Logos Multilingual Portal

21 - Plant names translation

"The idea that the dream concerns itself chiefly with the future, whose form it surmises in advance- a relic of the prophetic significance with which dreams were once invested- now becomes the motive for translating into the future the meaning of the dream which has been found by means of symbolic interpretation"1.

In the last unit we have used the search engine as a corpus to provide information about the use of given expression of a local and general character, and of some grammatical governments. In this unit the overview of the possible uses of the search engine for the translator continues, and, in particular, we'll face the question of the translation of plant names.

I'll start from problems of translation of the plant names that have had an important impact on literary perception. The first is famous because it has been used as example by Vladimir Nabókov in an essay on translation, and concerns a tree that is named in Pushkin's Evgenij Onegin, that in Russian is called черёмуха, transliterated "cheryomuha". In the translations of the various languages there are many translatants for this tree. But how can we understand what tree it is? In the Russian-English dictionary I find the translatant "bird cherry-tree" without alternatives.

In such cases, one of the ways to find translatants consists in passing through the scientific name, in Latin, that by definition has an international value.

I then try to insert черёмуха in the search engine. I get 1720 results, but I cannot find, in the first pages that I browse, any reference to the Latin scientific name. I then try to insert "bird cherry-tree", in quotes, to get only the results that have these three words in this sequence. I get 662 results. I soon understand that the scientific name to whom it is associated is "prunus padus". I then try repeating the search for черёмуха associating such name to "prunus padus", without quotes, to provide also results that are not exactly identical. The 1720 sites are now only 6. In these I get this information:

1. http://www.ekohome.narod.ru/familly/rosaceae.htm

Padus avium (Prunus padus) - Черёмуха

2. http://www.sharlock.freenet.kz/cheremuh.html

Черёмуха обыкновенная (Padus avium, прежде Padus racemosa), i.e. common cheryomuha (Padus avium, formerly Padus racemosa)

3 http://orthilia.ofcom.ru/spravochnik/cheremuha_obikn.doc черемуха обыкновенная Padus avium (Mill.) Padus racemosa (Gillib.) Prunus padus (L.)

4. http://www.gazony.ru/prices/conifers_leafers.xls Черёмуха Prunus padus "Colorata" C3

5. http://www.ispras.ru/~igor/GALLERY/Lipovka/Lipovka_1994/350x350/26.html Черёмуха. (Padus avium M.ll. [Padus racemosa (Lam.)

6. http://www.oval.ru/cgi-bin/enc.cgi/82037.html Ч. обыкновенная (P. avium, прежде P. racemosa)

The constant information is that the scientific name of the Russian tree is "padus avium". I now try inserting "padus avium" into Google specifying that I want the engine to search only U.S. sites: I click on "Language Tools", specify "Search pages written in English" "Search pages located in United States", and I discover that the bilingual dictionary, in this case, had given me the correct information. The same we can do for the other languages, always through the language tools. I discover then that in Italian it is called "pado" or "ciliegio a grappoli", in French "cerisier à grappes", in German "Gewöhnliche Traubenkirsche", and so on.

Another botanical-translation problem concerns Chehov's drama Вишневый сад, transliterated Vishnevyj sad, generally known as The Cherry Tree Orchard. In the Russian-English dictionary the translation provided for the tree name is "cherry". I try inserting the name of this tree, вишня, (vishnya), into the search engine. To limit my search to just the sites that contain its Latin name, I add "prunus", knowing that the tree belongs to that family. I soon discover that the vishnya corresponds to the prunus cerasus. "Растения, принадлежащие к подроду Cerasus рода Prunus, сем.Amygdalaceae", i.e. "Plants belonging to the subgenus Cerasus of the genus Prunus, family of Amygdalaceae". In the same entry they specify also that "Подрод Cerasus отличается от других подродов рода. Prunus avium L., черешня", i.e. "The subgenus Cerasus is distinguished by the other subgenus of the same genus. Prunus avium L., chereshnya". Now, prunus avium corresponds to the Spanish cerezo, the French cerisier, the English cherry tree. Therefore, it is clear that prunus cerasus is a different tree from the cherry tree.

I try inserting "prunus cerasus" with the various national limits and I discover that it is called:

in Dutch "Zure kers"

in English "sour cherry"

in German "Sauerkirsch"

in French "cerisier aigre"

in Italian "visciolo", "amareno", "marasco"

in Spanish "guindo"

Consequently, the title of Chehov's drama is correctly The garden of the sour cherry trees. This fact is all but negligible, because the economic decadence of the protagonist family of the drama is due exactly to the fact that they don't produce cherries, that would be easily sold as such, but sour cherries, that therefore can be easily marketed only if prepared, if steeped in a kind of syrup.

Now that my search is complete, with a happy end from a terminological point of view but a tragic end from the publishing-literary point of view (who will ever be able to change the translated title to the famous drama?), my moral duty as an internet citizen suggests me to insert all the results of my work into the Logos dictionary.

Where, in order to greatly simplify the tracing of translatants of plants and animal names, there is also the Latin language, under which I will insert the scientific name.

In the next unit we will get into other aspects of the search through the meanderings of the Net.


Bibliographical references

ÈKO - SAIT O RASTENIJAH http://www.ekohome.narod.ru/familly/rosaceae.htm

FREUD SIGMUND, L'interpretazione dei sogni, in Opere, vol. 3, Torino, Boringhieri, a cura di C. L. Musatti, 1966.

FREUD SIGMUND, The Interpretation Of Dreams, translated by A. A. Brill, London, G. Allen & company, 1913.

GOOGLE, available in the world wide web at the address http://www.google.com/, consulted 7 April 2004.


1 Freud 1900: 95.