Io, povero diavolo (Racconti del Duomo) (Italian Edition)

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One language at school, one at home and in the neighborhood. We were expected to speak Italian with the people from out of town, translating sometimes for them if they did not understand the shopkeepers.

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It was only when I went away to school at the age of ten to attend a college prep school—my town did not have one at that time—that I switched to Italian for good. Still, I enjoyed listening to the poetry recited in the mother tongue.

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An un- usual occurrence. People were dis- couraged and even punished for speaking the mother tongue, or rewarded, as I was, for using the Italian language correctly, and they were never asked to write in it.

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The vernacular is by definition unwritten. Even so, some po- ets chose to write in it. Unfortunately, they seldom found an audience out- side of their towns. These books are collectibles. Dialect poetry, until recently, was marginalized in the Italian culture. For the reasons I mentioned. Italy was perceived to be too fragmented and there was a movement toward union.

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But also for other more practical reasons. When a poet writes in the Italian language, his work can be read and understood by every Italian. When his work is in his own dialect, not in ours, the rest of us will need notes or a translation into Italian. The other huge leap in my picaresque journey was switching from Italian to English after I emigrated. Total immersion was easier in this set- ting.

I lived in a culture and in a household that spoke English—the uncle and aunt with whom I lived for the first two years spoke Italian and did to me at the beginning, but ran the household and communicated with each other and their children in English. And I was fifteen and in school, at St. And school fills the whole day in this country. After a few days or a week of orientation with a girl named Roberta who knew Italian, I was on my own. In a fog, a dark wood. My school girl French!

But I did not know English and she did not Italian. French was the only language we had in common. Neither French nor Italian, however, helped me with the pronuncia- tion of English vowels, the a in cat, the o in got and i in pit being very diffi- cult. Not to my ear. At that point, no one mentioned dia- lectal variations.


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It was hard to lift words and phrases out the common run of the spoken language. To understand my Aunt and the older Italians, especially my land- lady when I was in college, who did not speak English and did not speak Italian, the father tongue, I had to learn the Italian-American dialect which Ferdinando Alfonsi Almanacco, has called Italese, and which is made up of English words with Italian suffixes.

And with English meanings even when the made-up word corresponds to an actual word in the Italian lan- guage. I never spoke this dialect myself, but I needed to know it. My landlady spoke a mixture of an Italian vernacular mixed with this Italian American dialect.

In all of these exchanges, losses and gains. I went to see American movies, and they were no longer dubbed. Although this might seem a gain, I perceived it as a loss. I could no longer lose myself in a movie. And I was also expected to read American and English books in the original, a long time- consuming process.

What an innocent I had been abroad in my own coun- try. I had watched American movies dubbed in Italian and had asked no questions, seen no discrepancies. I never no- ticed how the lips moved. Or whether the gestures did not go with the words. What if cowboys spoke in long musical sentences instead of mono- syllables? I had never heard a cowboy speak English, neither in real life nor in a movie. How was I supposed to know that certain taciturn, reticent types went with certain landscapes?

When I came to the States and told my new friends about this wonderful western I had seen, which starred Alan Ladd against the background of gorgeous mountain peaks, and they said, Shane, I did not recognize the title.

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In this case too, I had not been much aware of the translation, neither of the movie nor of the title. Still, the amazing thing is that the story, and in the case of Shane, the nobil- ity of the character and the strong theme came across despite the differ- ences. I had the same experience discussing the movie Julius Caesar, which I had seen in Italian. The famous speeches and the key scenes had all come across.

The mediums in this famously well-acted and produced movie had been the drama, the pictures, the force of the personalities brought to the screen by the actors, with the language, even in Italian, acquiring authority from them, aside from what the translator had been able to do, which I was not in a position to judge.

I was then the person for which translation is meant. Perhaps this is a commonplace which we sometimes forget. But, then, how could they? English has great synthetic power, and Shakespeare is master of syntactic conci- sion, a great inventor of verbs; while the forte of Italian is the strong phrase, the musical phrase. When I was growing up I never considered translation as one version of the original. I had no idea what the differences between the two might be, the different approaches and complementary results, or that different versions might be needed for different purposes.

Despite a spoken ver- nacular that deviated in major ways from Italian, which was in fact an- other language; despite the study of Latin and French, I took translations into Italian for granted just as the natives of any place take their language and mores for granted --as the only way something is said and done. Translation, in this frame of reference, is seen as the same piece of writing with the very same words but in a different lan- guage.

Io, povero diavolo

I did not entertain the idea that translators have to interpret what they read, and may interpret the same passage differently, or that if a word is ambiguous in one language, the same word might not be in another lan- guage. Dante chose to write his epic-length poem in the spoken tongue rather than in Latin, the literary language. And he consciously forged a national language out of his own Tuscan dialect. A language all writers had to sub- sequently learn, regardless of their mother tongue.

Alessandro Manzoni, who is given credit for developing the historical novel in the nineteenth century, and for enriching the language of prose, was a northern Italian who started with the language he had learned in school and then, he said, went to Tuscany to rinse it in the waters of the Arno.

Guide Io, povero diavolo (Racconti del Duomo) (Italian Edition)

Translators not only have ways of reading first level of interpreta- tion ; they have ways of re-creating through their choices second level of interpretation character and literary persona, diction and syntax, rhythm and sound, tone. Sometimes they have to invent what their own language does not have to come out with an equivalent. The original and the translation are both translations, and as such, approximations. Authors translate what they see and feel, the experi- ence of life into the experience of words, structures made of words, choos- ing out of huge vocabularies, and they may be more or less successful, more or less satisfied.

Regardless of how it was, how many versions this version went through, it is now fixed and the words are all a reader has. He has to try to imagine what the author saw or felt, and it is only when he has a view, that he can re-create the physical and emotional land- scapes. A translator has access to the original.

For most of us, the approxi- mation that we call translation is all there is. Many of the books I read as a child were in translation. And in Italy, a great many prose writers and poets have also been gifted translators. Sometimes, they too took for granted what they did, and so did their editors and publishers.

When I started reading English Literature in college with barely a year of English—through some translation error, I started college at all of it was equally difficult for me. I had no bias in favor of modern or con- temporary works as the American students did, and I made no distinction between the English and American dialect.

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They had to contend with archaic versions of English, while I read contemporary Italian translations. The strangeness I had encountered had to do with content, with elliptical political and social references rather than with terms and phrases that had become obsolete. The picaresque journey that is translation has continued throughout my life.

Not only because learning involves translation; I have been profes- sionally involved with translation for many years, in my work, and as a poet.

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