It was a moment of acute humiliation for the Russian Academy of Sciences.
When the learned body produced an English language version of its website last year, the results caused a stir. The Institut Belka (Institute of Protein Research) was translated as the Squirrel Institute (Institut Belki), while Yury Osipov, the mathematician who heads the academy, was introduced to foreign colleagues as the President of Wounds.
Brings back memories of happy days. For a month or two, back in my early days in Moscow, I made something of a living sorting out such problems. Essentially, sub-editing stuff.
There was a weekly magazine which was an English language version of the major editorials from a Russian daily newspaper. They had good enough translators on the staff, but they were all native Russian speakers. So there was a final team (of whichever impoverished native English speakers happened to be around) to give it a further translation from Russian English into English English. Or American English: it could be slighty surprising to go from one piece retranslated by a Brit and then the next piece starting with septic spelling.
And of course differences in style as well: septic newspaper pieces follow quite strict rules about how boring they must be while the Brit handled pieces were always a bit livelier.
But we all had to do a great deal more than just check for the Squirrel Institute. Russian pieces, and thus their direct word for word or sentence for sentence translations would always start:
At the 7 th plenary of the Standing Committee of the Presidium of the 6th Oblast\’s Sports Committee the remarks were greeted with uproarious applause….
And the finished article might read:
Cheating sportsmen should be shot said Gospodin Ulyanov at a meeting of the Sports Committee in Ryansk.
Making the Russian writers get to the point was often the hardest part…..but then people have said that about Tolstoy too and he\’s rather regarded as a great writer.