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Monday, March 08, 2010

Medvedev, Yanukovych Pissed in Translation

Misspell one letter and you have signing that sound like peeing.

It happened at the Medvedev-Yanukovych press conference, dubbed in Russian and Ukrainian. Instead of saying підписують (pidpysuyut: Ukr. are signing), the announcer uttered підпісують (pidpisuyut: broken Ukr. are peeing on something).

Russian version: The President of the Russian Federation, Dmitry Anatolyevich Medvedev, from the Russian side, and the President of Ukraine, Viktor Fiodorovich Yanukovich, from the Ukrainian side, are signing a joint statement.

Ukrainian version: The President of the Russian Federation, Dmytro Anatoliyovych Medvedev, from the Russian side, and the President of Ukraine, Viktor Fedorovych Yanukovych, from the Ukrainian side, are peeing on a joint statement.

It remains the norm for the media and governments of the two countries to translate rather than transliterate Ukrainian (Ukraine-based) and Russian (Russia-based) names. Thus, Dmitry (Rus) translates into Dmytro (Ukr) and Volodymyr (Ukr) into Vladimir (Rus).

The spelling czars in the Western media often rely on Russian-to-English transliterations of Ukrainian (Ukraine-based) personal and geographic names:

Yanukovich instead of Yanukovych
Gritsenko instead of Hrytsenko
Tyagnibok instead of Tyahnybok
Kiev instead of Kyiv

Spelling idiosyncrasies abound in political Ukraine as well.

Tymoshenko, who learned Ukrainian in her ‘30s, finds it hard to spell the и in Янукович and Литвин: it’s always Yanukoveech and Leetveen to her.

Yushchenko speaks a little bit of surzhyk here and there, punctuated with his trademark colloquial verb endings and arrogant second person informal pronouns.

Meanwhile, in Moscow, Yanukovych plays down his March 1 visit to Brussels:

I was invited to [visit] Brussels on March 1 and I was invited to visit Russia on March 5. It couldn't have been done otherwise. The first days of the president's work are always difficult in terms of where to go, and I'm gaining experience. But as they used to say, All pathways lead to Moscow.

“You better send us salo,” Putin retorts, replying to Yanukovych’s suggestion that Ukraine send some cranky politicos to Russia as examples of instability.

The good news: In his attempt to renegotiate the whorrible Tymoshenko-Putin gas agreement, Yanukovych hasn’t sold out the pipeline yet.

The brotherly news: Yanukovych promised to make Russian a regional language in exchange for “one or two” Ukrainian-language channels being allowed to air in Russia.

Video embedded from:
Original source:


Ropi said...

Oh, weird. Tonight I am going to write about how translator programs translate. :P

khabar said...

The Ukrainian language standards is something vague.
Even Taras Shevchenko, the No.1 Ukrainian poet, wrote his poems in vocabulary that today may be seen the surjik, a mix of Ukrainian and Russian.

Taras said...


That’s a fun subject:)!


Grammar rules exist in modern Ukrainian just as they do in modern Russian.

Languages evolve over time. By today’s standards, some of Lomonosov’s works can be described as surzhyk as well:

Не медливши нимало
К себе его пустил.
Увидел, что крилами
Он машет за спиной,

Дивишься, что не дам тебе стихов моих?
Боюсь, чтобы ты мне не подарил своих.

khabar said...

Lomonosov is a hundred years older than Shevchenko. Why do you compare them?

Afanasiy Nikitin being a traveller of the 15th century used Arabic, Persian and Turkic words and knew these languages pretty well. He wrote his diary with Cyrillic transliteration, though. Nikitin called himself Russian and his country "Rus", not Moscovia. Alas. :)

Mark said...

Many write it Kyiv nowadays:

As we keep on educating the world all will turn good in 10 year time.

Lingüista said...

I think the similarity between Russian and Ukrainian always allows people to come with the "it's surzhyk" or "it's just a dialect" argument. The same is true in other areas (e.g. Portuguese-Spanish-"Portunhol").

But let them ponder on this: how can you tell if Russian isn't simply a Ukrainian dialect -- or Ukrainian "contaminated" by some external source, like Finno-Ugric languages (and thus some sort of Balto-Finnic-Slavic "surzhyk")?

We should take languages as they come and as their speakers speak them, not try to shame others into not liking their mother tongue just because we don't like it. Projection does not science make.

Taras said...


Comparing them illustrates my point on evolution.

Btw, as you probably know, Mikhaylo Lomonosov would have been expelled for falsifying his college admission application had Kyiv-born Feofan Prokopovich not intervened for him. Had Prokopovich not done so, Lomonosov would have never become the scientist and writer he became.

Likewise, had Russian painter Karl Briulov not painted that portrait, Shevchenko would have remained a serf. (I can only add that our alliance with Russia under the Treaty of Pereyaslav strengthened serfdom in Ukraine.)

Yes, Nikitin used the term Rus. That toponym remained in use centuries after Rus had ceased to exist politically.

Born in Tver — a city that suffered from Moscow’s attacks and combined Krivichs with Finns — Nikitin could hardly use Rus in an ethnographic sense. He clearly used it in a geographic sense. The polity in Moscow went by the official name of the Grand Duchy of Moscow, or Muscovy, as Westerners called it.

Again, it’s important that we avoid the Rus=Russia fallacy. When Nestor the Chronicler described Kyiv as “мт҃(и) городом̑ Рус̑скымъ,” he meant Rus and Rus only. Russia didn’t exist at the time. Moscow didn’t exist at the time. Suzdal and Novgorod did exist (as separate entities) and became part of the Grand Duchy of Moscow in 1392 and 1478 respectively.

As Moscow began expanding and glorifying itself, Russia gained currency in Europe, thanks to the rebranding efforts of Peter I the Great.

Thus, by no logic can we apply “Mother Russia” to Ukraine — lest we forget the timeline:)


You’re absolutely right! We need to keep knocking.

Enjoy this pro-Kiev article dating back to 1995!


In post-Soviet Ukraine, language defines identity. For centuries, my language existed as a second-class language (“dialect”) whose speakers had to be assimilated, deported, starved, shot, shamed, but never respected.

Today, I respect every language I speak and I expect others to respect my language.