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The Evolution and Status of the Interpreting and Translation Market in Russia and the Caspian Region

Russia is a big and diverse country, with many languages in demand. While some decades ago we could say that the majority of translation and interpreting work involved Russian, English, French and German, the situation is different now. Depending on the region of Russia (south, east, west or north) different languages are required if a translator or interpreter wants to be competitive in today’s market. A shining example of how it works is the Caspian region of Russia with the city of Astrakhan at its centre.

By Olga Egorova and Uliana Saveleva

Résumé

La région d’Astrakhan est bordée à l’ouest par les républiques caucasiennes de Géorgie, d’Arménie et d’Azerbaïdjan et au sud, par l’Iran. Depuis des siècles, différents groupes ethniques vivent et collaborent paisiblement dans cette région, qui constitue un vaste continuum de langues et de dialectes. La ville d’Astrakhan, quant à elle, se trouve à proximité du Turkménistan, du Kazakhstan, de l’Ouzbékistan, du Kirghizistan et du Tadjikistan. Elle demeure aujourd’hui très cosmopolite, et les étudiants en traduction y baignent dans un environnement hautement multiculturel et multilingue. En effet, treize langues sont enseignées à l’école supérieure d’interprétation et de traduction de l’Université d’État d’Astrakhan. 

Jusqu’à tout récemment, la demande de traduction et d’interprétation en langues autres que le russe était faible dans la région. Or, les anciennes républiques soviétiques utilisent de plus en plus leurs propres langues et, par conséquent, ouvrent de nouveaux marchés aux langagiers pouvant travailler dans celles‑ci et dans les principales langues européennes, de même qu’en persan, en arabe, en turc, en japonais, en chinois, en azéri et en kazakh.

La construction d’un corridor commercial nord-sud entre la Russie, l’Iran, l’Inde, l’Europe et l’Asie centrale a accéléré les échanges entre Mumbai, Moscou, Téhéran, Bakou, Bandar Abbas et Astrakhan, entre autres grandes villes. En conséquence, les conditions semblent réunies pour que les interprètes et traducteurs hautement qualifiés continuent d’être en demande pendant encore de nombreuses générations.

Astrakhan: A strategic place on the map of Russia

Astrakhan benefits from its geography and history: in the west, the Caucasian republics are neighbours — Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. In the south, it lives side by side with Iran. In the east, the city is quite close to a number of Asian countries: Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. Back in time, the territory of the modern Astrakhan Region was one of the destinations of the Silk Road or Silk Route — an ancient network of routes that were central to cultural, trade and economic interaction throughout the Asian continent. The first written mention of Astrakhan dates back to the 13th century and ever since it has been one of the strategic cities of Russia, being the only Russian outpost on the Caspian Sea.

Today, Astrakhan retains its status of one of the most ethnically diverse cities where different ethnic groups have been living and cooperating peacefully for centuries. Of 1,018,626 people living in the Astrakhan Region in 2016, 67.6% are Russians, 16.3% are Kazakhs, 6.6% are Tatars, about 1% are Azerbaijanis, Ukrainians, Chechens. There are also Kalmyks, Armenians, Koreans, Turks, Uzbeks, and many other nationalities — 139 nationalities and three world religions all told.

Training a new generation of translators and interpreters for the Caspian region

The new market’s needs and trade roots are very similar to those of the ancient Silk Road, and so they are the languages employers require of translators and interpreters.

So, there is an increasing need for highly qualified interpreters and translators with language combinations not only of the ‘traditional set’ of Western languages - English, German, Spanish, French, and Italian, but also Persian, Arabic, Turkish, Japanese, Chinese, as well as Azeri or Kazakh.

Future translators and interpreters are taught in a multicultural and multilingual environment. For instance, thirteen languages are taught in the Caspian Higher School of Interpreting and Translation (CHSIT) at Astrakhan State University - five European: English, German, French, Italian, Spanish; and seven Asian: Persian, Chinese, Japanese, Turkish, Arabic, Dari, Azeri and Kazakh. 

The start of construction of the International North-South Transport Corridor, the route for moving freight between Russia, Iran, India, Europe and Central Asia, has increased trade connectivity between major cities such as Mumbai, Moscow, Tehran, Baku, Bandar Abbas, Astrakhan, Bandar Anzali, etc. Many Russian companies opened representation offices in Iran and needed people speaking Persian. There was a dire need for Persian translators and interpreters, so now, if you are a translator or an interpreter in the Caspian region and you speak Persian, English and Russian, you will definitely get a good job.

Other Caspian languages were not very much in demand until recently — most people, including policy makers, spoke Russian. But more and more, countries like Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan need language professionals who can work from Azeri/Kazakh/Turkmen into major European languages and vice versa. The newly independent republics, where Russian was always the lingua franca, are increasingly promoting their own languages.

Crisscrossing Asia and Europe, Silk Road trade routes connected peoples speaking many languages and dialects. As people and boundaries shifted throughout the centuries, what languages were spoken and where has changed.

Russian has been the lingua franca for much of the population of the central Silk Road region since the 19th century. While most people in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan converse easily in Russian, these newly established independent states are returning to their native languages.

The use of new languages perpetuates the vibrant creativity and communication that have always been part of the Silk Road.

Since medieval times, the territory of the Astrakhan Region has been a vast continuum of languages, dialects and local forms, and that makes us believe that highly-qualified interpreters and translators will be in demand for many more generations to come.

Olga Egorova is a FIT Council Member, FIT Education and Development Task Force Chair, Editorial Board member of Babel International Journal of Translation. She is Head of the Regional Office of the Union of Translators of Russia. She is also Full Professor, Director of the Institute of Languages, Director of the Caspian Higher School of Interpreting and Translation at Astrakhan State University, Russia. Her range of research interests includes translation, interpreting, cross-cultural communication, culture studies, and management.

Uliana Saveleva is an Associate Professor at the Caspian Higher School of Interpretation and Translation (Astrakhan State University), teaching Interpretation and Intercultural Awareness. She obtained her Ph.D. in Linguistics in 2008. She is a member of the Union of Translators of Russia (a regular member of FIT). She had professional training in the European Commission's Directorate General for Interpretation, and in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation. Her scientific interests are the theory of interpretation and translation, cultural studies, and discourse studies.


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