The experiment procedure included a questionnaire, lexTALE test and two recordings:
About the Study
I study two untranslatable, non-equivalent words: a Russian word: ‘душевность’ (‘dushevnost'’) and an English word: ‘privacy’. These two words are very difficult to translate as they are absent in the other language. ‘Privacy’ does not exist in Russian and ‘dushevnost'’ does not exist in English.
I want to see how my participants cope with this non-equivalence in casual unprepared speech when they have to translate the word into the language in which it does not exist. My participants did not know what my experiment was about. I told them about it only once they have completed their participation.
I propose four main strategies that my participants use:
1) calquing (the speaker copies the word as it is (its form and pronunciation) from the language in which it is present);
2) conformity (the speaker uses non-equivalent, but synonymous word or expression that exists in the target language);
3) circumlocution (the speaker uses 150 or so words to describe the word that they want to say;
4) intentional omission (the speaker omits the concept, hesitates, stops, thinks deeply and possibly even gets upset that they cannot express themselves, and laments about difficult life.)
I also want to find out whether there is a relationship between the strategy used (or a mixture of strategies) and individual differences between my participants: socio-biographical, psychological and linguistic.
In my opinion, ‘privacy’ and ‘dushevnost'’ could be seen as antonyms. ‘Privacy’ is about creating boundaries. I don't want you to encroach on my soul. ‘Dushevnost'’ is about blurring the boundaries between You and Me. I am sharing my soul with You. There is complete emotional sincerity, without any ulterior motive. The absence of ‘dushevnost'’ involves the violation of sincerity, emotional dishonesty. ‘Dushevnost'’ is a ‘horizontal’ emotion, it is directed at other people. There is no ‘dushevnost'’ as a concept in the English language.
The closest translational equivalent is ‘soulfulness’ or 'warm-heartedness'; however, neither of them are full conceptual equivalents of ‘dushevnost'’. For me ‘soulfulness’ is an appeal to the higher self, God, the universe. It is religiousness and is a 'vertical' emotion.
The concept of ‘privacy’ is ‘non-native’ to the Russian linguistic worldview, especially in interactions with relatives. However, its linguistic form has been adopted into the Russian language – ‘privatnost’’, ‘personal space’.
Conversely, ‘dushevnost'’ is lacking both the concept and its linguistic form in English.
‘Dushevnost'’ is an engaging emotion of relatedness and connectedness. English language and culture favour more the disengaging emotions in which the emphasis is on independence, autonomy and 'free will', whereas Russian cultural context prefers engaging emotions that demonstrate connectedness, relatedness, “being told what to do”.
As Participant 116 puts it, ‘dushevnost'’ is when the boundaries of friendliness are blurred, and you let your interlocutor enter not only your inner world but also your personal space. And as a rule, you tacitly expect the same from your interlocutor.
It is really difficult to explain fully what it means using my English conceptual base. It is a very elusive concept. That is why a lot of Russian speakers living in an English-speaking country mention that they miss and lack ‘dushevnost'’ here. If it is not represented in the language, it is not represented in the culture, and vice versa.
There is somewhat more in this concept that escapes the available English language verbal repertoire, and this elusive aspect is lost in translation. As a trilingual Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva said: "there are things that one cannot think in another language".
This study forms part of a research project investigating speech of Russian-English bilinguals. It is being done as part of my PhD degree in the Department of Applied Linguistics & Communication, Birkbeck, University of London, and it has received ethical approval.
All information will be treated as strictly confidential. The participants' replies will be shared anonymously, using a ‘Participant №’ code, which means that they will not be identifiable in the thesis or any publication that may ensue.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact either me or my supervisor, Professor Jean-Marc Dewaele (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Finally, thank you very much for your time and support!
Department of Applied Linguistics and Communication
School of Social Sciences, History and Philosophy
Birkbeck, University of London
26 Russell Square, London