The Volokh Conspiracy

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Volokh Conspiracy

'The Brothers Karamazov,' and translating phrases


Someone mentioned "The Brothers Karamazov," and it occurred to me: There's something a bit exotic about the noun-adjective inversion in the phrase "The Brothers Karamazov," no? It's not "The Karamazov Brothers"; it's something a bit unusual, and therefore striking.

Except that in Russian, that just happens to be the standard word order for this sort of phrase: You wouldn't say "Karamozovy bratya"; you'd say "Bratya Karamazovy," even when you're not trying to sound mysterious or portentous.

Indeed, if you wanted to translate the phrase so that it mirrors the connotation of the original, I think you'd just say "The Karamazov brothers." Just as you'd add a "the" to match English usage (there are no articles in Russian), you'd change the word order to match English usage. To be sure, the article addition is pretty much compulsory (if you said "I met Karamazov brothers at that party," you'd sound ungrammatical—indeed, you'd sound like a Russian who's trying to speak English); the word order change isn't. But if you aim at preserving the feel of the original Russian in the translated English, "the Karamazov brothers" is the way to go.

On the other hand, if you're trying to add a little bit of exoticism, hey, "The Brothers Karamazov" is great marketing.