Usage 4—Translating the Word “People”
The English noun “people” has two distinct meanings. In its original meaning it is a collective noun meaning the entire body of persons who constitute a tribe, nation, or other group united by a common heritage. In its second (more modern) meaning, people is an alternative plural of “person”. The chart below shows how to translate “people” in its two meanings:
|Tribe, Nation, Group||a people||народ||peoples||народы|
|Human Being||a person||человек||persons or people||люди|
Seeing these two meanings as different takes practice. A few examples will help:
- The US Constitution begins with the phrase “We the People”. Here the word “people” does not mean “persons” as in each and every individual living in the United States. It is an expression of the democratic idea that Americans all belong to the same identifiable national group, a “people” with a right to chose its own rulers. Thus the phrase “the American people” is correctly translated “американский народ”.
- The expression “God's people” refers to God's relationship with the nation of Israel as a unit or with a successor congregation. Therefore in Russian it is “народ Бога” or “божий народ”.
- Contrast this with the expression “people do not like being ignored”. This is a statement about individual human beings. We would say “люди”.
- If though we say “Rulers ignore the people at their peril.” we are again using “people” as a singular noun to refer to a group. Rulers can ignore individual human beings. What they ignore at their peril is the will of their subjects as a people. Here “people” is “народ”.