February 06, 2014

A Baker's Dozen of Invaluable Translation (and Language Learning) Resources

A Baker's Dozen of Invaluable Translation (and Language Learning) Resources
or... For When You Have Outgrown Google Translate

Whether you are a budding translator of Russian-English texts, are reading Russian literature in the original, or just want to improve your Russian, there are countless resources waiting for you on the internet. You just need to know where to look. We asked some of our finest translators to suggest their favorite online resources and added a few favorites of our own. Here’s the list, in no particular order:

Tap the Global Brain. There are thousands of other souls like you out there, trying to bridge language divides. And some of them are putting their translated phrases online into vast, searchable archives. Two that we recommend are TausData and Linguee.

The Standbys. Anyone learning Russian over the past several decades should be familiar with Ozhegov’s Russian to Russian dictionary, which gives invaluable examples of usage. It is now online and searchable (albeit in a somewhat clunky interface), as is Zaliznyak’s morphological dictionary, and Fasmer’s etymological dictionary.

Idioms. The go-to guide for translating Russian idioms into English is Sophia Lubensky’s masterpiece (now out in a second edition, but not in electronic version). You can, however, access an online version of Dubrovin’s 1987 Book of Russian Idioms Illustrated here. It’s an alphabetical listing of idioms with cartoony illustrations that escaped from the 1980s.

Proverbs. There’s a nice Wiki that collates many proverbs in alphabetical order here. A note on the page indicates that “the following phrases... have been verified through the following book,” which is Mertvago’s fine print volume, published by Hippocrene in 1996. Other sources also seem to be cited and referenced throughout.

Acronyms. So, you’re reading an article about global warming and all of a sudden come across the acronym БАС. Whatever could this mean? Never fear, sokr.ru is here to help. Yet another fantastic project of Art Lebedev, it has over 120,000 acronyms in its database and reportedly adds another 30 every day. The Russian language is mighty that way.

Dictionaries and More Dictionaries. If you have an odd word to look up, take it to Gramota. With one search you can scour multiple dictionaries (including the Bolshoi Tolkovoy Slovar), and also check usage questions and spelling. The portal also allows you to pose complex grammatical questions to resident Russian experts (in Russian). Another nice aggregator of dictionaries is Slovopedia, which has a simple design and a single search box that gives you access to everything from Dahl, to dictionaries of construction, synonyms, bookkeepers and the church. Another invaluable resource is Multitran, makers of a rich desktop translation program which also has an online counterpart.

Slang and Swearing. As if you doubted that there’s a site for that. Russki-mat.net allows you access to several bilingual jargon dictionaries (including Russian-Aragonese, of all things), as well as the Russian-German Partizan’s Companion, and a Russian to Russian dictionary of nineteenth century slang of both the upper crust and underbelly of society. Looking for more? This site offers access to aphorisms, anecdotes, slang, and collections of quotes (in Russian) by Shakespeare, Twain, Prutkov and others. You’ll have to just search on pages with your browser...

The National Corpus. This is the motherlode. Or maybe the mother ship. The site has more than 500 million word forms compiled in part in the manner of the British National Corpus. It is a searchable database of texts that are characteristic of the language in written and spoken form, with many of those texts annotated or explained. So, for instance, a search on a single word might bring up hundreds of works in which it appears – so that one could study usage in place – then select out by types of publications. As well, one can make rather specific searches on words by part of speech and declension, etc. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. Search for a word in “parallel” form, and it will pull up instances of the word alongside translations to or from the chosen language – an astoundingly useful tool for translators.


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