Il traduttore è un ponte e le parole sono stanze

Sono rimasta colpita da due brani del “Manuale del traduttore” di Bruno Osimo, che sto studiando per un esame.


Lisbona, Ponte 25 de Abril.

Se il traduttore è un ponte tra due sistemi della semiosfera, e alla mediazione culturale del traduttore ricorrono coloro che non hanno la capacità individuale di mediazione per passare autonomamente da un mondo all’altro, bisogna vedere fino a quale punto del ponte il lettore viene condotto per mano dal traduttore, e fino a che punto è il mondo altro a essere semplificato e addomesticato in modo da apparire più vicino. Perché, in sostanza, è in queste due direzioni che l’opera mediatrice del traduttore si esplica: da un lato fornisce direttamente al lettore gli strumenti per affrontare un testo altrimenti inaccessibile; dall’altro, ricostruisce il mondo da scoprire, lo traduce in termini più familiari, lo rende comprensibile semplificandolo. Nel primo caso accompagna il lettore lungo il ponte, nel secondo crea degli effetti speciali che fanno apparire il mondo inaccessibile più vicino.

Tutta l’opera di addomesticamento che il traduttore non compie, è strada in più che deve essere percorsa dal lettore, e perciò, a seconda di quanto il lettore modello della cultura ricevente venga considerato capace e attrezzato per affrontare la realtà del mondo altro, il traduttore sarà nei suoi confronti più o meno paternalista, producendo un testo più o meno ghiotto di novità, più o meno liscio, scorrevole. Un testo è scorrevole non soltanto quando la sintassi e il lessico sono consueti, ma anche quando gli elementi culturali che vi si incontrano sono familiari. (pag. 55-56)


Vincent Van Gogh, La camera di Vincent ad Arles, 1888.

Immaginiamo la parola come una stanza prefabbricata che ha pareti, su ciascuna delle quali è una finestra, con una visuale diversa da quella delle altre, più o meno diversa a seconda dell’angolazione delle pareti (= la distanza semantica tra le accezioni) e dell’omogeneità del paesaggio (= campo semantico). La traduzione sarà un edificio composto da un certo numero di queste “stanze prefabbricate”. In due lingue non esistono mai due parole-stanze che hanno lo stesso numero di finestre e con lo stesso orientamento, perciò il traduttore, nell’edificare la sua versione, deve scegliere la stanza che ritiene più adatta; ma così facendo […] impedisce al suo lettore di guardare da certe finestre e di vedere certe prospettive, e nel contempo gli permette di guardare da finestre che l’autore non aveva previsto. (pag. 80) 

Posted in Post in italiano | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

10 Things You Should Never Say to a Translator

Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , | 14 Comments

When Translators (and Language Students) Meet the Rest of the World

  • MYTH: Translation/language students and translators/interpreters are living dictionaries.
  • REALITY: Yes, we speak more than one language. No, we don’t know all the words in a given language. It’s impossible to know EVERY. SINGLE. WORD, even in your mother tongue. Vocabulary is important, but we are no living dictionaries and us humans can’t know everything.

I find situations like these annoying:

PERSON I’M TALKING TO: “How do you say *insert word here* in *insert language here*?”

I usually ask them to tell me the context (and think “Ah, if only they realized that a word has different meanings in different contexts…”), a sentence in which they would use that word. Staying on topic, here’s a joke:

  • How many translators does it take to change a light bulb?
  • It depends on the context.

So, for translation/interpreting professionals and students, context is extremely important. We can’t read your mind, and guessing possible meanings might lead to making mistakes.

Next conversation:

  • PERSON I’M TALKING TO: “Wow, you study languages! How many do you speak?”
  • ME: “Four: Italian, English, French and some German.”
  • PERSON I’M TALKING TO: “You know only those?” or “Why don’t/didn’t you study Arabic/Chinese/etc?”

You usually study two to three languages at university. It takes a lot of time to learn a language well, let alone two or three. In my opinion, it’s better to know two or three languages at an advanced level than five or six at an elementary level. In this case, quality matters more than quantity but, if you manage to speak five to six languages at an advanced level… well, congratulations! 🙂 I chose to study English and French because I like(d) them and I’ve studied them since I started middle school. I can speak them fluently and I’m looking forward to improving more and more. I chose English in particular because it is “my passion, my obsession, my life” (as I wrote on some social networking site). Why should I study languages I’m not interested in learning? It also takes many years and stays abroad to learn languages like Arabic and Chinese well.

If you’re on Twitter, maybe in the last few days you read some tweets on “Tips to date a translator” (or an interpreter). I had tons of fun reading them, and I couldn’t have enough of them, haha. Two words: compulsive reading. You can find all the tweets here.

My favourite ones:

  • Do not take us too literally and always be faithful. @judittur
  • And for God’s sake, spell check your written correspondence. Nothing turns translators off more. @jackiedeal
  • Suggesting Google Translate will replace human translators will lead to you making love *without* human translators. @miguelllorens
  • Resign yourself to this: The woman loudly criticizing the subtitles in the midst of an action movie is your girlfriend. @miguelllorens
  • Don’t brag about your knowledge of a foreign language UNLESS you are really fluent! @avinc1
  • Distract the waiter while your translator friend takes photos of the ill translated menu. @petra_s_ger 
  • We love puns. We LOVE them. If you play on words smartly, you’ll get 100 extra points. 😉 @toolupwithwords
  • Don’t be surprised if you buy them chocolates and the 1st thing they do is read the ingredients in all the languages! @Silvia_MediaLoc 
  • Be ready to put up with pointless arguments about grammar and etymology when fellow translators are around. @carlosckw
  • If you ask the translation of a word and she doesn’t know it don’t reply “what kind of translator r u?@Laura_Solana
  • Pour son anniversaire, un bon dictionnaire fera toujours l’affaire. @juliettelemerle

Some blog posts on the same topic:

Posted in languages, Translation & Interpreting | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The Way I Translate

I’ve just finished translating part of a text I’m going to deliver in the next few days (the deadline is on the 10th), and I was reflecting on how I usually translate a written text. I go through these steps:

  1. Read the whole text before translating it  (I had to translate 34 pages once, I tried to translate the text paragraph by paragraph not knowing what came next, but it didn’t work for me);
  2. Translate a sentence (I use monolingual and bilingual dictionaries, a collocations dictionary and other online translation resources);
  3. Read the source language sentence to make sure that I translated everything;
  4. Read the target language sentence to make sure that I translated it correctly and used natural Italian (unless it’s for a university assignment, I only translate into my mother tongue);
  5. Translate the rest of the text in the same way;
  6. Proofread the target language text, preferably on a printed version of it.

What about you? Do you use a different method?

Posted in Translation & Interpreting | Tagged , | 3 Comments

How George Orwell Liked His Tea


I really enjoyed reading (and translating) this article for the English Language and Translation course I’m attending. It was first published on the Evening Standard on January 12, 1946.

George Orwell – A Nice Cup of Tea

If you look up “tea” in the first cookery book that comes to hand you will probably find that it is unmentioned; or at most you will find a few lines of sketchy instructions which give no ruling on several of the most important points.
This is curious, not only because tea is one of the mainstays of civilisation in this country, as well as in Eire, Australia and New Zealand, but because the best manner of making it is the subject of violent disputes.
When I look through my own recipe for the perfect cup of tea, I find no fewer than eleven outstanding points. On perhaps two of them there would be pretty general agreement, but at least four others are acutely controversial. Here are my own eleven rules, every one of which I regard as golden:
First of all, one should use Indian or Ceylonese tea. China tea has virtues which are not to be despised nowadays—it is economical, and one can drink it without milk—but there is not much stimulation in it. One does not feel wiser, braver or more optimistic after drinking it. Anyone who uses that comforting phrase “a nice cup of tea” invariably means Indian tea. Secondly, tea should be made in small quantities—that is, in a teapot. Tea out of an urn is always tasteless, while army tea, made in a cauldron, tastes of grease and whitewash. The teapot should be made of china or earthenware. Silver or Britannia-ware pots produce inferior tea and enamel pots are worse: though curiously enough a pewter teapot (a rarity nowadays) is not so bad. Thirdly, the pot should be warmed beforehand. This is better done by placing it on the hob than by the usual method of swilling it out with hot water. Fourthly, the tea should be strong. For a pot holding a quart, if you are going to fill it nearly to the brim, six heaped teaspoons would be about right. In a time of rationing this is not an idea that can be realised on every day of the week, but I maintain that one strong cup of tea is better than 20 weak ones. All true tea-lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a little stronger with each year that passes—a fact which is recognised in the extra ration issued to old-age pensioners. Fifthly, the tea should be put straight into the pot. No strainers, muslin bags or other devices to imprison the tea. In some countries teapots are fitted with little dangling baskets under the spout to catch the stray leaves, which are supposed to be harmful. Actually one can swallow tea-leaves in considerable quantities without ill effect, and if the tea is not loose in the pot it never infuses properly. Sixthly, one should take the teapot to the kettle and not the other way about.
The water should be actually boiling at the moment of impact, which means that one should keep it on the flame while one pours. Some people add that one should only use water that has been freshly brought to the boil, but I have never noticed that this makes any difference. Seventhly, after making the tea, one should stir it, or better, give the pot a good shake, afterwards allowing the leaves to settle. Eighthly, one should drink out of a breakfast cup—that is the cylindrical type of cup, not the flat, shallow type. The breakfast cup holds more, and with the other kind one’s tea is always half cold before one has well started on it. Ninthly, one should pour the cream off the milk before using it for tea. Milk that is too creamy always gives tea a sickly taste. Tenthly, one should pour tea into the cup first. This is one of the most controversial points of all; indeed in every family in Britain there are probably two schools of thought on the subject. The milk-first school can bring forward some fairly strong arguments, but I maintain that my own argument is unanswerable. This is that, by putting the tea in first and stirring as one pours, one can exactly regulate the amount of milk whereas one is liable to put in too much milk if one does it the other way round.
Lastly, tea—unless one is drinking it in the Russian style—should be drunk without sugar. I know very well that I am in a minority here. But still, how can you call yourself a true tea-lover if you destroy the flavour of your tea by putting sugar in it? It would be equally reasonable to put pepper or salt. Tea is meant to be bitter, just as beer is meant to be bitter. If you sweeten it, you are no longer tasting the tea, you are merely tasting the sugar; you could make a very similar drink by dissolving sugar in plain hot water.
Some people would answer that they don’t like tea in itself, that they only drink it in order to be warmed and stimulated, and they need sugar to take the taste away. To those misguided people I would say: Try drinking tea without sugar for, say, a fortnight and it is very unlikely that you will ever want to ruin your tea by sweetening it again.
These are not the only controversial points that arise in connection with tea-drinking, but they are sufficient to show how subtilised the whole business has become. There is also the mysterious social etiquette surrounding the teapot (why is it considered vulgar to drink out of your saucer, for instance?) and much might be written about the subsidiary uses of tea-leaves, such as telling fortunes, predicting the arrival of visitors, feeding rabbits, healing burns and sweeping the carpet. It is worth paying attention to such details as warming the pot and using water that is really boiling, so as to make quite sure of wringing out of one’s ration the twenty good, strong cups that two ounces, properly handled, ought to represent.

Posted in languages, There's more to life than translation | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Communication as Translation

This post is about what I learnt in class today.

Each communication act can be considered a translation. Not necessarily should communication acts be between two languages or cultures, you can even “translate” a thought into spoken words, a gesture into an explanation of its meaning and a book into a film, to make some examples.

In the video above there are some examples of translation, even in the broader meaning of the word:

  • Italian gestures are translated using an explanation of their meaning;
  • there’s an oral description, made by one of the travelers, of what a vigile does, and the other one is surprised to hear that in Italy a traffic warden carries a pistol. At the end of the video, there’s the typically Italian applause adressed to the pilot after a plane lands;
  • the captain translates his announcement into English by talking with a very strong Italian pronunciation and, when he doesn’t know how to translate something, he uses onomatopoeia.
  • there’s also the use of subtitles, i.e. a translation from oral verbal language into written one.
Posted in Translation & Interpreting | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Consecutive Interpreting Techniques Fascinate Me

Yes, you read right.

Since each interpreter has his/her own note-taking style (it can differ in structure, the way words are written/abbreviated, the symbols used or even in the language in which notes are written), I like reading examples of consecutive interpreting notes. Every time I read an interpreter’s notes, I always think nostalgically of interpreting classes I attended during my undergraduate course. While attending my first consecutive interpreting class I might have thought: ‘How will I manage to write all those things while still listening to the speech?’ I remember I had difficulty in splitting my attention between listening and taking notes at first, but I guess everybody went through that stage. You know, interpreters are made, not born. By trial and error, I eventually realized that (worrying about) writing EVERY. SINGLE. THING. was counter-productive, and that it was important to find a balance between listening and taking notes. It’s better to focus on the speech and write only the most important details, the essential ones. My note-taking style improved over time, but I think it’s still improvable. As a saying I particularly like says, practice makes perfect.

I started reading books and online interpreting resources to improve my note-taking, and I always try to use this technique when taking notes because it works for me. Experimenting with different methods while “in training” is okay, but you eventually have to choose one that works for you (it’s the same for symbols and abbreviations). Writing notes horizontally isn’t for me because it takes me a longer time to read them and I would be tempted to write a lot more than I should, which is not good, because I would get distracted. As far as the language used is concerned, I try to stick to the source language but, if I already think of a translation or words/abbreviations of the target language (I even use English words and abbreviations a lot, even when the target language isn’t English), I immediately write it down.

Posted in Translation & Interpreting | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tesi di traduzione: su cosa basare l’analisi traduttologica?

Rieccomi per il secondo post di oggi, stavolta in italiano. Ispirata da un messaggio di un’amica che mi chiede dei consigli su come impostare il capitolo sull’analisi traduttologica della sua tesi di laurea, ecco alcune indicazioni (ovviamente, è solo un esempio… non credo ci sia un solo modo possibile) su come si potrebbe organizzare un capitolo del genere.

Un libro che mi è stato molto utile per la tesi, ma non solo, è “Terminologia della traduzione” di J. Delisle, H. Lee-Jahnke e M. C. Cornier (a cura di M. Ulrych, trad. di C. Falbo e M. T. Musacchio), edito dalla Hoepli e uscito nel 2002. Lo considero una sorta di bibbia della traduzione, è decisamente un must (have), sia per gli studenti che per i professionisti della traduzione.

1. Tipologia testuale. Introduzione della tipologia testuale del/i testo/i tradotto/i (es. testo giornalistico, testo letterario, atto di convegno, saggio, discorso, ecc…) con una breve descrizione delle sue caratteristiche tipiche:

  • funzione (espressiva, vocativa, informativa),
  • registro (formale, colloquiale, ecc…),
  • linguaggio (specialistico o meno),
  • uso dei sostantivi, dei verbi, ecc…,
  • obiettivo che il testo/i testi si pone/pongono,
  • per quale tipo di pubblico è/sono pensato/i.

2. Strategia traduttiva, ovvero la “strategia che il traduttore applica in modo coerente in funzione dell’intenzione adottata nella traduzione di un dato testo”, Delisle et al. 2002).

  • descrizione della strategia traduttiva usata (source-oriented o target-oriented, ovvero traduzione orientata al testo di partenza o al testo d’arrivo; traduzione semantica o comunicativa secondo Newmark[2. P. NEWMARK, La traduzione: problemi e metodi, trad. di F. Frangini, Milano, Garzanti, 1988.], ecc…) e motivazione/i per cui la si è utilizzata.

3. Procedimenti traduttivi. Un procedimento traduttivo è un “procedimento di trasferimento linguistico degli elementi portatori di senso del testo di partenza applicato dal traduttore nel momento in cui formula un’equivalenza” (Delisle et al. 2002). I procedimenti traduttivi si differenziano dalla strategia traduttiva perché quest’ultima riguarda un approccio applicato al testo nella sua interezza.

  • descrizione dei vari procedimenti traduttivi usati [esempi di procedimenti traduttivi sono: calco, traduzione letterale (può anche essere una strategia traduttiva), economia, amplificazione, modulazione], con qualche esempio.

4. Termini particolarmente difficili da tradurre

  • esempi di termini che, in fase di traduzione, hanno dato filo da torcere, magari perché nel testo viene dato loro un significato particolare, o sono termini tecnico-specialistici che non si trovano nei comuni vocabolari.
  • Ovviamente, bisogna anche spiegare questi esempi: ad esempio, scrivere che nel libro X, l’autore Tizio usa quel termine per indicare una certa cosa e che si è scelto di tradurlo così perché il contesto lo richiedeva, o perché Caio e Sempronio hanno proposto quella traduzione. Mi è servito davvero tanto, in fase di traduzione, ma anche di revisione, annotare tutto ciò che ricercavo sui libri e in Rete su un blocco note. Quando poi ho scritto questa parte del capitolo sull’analisi traduttologica, quasi tutto il materiale che avevo usato per scriverlo era lì.

5. Altri problemi legati alla traduzione

  • problemi non legati nello specifico ai procedimenti traduttivi e che non rientrano nel paragrafo dei termini particolarmente difficili da tradurre. Per fare un esempio: uno dei testi che ho tradotto, che ha come target reader studiosi, professionisti ed esperti d’interpretazione, traduzione o linguistica che non sono italiani, spiega in una nota cos’è la RAI. Ho dato per scontato che i corrispettivi italiani delle suddette categorie di persone sappiano benissimo cos’è e ho ritenuto opportuno, per conservare l’ordine delle note nel testo tradotto, inserire una Nota del Traduttore che rimanda al capitolo sul commento e l’analisi traduttologica in cui ho parlato anche di questo. 

6. Rimandi intertestuali nel/i testo/i di partenza

7. Termini tecnico-specialistici (ovviamente, se il testo ne contiene)

8. Espressioni idiomatiche (con esempi)

Posted in A Student's Life, Post in italiano, Tutorials | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

When Foreign Tourists Are Lost in Translation

Thanks to a Facebook friend, I’ve just read a very interesting article. When it comes to giving pieces of information in English, Italian call center operators either have a hard time speaking in English or even hang up right after hearing “Hello”. Callers may have to wait for a long time, and sometimes pay a lot of money if they call a pay number. Of course there are exceptions, but they’re hard to find. In some cases, there’s the same number for asking information in both Italian and English, but you can’t always hear instructions in English (e.g. “If you’d like to talk to an English speaking operator, press 1”) and the people who answer calls are the same.

The article is in Italian, but there are videos with audio in both Italian and English. called call centers of businesses that tourists might be interested in contacting (e.g. bike/car sharing services) based in Rome, Venice, Turin, Milan, Catania, Naples, Florence and Bologna.

I’m surprised that in Rome, caput mundi, “the world’s capital” according to a famous saying, very few call center operators contacted can speak English.

You can listen to all the conversations here.

Posted in languages | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment