In Memoriam: Michael Ishenko about Misha Pereltsvayg

[Published in SlavFile, newsletter of the Slavic Languages Division of the American Translators Association (ATA), Fall 2012, Vol. 21, No. 4 (www.ata-divisions.org/SLD/slavfile.htm)]

 

In Memoriam

MISHA PERELTSVAYG

1935–2012

Appreciation by Michael Ishenko

 

Mikhail Izrailevich (Misha) Pereltsvayg, one of the best Russian techni­cal translation editors in the United States, died on August 11, 2012, just three day after his 77th birthday, on the island of Maui, Hawaii, where he was vacationing. A stroke struck as he was driving two people he loved dearly to Lahaina. He had saved the lives of his passengers by swerving the car off the road and parking before he lost consciousness.

Misha immigrated to the United States in 1993 from Leningrad where he worked as a mechanical engineer after graduating from the prestigious Military Institute of Mechanical Engineering (“Voyenmekh”) and receiving a Ph.D.-equivalent degree. Soon after his big move to San Francisco, he was hired by Polyglot International as an in-house Russian editor. He was fluent in English and French and successfully used his engineering background as editor of highly technical translation projects, including those related to petroleum, aerospace, chemical, and nuclear industries. He mastered his new profession, which he acquired at a relatively advanced age, and learned how to use computers and other high-tech equipment in a flash.

At a time when translation agencies refer to all freelancers as “resources” or “linguists” and appear to make no distinction between translators and editors, Misha seemed to exemplify the latter as a “stand-alone” profession. In a manner that was so characteristic of him as a human being, he treated both translations and translators very respectfully and always knew where to draw a line in order to maintain the translator’s individuality while improving technical quality and style. A gentle and soft-spoken person, he was adamant when he had to prove a point that he regarded as a matter of principle. Even though he had no formal linguistic education, he had tremendous respect for language and culture. He knew Russian grammar and punctuation much better than many translators with linguistic background. In this respect, he could definitely be described as one of the last of a vanishing breed.

He could be described so not only professionally, but also as one of the last remaining members of the Russian intelligentsia in the true sense of the word. More than one speaker at his funeral characterized him as благородный человек (“a man of noble character”) — a very appropriate application of this old-fashioned term.

Misha is survived by his sister and his daughter, a brilliant scholar and Stanford professor of linguistics, Dr. Asya Pereltsvaig.

He will be missed by his family and many friends and the entire translation community. You can find out more about him at his memorial website at www.misha.pereltsvaig.com.

 

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