Translation of Pseudo-International Words

There is a distinct group of words which constitute a special difficulty for the translator, the so-called pseudo-international words. International words are mostly words of Greek, Latin and French origin which have a more or less similar phonetic form in many languages. They express not only scientific, social and political notions but everyday things and notions as well: electronics – электроника; dynamic – динамичный; calorie – калория; elegant – элегантный. These words have become an indispensable part of the vocabulary of different languages. Their referential meaning is in most cases identical. But there is another category of international words which as part of the lexical system of different languages have acquired in these languages novel semantic features – different semantic structures, additional lexical-semantic variants, different connotations and different usage. The Russian language borrows these words most often as terms and they tend to be monosemantic while in the English language they are usually polysemantic. Although warned against them translators are often deceived into making errors by purely formal resemblances.

The rabbit was lying in a depression between two clods. (F. Norris)

БАРС gives the following meanings of the word depression: 1.угнетенное состояние, депрессия; 2.эк. депрессия, застой; 3.ослабление, уменьшение; 4.низина, впадина, котловина.

This sentence was rendered in a translation published in the late twenties as Кролик лежал в какой-то депрессии между двух кочек.

There were attempts to sabotage key services in Santiago.

Делались попытки вывести из строя основные объекты коммунального обслуживания в Сантьяго.

The meaning of the Russian word саботаж is narrower.

We are told that BBC television this autumn will give a massive coverage to the general election.

Сообщают, что нынешней осенью передачи Би-би-си по телевидению будут широко освещать парламентские выборы.

Sometimes the referential meanings of international words coincide, while their contextual meanings do not.

Britain’s world wide exploitation was shaken to the roots by colonial liberation movements.

Колониальное могущество Англии было потеряно до основания национально-освободительным движением в ее колониях.

The contextual meaning of the word “exploitation” is metonymical – the power of colonial systems was based on exploitation. A similar metonymic transference of the word эксплуатация – могущество is rendered to in the Russian translation.

Benches gleamed empty and crimson under the light, their occupants haveng gone to tea. (C.P.Snow).

Все члены Палаты лордов оправились пить чай, и опустевшие скамьи сверкали красной обивкой при электрическом свете.

The Russian loan word оккупант is used only in a special sense as a military term with negative connotations whereas the English word is polysemantic. The addition члены Палаты лордов has been made for pragmatic reasons.

Sometimes pseudo-international words may have different connotations in spite of practically identical referential meanings. Thus the word прогресс has usually only positive connotations while the word “progress” has a wider range of connotations – positive, neutral and negative.

For instance, the title of John Bunyan’s book “The Pilgrim’s Progress” is an allegory depicting man’s progress towards perfection. The Russian traditional translation is “Путь пилигрима” (к совершенствованию) – positive connotations.

Her progress about London during that first week was one thrilling adventure. (H.Walpole).

Ее прогулки по Лондону в ту первую неделю были сплошным увлекательным приключением. – (neutral connotations).

Hogarth’s series if engravings “Rake’s Progress” has distinctly negative connotations. The traditional translation is «Жизнь повесы».

Different usage of pseudo-international words is often a stumbling block to translators, e.g.

Once upon a most early time there was a Neolithic man. R.Kipling).

Давным давно, еще в каменном веке, жил да был один человек. (translated by K.Chukovsky).

The adjective “Neolithic” has its counterpart in Russian – неолитический, but its use is confined to scientific prose. It would not be suitable in a tale for children. So the translator introduced a traditional combination – человек, живший в каменном веке – resorting to a redistribution of semantic components.


Non-equivalents are SL words which have no corresponding lexical units in the TL vocabulary.

The absence of equivalents may be explained both by extralinguistic and linguistic reasons. Accordingly, non-equivalents may be divided into two groups. The first group consists of words denoting referents unknown in the target language – things, objects, notions, features of national life, customs, habits, etc. the words of this group bear a distinctly national character and are tied up with the history of the people speaking that language, the growth of its culture, its way of life and traditions. Cultural discrepancy accounts for the appearance of words which are untranslatable in the literal sense of the word. Yet there are different ways of rendering these words in translation and of overcoming the so-called “barrier of untranslatability” (cultural untranslatability). The words belonging to this group cover a wide range of denotata, e.g. speaker, parliament, public school, landslide, coroner, teach-in, drive-in, know-how, striptease, brain drain, backbencher, grill-room, as well as titles of politeness, etc.

The second group embraces words which for some linguistic reason have no equivalents in the target language, the so-called linguistic lancunae, e.g. privacy, involvement, glimpse, conservationist, environmentalist, oralist, readership, riser, bedder, vote-getter, statehood, etc.

It should be stressed that the term “non-equivalents” merely implies the absence of a word or a word-combination in the vocabulary of the target language but does not exclude the possibility of rendering “non-equivalents” in translation, usually by descriptive translation.