorod long?|
|Will Olya be on her business trip for long?|
|Will Kevin be in Moscow for a long time?|
|Will Dasha be in America long?|