"Курица - это птица."
Translation:A chicken is a bird.
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Since Russian has dropped the verb 'to be' in Present case in most cases (although you can find it in formal documents), the sentences like «X is Y» became ambiguous. «X — Y» may be mistaken for an apposition «X-Y» (e.g. «курица-птица» might theoretically mean 'a chicken bird' or 'a bird of a hen'; in this sentence it's not a viable option, but in many sentences using «X — Y» would be abmiguous).
So, the Russian languare has resolved ambiguity by inserting это 'it'. While it originally was a means to reduce ambiguity, now sentences with это actually sound more natural.
Compare it with Mandarin Chinese: in Classical Chinese, 是 used to mean 'this', but now it is a verb 'is'. Unlike Mandarin, Russian hasn't gone so far as to make «это» a verb, but this sentence still sounds better with «это».
While English, since it has never really dropped 'is', doesn't usually use 'it' in such situations, so that's why we leave «это» out in translation.
Translations should be natural in the target language. The intent of the Russian sentence is clear, and it doesn't match the literal translation. Just like the expression "Watch out!" literally means to "Observe outside!", but the intended meaning of the sentence is "Be careful!". Therefore you shouldn't translate it as "Observe outside!" in any target language, even if the literal translation matches.
In this sentence construction " - это" means "like that". In conversation we insert "это" to speak clearly.
For example "Курица, птица" and "курица - птица" sound exactly the same, but these have different meanings. That's because all punctuation marks sound like a pause.
So we mostly say "курица и птица" when we see 2 birds (exept "курица, птица")
We say "курица - это птица" when we speak about chickens (exept "курица - птица")
The hyphen means hidden word or hidden some words. In this situation hidden word is "является" (to be in English).
In addition to the singular vs. plural thing, Russian doesn't have articles. Basically everytime there's a noun, it could be either "the" or "a/an" in English. So in this case a straightforward translation is "(a/the) chicken is (a/the) bird" and other translations are dubious/technically complicated.
But... I would also be interested in whether the sentence can have both the literal and the abstract meaning.
Курица may refer either to a generic chicken of either gender, or to an adult female chicken (hen), or to chicken meat. "Hen" is probably generally acceptable everywhere, so long as "hen" refers to an adult female chicken, but note that a hen is not necessarily a chicken. Adult females of all upright ground birds (fowls) are also technically known as hens, so a hen is always a bird, but it isn't necessarily a chicken.
In much older English, people did use "fowl" as a generic word for "bird." Now, however, its use is limited to upright ground birds (and to aquatic birds which are frequently hunted--waterfowl). I think the use of "fowl" as a generic term for any bird is a bit too archaic for me to add it. It's really something from the era of Shakespeare. Given then that "fowl" hasn't really equalled птица in several hundred years, I don't think it's proper to add it. Now, a chicken is technically a fowl, but that's not what the Russian sentence says.
In much older English, people did use "fowl" as a generic word for "bird."
Thanks for clearing that up. The funny thing is that I've literally learnt about this fact two days ago (I was listening to a lecture about the history of language). I didn't know it when I posted my previous answer. But now I do, and I guess I'm going to remember it :)