the wordĺs worth: English trembles less than Russian
Published: September 12, 2012 (Issue # 1726)
Đ˛Ó§ Ŕ ˛ň´ň˛: fear andátrembling
I have aálove-hate relationship with theáword ˛ň´ň˛ (trembling, quivering).
I love that theáword catches andámagnifies theásmallest tremble or quiver inánature, like ˛ň´ň˛ ŰŔ˝˛ŘňÔ (the trembling ofáleaves), ˛ň´ň˛ šÓÝÓÔň˝ŕŔ (the rustling ofáthe curtains), or theáold-fashioned ˛ň´ň˛ ň˝ÝŔ÷ (flutter ofáeyelashes). When it is used toádescribe aápersonĺs reaction toásomething, I love that it brings toáthe surface theámost subtle emotions. Itĺs as if theálanguage is so attuned toáthe world that it notices theápassing ofáthe slightest breeze andáalmost imperceptible human reactions. Or itĺs as if Russians experience theámost subtle emotions so intensely that they express them physically. Great stuff.
But I hate theáwordĺs ambiguity. People can tremble out ofáfear, awe, reverence, joy or tenderness. Sometimes itĺs clear what kind ofátrembling is going onábecause itĺs spelled out: ▀áŔ˝´ű˛űÔÓŰ Óńţ˝˛ÝűÚ ˛ň´ň˛ (Iátrembled with joy.) But often I canĺt figure out why someone is quivering, quaking, trembling or shuddering. Russians always seem toáknow. Is it because they understand theálinguistic context better than I do, or they have broader historical knowledge, or they know more about theáwriter? I donĺt know, but it drives me nuts.
Ináany case, because English speakers tremble andáquiver aálot less than Russian speakers, ˛ň´ň˛ is often translated byáthe emotion that causes it. ▀ ÔŔńňŰÓ, ŕÓŕ ýţÚ ˛ŔÝÓń÷Ó˛ŔŰň˛ÝŔÚ ˝űÝ ˝´ţŕţÚÝţ Ŕ ßňšţ Ô˝ ŕţŃţ ˛ň´ň˛Ó ţßÓ¨Óň˛˝ ˝ ř˛ţÚ ýÓ°ŔÝţÚ (I saw how my 13-year-old son dealt with theácar calmly, without aáhint ofátrepidation.) Ţ˛ţ˛ §ˇńţŠÝŔŕ Ýň ÔűšűÔÓň˛ Ôţ ýÝň ˛ň´ň˛Ó (Iĺm not atáall awed byáthat artistĺs work.) ╠ű ´ţŕŰţÝ ňý˝ ˝ ˛ň´ň˛ţý Ŕ ßŰÓŃţńÓÝţ˝˛Ř■ ╩ň˝˛ˇ ├ţ˝´ţńÝ■ (We bow down with reverence andágratitude before theáholy cross.) ¤ňŕÓ˝Ýţ ´ţýÝ■, ˝ ŕÓŕŔý ˛ň´ň˛ţý ´ţ˝ýţ˛ňŰÓ ř˛ţ˛ ýˇŰŘ˛˘ŔŰŘý Ô ´ňÔűÚ Óš (I remember how thrilled I was theáfirst time I saw that animated film.) Ţ˛Ŕ ˝ţŰńÓ˛ű ÔűšűÔÓŰŔ ˛ň´ň˛ ˇ ´ţ˛ŔÔÝŔŕÓ (Those soldiers made theáenemy quake ináhorror.) Đ˛Óˇ°ŕÓ ˝ ˛ň´ň˛ţý ţ˛Ýţ˝ŔŰÓ˝Ř ŕ ř˛ţÚ ýÓŰňÝŘŕţÚ, ÝňŕÓ˝ŔÔţÚ ˝ţßÓ¸ŕň (The old woman was so tender with that ugly little dog.)
But what about this: ═ň Ŕ˝´ű˛űÔÓ ÝŔŕÓŕţŃţ ţ˝ţßţŃţ ˛ň´ň˛Ó, ´Ŕ°ŞŰ Ô ˇÝŔÔň˝Ŕ˛ň˛ ÝÓ ╠ţ§ţÔţÚ. I came toáthe university onáMokhovaya Ulitsa without any particular ů what? Fear? Excitement? Awe? Intimidation? Delight? Apprehension? Beats me. If I couldnĺt get clarification fromáthe rest ofáthe text or anáomniscient Russian speaker, Iĺd probably fudge it: I was pretty calm when I got intoáthe university onáMokhovaya.
Theáverb toádescribe trembling is ˛ň´ň˛Ó˛Ř. ▀ ˛ň´ň˛ÓŰÓ ´Ŕ ýű˝ŰŔ ţ Ô˝˛ň¸ň ˝ ÝŔý (I trembled atáthe thought ofáseeing him.) This shouldnĺt be confused with theáverb ˛ň´Ó˛Ř (and its perfective forms ´ţ˛ň´Ó˛Ř, Ŕ˝˛ň´Ó˛Ř), which has aávariety ofástandard andáslangy meanings. It can mean ôcause something toátrembleö: ┬ň˛ň ˛ň´ÓŰ ŰŔ˝˛Ř (the wind fluttered theáleaves). Or ôbring disarrayö: ╬Ý ´ţ˛ň´ÓŰ ňŞ ÔţŰţ˝ű (He tousled her hair). Or ôwear outö: ╬Ý šÓ ˛Ŕ ýň˝ ÷Ó Ŕ˝˛ň´ÓŰ ÝţÔűň ßţ˛ŔÝŕŔ (He wore out his new boots ináthree months.) ĂŔšÝŘ ňŃţ ´ţ˛ň´ÓŰÓ (Life wore him down.)
Ďň´Ó˛Ř ÝňÔű is toáget onásomeoneĺs nerves. Ďň´Ó˛Ř šűŕţý is toáblab. ¤ţ˛ň´Ó˛Ř ¸ňŰţÔňŕÓ is toábeat someone upáŚ what I want toádo whenever I see ˛ň´ň˛ ináa text.
Michele A. Berdy, a Moscow-based translator and interpreter, is author of ôThe Russian Wordĺs Worthö (Glas), a collection of her columns.