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In physics, we use the English terms speed and velocity differently:

  • Speed is a number (magnitude).
  • Velocity is a vector (magnitude and direction).

In English, this is a tradition that spans more than a hundred years.

This is the case in several other languages as well, such as the Nordic ones (fart and hastighed/t) as well as French (vitesse and vélocité) and Spanish (rapidez and velocidad). It turns out to not be the case in German (they have only one word: Geschwindigkeit) and I've heard that Russian, as well, may only have one word for both concepts: скорость.

Can anyone confirm this?

I am writing about the origin of these technical terms, and am doing this research in order to gain a proper understanding on their use across languages/cultures.

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4 Answers 4

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The Russian word скорость is used for both speed and velocity. If you need to be more specific, use вектор скорости ('the vector of speed' or velocity) or модуль/величина вектора скорости ('the modulus/magnitude of the vector of speed').

To quote the Russian Wikipedia article https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/Скорость:

Ско́ростьвекторная физическая величина, характеризующая быстроту перемещения и направление движения материальной точки относительно выбранной системы отсчёта; по определению, равна производной радиус-вектора точки по времени. Этим же словом называют и скалярную величину — либо модуль вектора скорости, либо алгебраическую скорость точки, то есть проекцию этого вектора на касательную к траектории точки.

My translation:

Velocity is a vector physical quantity denoting the rate of movement and the direction of movement of a point particle with respect to the chosen frame of reference; by definition, it equals the derivative of the point's position vector over time. The same word is used to refer to a scalar quantity: either the modulus of the speed vector or the algebraic speed of the particle, i.e. the projection of this vector on the tangent of the particle's trajectory.

(Italics supplied)

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    "модуль вектора скорости" также называют просто "модуль скорости" Oct 4, 2019 at 10:44
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As far as I know, there are no separate words for speed and velocity in Russian.

We can use the noun скорость to describe speed as a scalar quantity. Скорость машины высокая - a car is moving fast (literally: the speed of a car is high), but the direction doesn't matter.

In physics, скорость движения (velocity of movement) is often used, where it's considered a vector.

This at least proves that there is a word that works in both cases. I'm just a student, not (yet) at a native level :)

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The editor of the Russian translation of "General Physics" by Douglas Giancoli says that there are two words for "скорость" in English, thus implying that in Russian, there is no difference between speed and velocity.

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On some occasions, in the engineering literature the word "speed" is translated as "темп".

E.g.,

В таком режиме обработки темп нагрева возрастает.

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