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Russian Proverbs How to translate?

Ph. Linn
04 February, 2011

Translation of Russian proverbs into English has always been a difficult task to cope with. The Russian and English languages differ appreciably from each other, as well as the Russian and English cultures. Being formed in a different historical, cultural and mental environment, Russian and English proverbs often use completely different images and associations to convey the same or similar thought.

Russian proverbs can be divided into three categories:
1) Russian proverbs that have exact English equivalents;
2) Russian proverbs that have approximate English equivalents;
3) Russian proverbs that do not have English equivalents.

What strategies can be used for translation of Russian proverbs into English?

An optimal translation decision is to find an exact equivalent for a Russian proverb in English (Старый друг лучше новых двух - Everything is good when new, but friends when old). However, it's not always possible.

If there are no exact equivalents, use equivalents with stylistic and emotional correlation (Жить, как у Христа за пазухой - To live off the fat of the land).

When a suitable match can not be found, a Russian proverb can be translated by paraphrase using related. Literal (or word-for-word) translation is another way out when a match for a Russian proverb does not exist (Береги платье снову, а честь смолоду - Look after your clothes when they're spick and span, and after your honor when you're a young man).


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