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Calling all Russian-to-English translators: What does this say?

Ever since the universe obliged me by inventing digital photography, I have been taking a lot of photos (only click on that if you really want to see some of my photos and are willing to wait). One of the sorts of photos that I like to take a lot of is photos of other people taking photos. I particularly like it when they are holding something in front of their face, like a camera or a coat or a bag, so that I can then stick my photo of them photoing up on the internet without them being very recognisable, by which I mean face-recognition-software-recognisable.

And earlier this month, I took this photo, of a lady on Westminster Bridge, taking a photo of another lady. Well, that’s what I at first thought, but later I realised that she was almost certainly videoing the other lady. That’s because in addition to holding up her iPhone (over most of her face) she was also holding up a hand-made teleprompter, covered in text:


I did a few months of schoolboy Russian about half a century ago, so I am pretty sure that this is Russian. But what does it say?

Here it is closer-up and more easily readable, with the blueness removed:


So, is this harmless tourist guidance? Viciously mendacious Putinite propaganda, full of nonsensical lies about the Ukraine? Some kind of personal message? I have enjoyed wondering, but now I would really like to know.

I am sure that at least one of our most knowledgeable and obliging commentariat can knowledgeably oblige with the answer.

26 comments to Calling all Russian-to-English translators: What does this say?

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    I can’t help you with the Russian, but what amazes me is that for some languages at least a person can get a rough translation of text just by holding their smartphone up to it! I can’t, because I’ve only had my smartphone for a day and can’t even make a phone call on the damn thing as yet. But one of our regular commenters (Tim Newman, was it you?) mentioned doing this for the instructions on a Spanish medicine packet in a Samizdata comment thread I can’t find right now. This technology and its sound equivalents will stealthily change the world as much as digital photography has.

    Brian, please, pretty please with sugar on top, could you add the “languages” tag to your post, and maybe also add it to some of your other very interesting past posts on the topic, so that it won’t just be me who’s ever used that tag. And you, Michael, and you, Johnathan.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)


  • Based on the Cyrillic letters seen, this looks like Belarusian. Not being a slavic speaker I can’t help much beyond that but that may help

    ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyrillic_alphabets#Belarusian was helpful to confirm my vague memories of differences in Cyrillic used in different countries)

  • Alex

    Actually it’s in Kazak, so can’t help with the translation. Googletranslate suggests it’s a note to her sister about her life in London.

  • CaptDMO

    But did you extrapolate what was in the background of the photo-op?
    Babblefish MAY be helpful for a literal translation of the apparently necessary “script”.
    OTOH, “If you see something, SAY something!”
    Know what I’m sayin’?
    Pro tip: Russian Diplomatic folk are generally HAPPY to contextually translate stuff, and push the buttons of Anglophile gift bearers that aren’t as “smart” as they profess.
    I’ve found that foreign embassies,(or homegrown “official” departments) are more approachable for “everyday” stuff like this than many may think.

  • RRS

    Wait for Alisa

  • jim jones

    Typical stupid woman, Apple phone held in portrait mode

  • Tim Newman, was it you?

    Alas, no.

  • Well done to Alex for identifying it as Kazakh, I knew it wasn’t Russian but didn’t know what it was. Looking at the girl holding it only now, I see she’s Kazakh.

  • Laird

    As RRS said, wait for Alisa. Although I don’t know if she speaks Kazakh.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    The comment I referred to earlier was by “wh00ps”, and it said,

    … translation software is here and it works. My wife was afflicted with a rash on her feet, so I popped out my phone and popped into the chemist’s, popped “I would like to buy some antihistamine cream please ” into Google Translate and showed the pharmacist the screen (not wishing to make a fool of myself attempting to read it out). A bit of dumbshow later and relief was had. The same software also now boasts an augmented reality screen where you can wave your phone over the Spanish (or several other languages) text and it gives you your translation on the screen and on-the-fly. It is also possible to download the language pack to use where there is no signal.

  • veryretired

    So, this woman was standing on London Bridge reading a message in Kazakh to Alisa asking her to send some medicinal cream to her in London because her foot was infected?

    I think somethings been lost in translation…

  • OnKayaks

    Hello Brian,

    Yes, it’s Kazakh, so my smattering of Russian is of no help. Although usually written in Cyrillic, Kazakh it is not Slavic at all, but Turkic.
    However, the message in the photo seems like a personal note. it begins as saying; ‘Dear cute Ayashka,..”.

  • Alisa

    As others have noted, this is Kazakh, or possibly some other Turkic language from one of the former Soviet “Republics” – hence the Cyrillic font. Although I tend to trust Tim’s knowledge on the matter. And no Laird, I do not speak Kazakh… 🙁

  • The Gentle Grizzly

    I can’t, because I’ve only had my smartphone for a day and can’t even make a phone call on the damn thing as yet.

    Wait..! You make phone calls with your smartphone? You mean there are two of us?!?

  • Fred Z

    The lady who runs the Hotel Diamante in Sayulita Mexico is late middle aged, neither speaks nor understands English and has been using online translators and a laptop since at least 2012 to communicate with Anglo guests.

    The left hates, hates, hates the internet and software like this for obvious reasons.

    Just wait until it utterly destroys the education establishment. My 56 year old unticketed carpenter-handyman with only a grade 8 education has self educated on how to use the internet and now self educates on a raft of technical matters.

    My electrician did not show up, the carpenter said to himself, “I’ve watched this many times, looks easy,I can do that.”, self educated and properly wired a basement to the horror of sparky when he did show up.

    I shall be forced to give the bugger a raise.

  • It’s a wedding congratulation in Kazakh.

    I speak no Kazakh, but I have a friend who does.

  • Trofim

    It’s clearly a Turkic language, just by looking at the phono- and graphotactics.
    I reckon anyone who speaks Turkish and reads Cyrillic can get the gist of the several Turkic languages spoken in and around Russia.

  • Chester Draws

    Just wait until it utterly destroys the education establishment. My 56 year old unticketed carpenter-handyman …

    People like your handyman have never been taught in schools. Every sensible person knows the apprentice system is best. The problem is the current economic system, where few tradesmen don’t work so much in small companies of the sort that can fit in an apprentice, and issues over youth wages. Schools aren’t trying to keep those kids (in fact they can’t wait to move them on).

    We had encyclopedias and how-to books for ages, and that made no difference to schools. Understanding needs a base first, and only then can reference sources help. I’ve got a Russian-English dictionary and a Russian Grammar, but I won’t learn Russian from those. I can use Google translate on that Kazakh text, but I won’t know any more Kazakh at the end than I did at the start.

    So sorry to disabuse you, but the internet will barely affect education. Because of ubiquitous access to information we are now learning how important the difference between that and knowledge is.

    It is intriguing that schools and universities have been around for centuries, yet are apparently deemed so fragile and inflexible that any change at all will break them! Generally things that last centuries do so because they are flexible to change, regardless what outsiders might think.

  • I was once asked by an American company whether I had somebody who could speak Russian and Turkish. Turned out I did, an Azeri.

  • I’ve got a Russian-English dictionary and a Russian Grammar, but I won’t learn Russian from those.

    I dunno. Between a decent grammar textbook and the Pimsleur listen/repeat modules, I taught myself French up to conversational level. I learned Russian grammar from a textbook (Nick Brown’s New Russian Course) in parallel with practicing it on Russians and ex-Sovs.

  • Alisa

    LOL, make that three – although I try to avoid it as much as I can. I hate talking on the phone, always did.

  • staghounds

    It’s rude to read other people’s mail.

  • Mary Contrary

    Chester Draws,

    I don’t think the Internet will entirely replace formal schooling, but there is no comparison between a reference manual on electrical wiring and a Youtube instructional video that teaches you how to wire up a ring main.

    As for the utility of machine translation: no, using Google translate will not teach you Kazakh. It may, however, save you from feeling you need to learn it.

  • Staghounds,
    If you want your mail kept private best not print it out on a sign and hold it up while standing on Westminster Bridge.

  • Mr. Ed (Arkengarthdale, Richmondshire)

    If you want your mail kept private best not print it out on a sign and hold it up while standing on Westminster Bridge.

    I looked to the sky and saw a flock of privacy lawyer vultures circling overhead…

    ‘…My client has a legitimate expectation of privacy to the extent that her personal and family communications, and right to family life, should not be violated by them being discussed on a blog…’.