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Refiguring the Text: Translating Conventions and Genres in Russian and English

Film scripts and synopses, charitable organizations’ reports and success stories, news articles and op-ed pieces, business letters, official requests, invitations and formal correspondence — all of these are text genres: forms of communication based on certain conventions. And these genres are different — often totally different — in Russian and English. To do a successful translation — one in which the point or goal of the original is the same in the translation — the translator has to rewrite and often restructure the original text. Sometimes this is as simple as moving paragraphs around. In other cases it requires collaboration with the client to rephrase and rewrite the text.

In this evening talk Michele A. Berdy, Culture Editor of The Moscow Times and a professional translator for nearly 40 years, will help the participants identify genres and their conventions; develop templates of some genres in Russian and English; and propose ways to rework a text to fit the conventions of the genre in the target language. And finally, she’ll consider how some of these skills can help when translating fiction.


Participants are encouraged to join the discussion to help analyse and identify the conventions of their own native-language texts, so a mixed audience of native Russian and English speakers is ideal. But feel free to come and just listen. In fact, since Michele Berdy deals primarily with American English, she’ll be listening, too, to learn more about the genre conventions of British English.

Michele A. Berdy has lived and worked in Moscow for 40 years. After graduating magna cum laude from Amherst College, she did post-graduate work at the Pushkin Institute in Moscow and then worked as a translator and editor at a Soviet publishing house (1979 to 1982). In addition to working as a simultaneous and consecutive interpreter, she has translated several books; hundreds of articles, short stories, and screenplays; and sub-titled over 50 feature and documentary films. She has taught classes and given lectures at Russian universities, and conducted master classes and workshops on various aspects of translation and intercultural communication in Russia and abroad.

Following a decade-long career producing innovative public affairs programming for American and Russian television, she managed and consulted on communications programs in Russia and the region, specializing in health and public service promotion.

For 16 years Ms Berdy has been writing a popular weekly column on language and translation for The Moscow Times as well as book reviews and feature stories about Moscow and Russian culture. Her articles on culture, current events and various aspects of intercultural communication appear in the Russian and English-language press. She was the lead or sole writer of four guidebooks about Moscow, St Petersburg and Russia, and for over a year wrote a weekly walking route around Moscow. She is co-author of a Russian-English dictionary. A collection of the first five years of columns, The Russian Word’s Worth, was published by Glas in 2010. Since 2015 she has been Culture Editor of The Moscow Times.