Indicators of native Russian authorship in English language text, with Dr. Brian Baer

The 18th “People Who Read People” podcast episode is an interview with Dr. Brian Baer, a skilled Russian-to-English translator. Dr. Baer is a Professor of Russian and Translation Studies at Kent State University, where he’s a member of the Institute for Applied Linguistics. He also has worked on several literary translations (see his books on Amazon here).

In this interview, I ask Dr. Baer about clues that English language content, whether spoken or written, may have been authored by a native Russian speaker. We also talk a bit about language and translation in general.

Links to this episode:

Topics discussed include:

  • Some talk about recent Russian-origin political disinformation and propaganda
  • Some common patterns that show up in English from Russian-first-language speakers, including:
    • Missing/wrong articles (‘the’, ‘a’)
    • Wrong verb tenses
    • Collocations: words that go together in a phrase/saying in the native language but that don’t work in another
    • Phonetic clues: spelling things wrong due to how the word or name is pronounced in the native language
  • Discussion about which aspects of these patterns are specific to Russian-to-English and which are more general clues of translation
  • Thoughts on whether the structure of one’s native language can impact the way one thinks about the world

At the end of this episode, I read from this blog post by William Campbell about some thoughts of his on a potential Russian-origin comment on a news site.