by Don  

Let's say a young Russian student is composing an essay and decides to write “I want to earn a billion dollars” in Russian. He knows the word for million is миллион, so he figures a billion must be биллион, but, being an enterprising student, he quickly double-checks his Russian dictionary. He is pleased to note that the word is exactly as he expected, so he writes «Я хочу заработать биллион долларов.» Alas, he has made an error. Even though you can find the word биллион in Russian dictionaries, people rarely use it. Instead they say миллиард:

Я хочу заработать миллиард долларов. I want to earn a billion dollars.
Бюджет штата Аризона уменьшили на два милларда долларов. The Arizona state budget has been reduced by two billion dollars.
У бывшего премьера Таиланда отобрали полтора миллиарда. (source) One and a half billion dollars have been confiscated from the former Prime Minister of Thailand.
Минобороны потратило пять миллиардов рублей на неудачные испытания беспилотников. (source) The Ministry of Defense has spent five billion rubles on unsuccessful drone aircraft experiments.

If you are translating from English to Russian, you must be quite careful if the source document has the word billion in it. In the US the word billion always means 1,000,000,000. That's not necessarily true in other English-speaking countries. For most of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in England the word meant 1,000,000,000,000. (In the States we call that a trillion). The US system is known as the “short scale” system of naming numbers, and the old British version is known as the “long scale.” In 1974 the UK officially switched from long scale to short scale, but there are still people in Britain who use the word the other way. That means that a good translator will take the time to determine the nationality of the author and the country in which the source was published before he finalizes his translation, and even then it's a good idea to see if the source document has some internal confirmation of which meaning is intended.


Comment from: Yegor [Visitor]

There is one more interesting thing with numbers. While in English a comma separates positions and a point indicates fraction, in Russian there is no points in numbers at all and the comma indicates fraction. Думаю, не надо рассказывать, почему это важно :)

05/18/10 @ 10:41
Comment from: Rus [Visitor]

Я хочу заработать миллиард долларов.
I want to earn a billion dollars.

05/15/10 @ 03:30

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