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There is no word for ‘privacy’ in Russian

By on October 18, 2017

Given that for almost all English speakers ‘privacy’ is a normal, everyday concept, it may come as a shock to find that there is no direct translation for this concept in the Russian language.

To English speakers the idea of not being disturbed or having every detail of our lives on display is very simple and natural to understand. However, in Russian, along with various other languages, such as Mongolian and Latvian, there is no word that adequately describes it.

This can, of course, cause various problems for translators. For example, how would you go about translating Russian privacy facebookFacebook’s “Privacy Policy” or any internet provider’s version of ‘privacy settings’. This is usually where calques, words borrowed from other languages, English in this case, are used as a translation strategy. For example, words such as приватность privatnost’ and конфиденциальность konfidentsial’nost’ have been introduced into the Russian language, however these are anglicisms which have come from our own language and can sound strange to many Russian speakers.

Having said this, when put into Google Translate, there are actually some results for Russian words which supposedly express the English concept of ‘privacy’. There’s уединение uyedineniye, but this word usually comes with the negative connotations of wishing to be isolated from people and society, therefore it would be better translated as ‘solitude’. So, whilst it does convey the idea of ‘privacy’, in that the person is completely separated from society, this word does not encompass the correct meaning of ‘privacy’.

Another word that google translate offers is тайна taina, however this would be better translated as ‘secret’ or ‘mystery’ and is therefore not adequate as a translation for ‘privacy’!

So why is this the case? We usually hear about foreign words that can’t be expressed in English, not the other way round. The most common thought behind why there is no translation for ‘privacy’ is because there is simply no cultural concept of ‘privacy’ in Russia. Throughout the Soviet times there was no such thing as private property, private space, private life, therefore many linguists presume that there is no direct translation for ‘privacy’ as it simply isn’t a part of Russian culture.

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