Translated "from the Russian" or "from Russian"?

In 2004, I asked Merriam-Webster the following question. Associate Editor, Peter A. Sokolowski, replied as follows.

Q: The byline for a recent op-ed in the New York Times says that Pavel Palazhchenko translated Mikhail Gorbachev’s text “from the Russian.” Why is the word “the” necessary? “From Russian” sounds more intuitive.

A: It’s true that the convention of referring to a translated passage as being “from the French” and so on is an oddly un-English pattern. But the best we can do is surmise that a convention is exactly what it is. Since Samuel Johnson used it in his dictionary, it has been traditional to express the idea in this very Latinate manner.

In French, for example, the phrase traduit du russe would literally be rendered as “translated from the Russian.” It may be that a literal translation from back when the modern languages of French and English were being codified has simply carried over and resulted in the phrase as we have it today.

It is possible that the pattern could have been established in English independent of the influence of another language, but I’m afraid that the specifics of when and why are lost to history from our perspective.

————Reply Separator————

Q: Are both “from the Russian” and “from Russian” correct? Which is more prevalent?

A: Both “from Russian” and “from the Russian” are perfectly correct. As near as I can tell from our citations, they are used with roughly equal frequency. This goes for such references to any language.

No comments:

Post a Comment