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29th of June
Harry Potter in translation
20 years ago, on the 26th of June 1997 the first book of Harry Potter was published, since then followed six more books, eight movies, video-games and lot more. Harry Potter is today a cult, and it has been translated in many countries, there are approximately 74 authorised translation. The translators’ work for this book was particularly challenging compared to the translation of other books for different reasons, let’s see which ones:
- Invented names
- Word plays
- Focused on the British culture
Invented names and world plays
In the HP saga, J.K Rowling made up a lot of new words to represent creatures or places that do not actually exist. While some of these are funny or interesting for native speakers, for the translators it was a real challenge to bring them into their own language without changing the meaning. The invented names cannot be separated from the word plays, because often they were created in order to make a word play.
Some interesting examples are the names of the characters, which in the majority of cases mean something that leads us to understand their personality already from their name. Some of these names in the translated version lost part of their meaning, while some others kept the meaning.
One name that lost part of his meaning is the translation of Cornelius Fudge in Italian. While in English with Fudge we indicate both the fudge as a sweet, and a certain behaviour of being unreliable, vague and hypocrite, in the Italian translation the second meaning was lost. It was translated as Cornelius Caramell, leaving the idea of the sweet untouched, but in this way the reader misses the word play that allows him to understand something about this character.
The name Voldemort was complicated in all the translations because of the anagram that is created in the second book from Tom Marvolo Riddle that becomes I am Lord Voldemort, while many translators decided not to change it, and lose the anagram, in France it was changed with Tom Elvis Jedusor, that creates also a double meaning with “jeu du sort” as a twist of faith.
The name Severus Snape was changed in different translations, in Italian it became Severus Piton, in French Severus Rougue, but in both cases, it lost the alliteration that J.K Rowling had created. The alliteration was kept in the Slovenian translation, where it became Robaus Raws.
Also names of places often mean something, for instance Diagon Alley that resembles “diagonaly”, so a different path from what we are used to, in many translation it was left as Diagon Alley, while some translator tried to bring this meaning to the readers, for instance in Finnish it was translated as “Viistokuja”, where Visto means “sloping” and kuja means alley. The meaning is not the same, but it gives to the reader a bit of the idea of what the original meant.
Focus on the British culture
Another interesting fact about Harry Potter is how focused it is on the British culture, that’s why in the United States they actually had to translate some parts of the book, creating a second version in English of the book. The biggest change was in the name of the first book, while in the British edition is Harry Potter and the Philosopher stone, in the American one it is Harry Potter and the Sorcerer stone. It was changed because the publishing house thought that the word philosopher was too complicated for kids. They also had to change some words that are typically British, as jumper that became sweater, since in American English jumper means a kind of dress.
Often in the books food is mentioned, this was not translated in the same way in the Arabic translation, where the variety of food mentioned diminished, they used the word food many times instead of translating the dish that the characters where eating. In the Arabic version, there were also many changes made because of different cultural habits: drinking alcohol is forbidden, therefore it was changed every time it happened in the book, and also scenes in which the characters were kissing were changed.
In general, the translation of Harry Potter in every language was a challenge, but despite the differences that might occur in each translation the language barrier didn’t stop the story from being loved by thousands of kids – and also grownups – who were brought into the amazing world that J.K Rowling created.
by Roberta Mingo
22nd of June
Two languages, a common past: German and English
When we usually think about the English language, we commonly describe it as a European language used by European people to communicate with each other, nevertheless linguistic differences can exist. Even if English language is nowadays considered in the world the easiest language to speak, this language was not so easy to learn in the past.
What would you think if I told you that English and German share common roots? Don’t panic! I know, German may sound a little bit more complicated than English, but I will show you how these two languages do not differ each other so much.
- The Germans
Our historical and linguistic journey starts as far back as 50 B.C, when Caesar, writing about the roman population in his own book called “De Bello Gallico”, writes about the barbarian, to distinguish this population from the roman one. These barbarians were commonly described by Caesar as German, people who lived across the mouth of the Rhine river. Even if Caesar writes about German a single population, this bunch of people was made up of two different population:
– The Celts who inhabited the western part of the Europe,
– The Shia who inhabited the eastern part of Europe.
In order to defend their cultural autonomy, romans were not so interested in discovering these people at the beginning, but then, thanks to the wars and the military conquests, they showed much more enthusiasm in socializing and meeting the Germans.
The historian Tacito, writing about the traditions and the habits of the German people in his famous masterpiece “De origine et situ Germanorum” (I century A.C- 98 A.C), describe the Germans as a unity in terms of politics and cultural and religious features. As the romans, Germans had common political and economic structures and shared the same cultural and religious traditions. Even if Tacito’s work it’s a big step forward, we must wait till the end of the III century to read about Germans as a much more complex unity, made up of different people such as francs, goths, alemannians…
- The evolution of the English and German language
And now, after this brief explanation, let’s continue our historical journey focusing much more on the evolution of the English and German languages, discovering how they evolved and why they are not so different even if, as we have discovered, they share a common past.
When, in the VI century A.C, a big group of Germans people, Angle, Saxon and Jute, landed on the coasts of Britain, they came face to face with a Christian population who had a roman-Celtic culture. It was in this period that the English language and culture, while preserving typical Germans’ features, developed absorbing the main elements of the Celtic and Latin culture.
In his work, “Historia Ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum”, the historian Beda writes about the landing of the German people on the coasts of Denmark and northern Germany, specifying that they were asked for help by the original inhabitants of Britain to fight with them against the northern tribes. According to Beda, after this long war, German people occupied the whole island except for Cornwall and Wales which were still under Celts control. After the occupation, the Anglo-Saxons divided their new-conquered island into seven different reins: Sussex, Essex, Wessex, Mercia, eastern Anglia and Northumbria.
According to chronological point of view, the evolution of the German language can be summarized into three big periods.
- The ancient period (VIII century – X century) characterised by different dialects;
- The middle period (XII century – XV century) and the rise of a modern literary language;
- The modern period (XVI century – nowadays).
Discovering the historical background of the German language, we should focus on the combination of those population who lived in the eastern part of the Rhine river and on the important influence that the Francs, who lived in the territories of the Gaul, had on the evolution of the language itself. However, according to a linguistic point of view, we cannot talk of a German literary language till the end of the XII century, because in the past the literal heritage of the Germany was made up of different kinds of written languages based on oral languages which later gained a literary dignity thanks to the monks ‘contribution who used these languages in their own works.
Concluding our historical journey, I want to show you some words that, as you are going to see, will show you that English and German languages are not so different each other:
Mother – Mutter
Sister – Schwester
Butter – Butter
Cat – Katze
Hand – Hand
Book – Buch
School – Schule
To bring – bringen
To drink – trinken
To see – sehen
Thanks – Danke
Bread – Brot
Water – Wasser
Door – Tür
Blood – Blut
Word – Wort
Kitchen – Küche
Football – Fußball
Red – rot
Cold – kalt
Sofa – Sofa
Light – Licht
Hell – Hölle
Our historical journey ends here, but I hope you have learnt something new about english language and its linguistic history. I think that the interesting thing about learning a new language is discovering its past and common features it has with other languages, so if in the future someone will tell you that Italian and French have some common words don’t take the wind out of the sails of your curiosity and discover the craziest things you have never thought existed.
by Alessio Aino
15th of June
‘What’s up?’ or how not to ‘lose the plot’ in conversation
Did you invent you own language when you were a child? Did you use to speak a secret code with your friends that your Mum couldn’t understand? Probably everyone played games like that. But some of us still do it, even if they aren’t aware of it…
It’s not a secret that language constructs identity and lets us feel as a member of a particular group. We’re used to think about it in terms of nations, but on the other hand, we know there exist plenty of variations of standard languages. When the accent is put on the geographical aspect, we mean dialects; when the social conditions play first fiddle- slang words are in question.
For a long time their status in linguistics was underestimated, as they were associated with a lower social class or subcultures. At the beginning, slang was a bailiwick of criminals, mainly thieves. So it was with Thieves’ cant or rogues’ cant in English-speaking countries, šatrovački in Croatia, Swiss Rotwelsch, Spanish germanía or Russian fenya (феня) better known as blatnoy language (Russian: блатной язык). Some sordid ‘businessmen’ in old England also created their own way of communication- the blackslang which consists generally in speaking backwards. Maybe it was their profession that inspired Carl Sandburg to say that:
“Slang is a language that rolls up its sleeves, spits on its hands and goes to work.”
He hasn’t specified what kind of job he’s thinking about, has he?
But what is the slang exactly? How to define it?
The table below may help us characterize it, particularly distinguish it from the dialect:
|background (formation rule)||social||geographic|
|leading idea||exclusiveness in social frame||uniqueness in the terms of ethnicity|
|main function||expressive function||informative function|
|relation with a standard (national) language||total dependence (a lower place in the hierarchy)||partial autonomy (legal status near to a national language)|
|linguistic features||lexical, phraseological and semantic variations of a standard language when the grammar rules stay intact||limited degree of similitude to a national language, the origins included|
|comprehensibility for a dilettante (native user of a standard language)||more or less disturbed||disturbed or impossible, depending on particular features|
To put it briefly, slang is a social variation of a standard language whose objective is to reinforce the social identity of its users by limiting the probability of comprehension by a third person. There exist plenty of its types, starting from the student’s slang, finishing at the professional’s (like the soldiers) one.
Now its status is changing and different forms of slang slang are quite fashionable and omnipresent in the media. It doesn’t mean they weren’t there in the past, as some of them owe their fame to artists. Suffice it to say they were used by Jewizsh-klezmers*, ‘alligators’*(jive talk), Argentinian tango dancers (lunfardo) or British street puppet performers (polari). The last one has been even used in an app by two Brits, Jez Dolan and Joe Richardson.
Nowadays we can hear slang speaking actors for ex. in Peaky Blinders (cockney), Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and What Not to Wear (polari), Green-streets hooligans (stadium hooligans language), La Haine (verlan) or even The Simpsons (American slang). There are also some books written in slang, like A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, Zwał by Sławomir Shuty, some passages of Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, Riffifi chez les hommes by Auguste le Breton or Sergiusz Piasecki’s novels, among others. From pieces of art containing some slang expressions we can list: songs of Morrisey, Dawid Bowie, Vladimir Vysotsky, Aleksander Galich, Jacques Dutronc, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong… Not to mention about all gangsta bits. Does it not convince you about the power of slang? And what if Princess Anne also speaks it from time to time?*
No matter how we find this phenomenon, it’s worth to know some slang expressions, especially in a foreign language; firstly, it enables us to avoid some blunders, secondly, we can really impress the native speakers. And the advantages for our self-esteem are priceless (:
A short case study
Let’s take a look at some funny examples of Irish slang:
The wheel’s turning, but the hamster’s dead– about a not so brilliant person
She’d a face only an uncle could love– about somebody ugly to an extent
It’s pissing = it’s raining
I’m not as green as I am cabbage = I’m not as stupid as I look
As you’ve seen they’re mostly figurative, based on some more or less abstract associations. Anyway, it makes them easier to understand for foreigners than for example a famous Cockney rhyming slang from East London, dating from the 19th century… A million dollars for whoever understand this Londoners’ ‘weep and wail’ ‘tale’:
By the way, the French aren’t less creative. Their verlan, ‘ c’est balèze’! (‘it’s difficult’). Honestly, if you’re looking for some aspects of dada poems in the nature of language, you’ve just found them. Choose a word, cut them in the middle, change the order of its parts and you’ll speak as a full-blooded ‘céfran’ (‘French’):
At this point, we should mention again the lunfardo, as its vocabulary is formed in the same way. Thereby, you can easily decipher the name of the Gotan Project band.
Now let’s think how to translate this kind of speech…
If you’ve already got the slang bug, show it in your comments.
By Karolina Dabek
*black-jazz musicians in Harlem
*Source: The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English Dalzell and Victor (eds.) Routledge, 2006, Vol. II p. 1349
*What’s curious is that in the past Yiddish was also considered a slang. Now it’s classified as a dialect.
8th of June
Elena Ferrante’s case
Translations should not change the meaning of a book, but just give to more readers the chance to appreciate a story. Sometimes though, it happens that the translated version of a book has more success than the original one, how can that happen? Does that depend on the translator or on the cultural context into which the book is brought?
This happened with Elena Ferrante’s books, Elena Ferrante is of course famous also in Italy, but not as much as she is in the United States, where her books and her identity became an obsession for some readers. She started her career in 1992, her first novels didn’t have a lot of success, fame for her started with the Neapolitan Quartet that includes “My Brilliant friend”, “The story of a new name”, “Those who leave and those who stay” and “The story of the lost child”, that were translated into English by Ann Goldstein.
Part of the reason why she became so famous is the mystery that surrounds her identity, Elena Ferrante is a pseudonym and the readers do not know much about her real identity, all that is known comes from a book Fragments (la Frantumaglia), in which she gathered different interviews done throughout the years. While most of the readers do not really care about her identity, we have her books, why should we bother knowing her real name? Others became obsessed with the idea of finding out who she really is.
Lately, HBO in cooperation with RAI, the Italian broadcasting company, started planning a tv show based on the books, while in the United States there is the Ferrante fever, in Italy, despite her being a loved author, many think that she is overestimated. While some people claim that the translation is better than the original version, the reason of this huge fame in the United States might be the different cultural background. Firstly, there is the problem of the pseudonym, Americans are much more obsessed than Italians in finding out who she actually is. Then there is the actual story, that follows the lives and the friendship of two characters, Lila and Lena: Lena’s growth and how she is able to change from being poor to a famous writer, and Lila’s rebellion against what society wants from her, and what she actually wants. Maybe these topics are more familiar to American readers rather than Italians, and that’s why they appreciated it more.
We cannot know whether the translation is actually better than the original, but it is definitely interesting to see how much a different language and cultural background can shape and change things.
by Roberta Mingo
1st of June
How to enhance language learning while you are living abroad?
The best way to improve your foreign language competences is obviously to move abroad for some time. However, being abroad does not improve de facto your language skills. While I was in Ireland, I met a Croatian guy who was living there for two and a half years, but whose English was pretty bad. Why? He was spending most of his working time and free-time with Croatian people. This guy was thinking that the fact of staying in Ireland alone will help him to improve his English. How wrong he was. That is why I wanted to write this blog post, to give you 5 tips which will really help you to improve your foreign language learning abroad.
- Do not only communicate with natives from your own country! Even if you can feel more confident to speak in your mother tongue with other natives, it won’t help you to improve your skills in the language. So, try to meet foreign people, and spend time with them as much as you can.
- Go out as much as you can. To go out is obviously the best way to improve your speaking skills, because you can speak spontaneously about any subject without the necessary vocabulary. This is one of the most important skills, and it is very difficult to develop it in your home country because you have the possibility to go back to your mother tongue if you don’t know a word or an expression. You don’t have such a possibility abroad (which is a good thing).
- Find a group of people from different nationalities in the town you are living. It is very easy today to find these kinds of groups on social media, like Facebook for example. It is also a way to create and develop a network of people who may go out with you. Do not hesitate to use Messenger and other chats to keep in touch, share the events you are interested in and organise your evenings!
- Keep doing what you usually do. The fact of being abroad is not an excuse to stop doing the good things you did in your home country; keep watching films in original version if you were doing so, keep reading books in the foreign language if you were already doing it, etc.
- Use this opportunity to find a local language class. Being surrounded by the language in your everyday life with help you progress much faster and will make the learning feel more fun. This will also ensure that you have something to concretely track your progress. You can also arrange do a tandem with a native speaker, teach them your mother tongue and they will teach you theirs.
What you must understand is that if you are abroad, burying yourself in a grammar book is not the most pertinent thing; it can discourage you and lead you to give up altogether. On the contrary, put the emphasis on interaction and dialogue in an informal and even funny setting, it is easy to learn regularly in this way.
by Florient Georges
25th of May
The profile of a translator – Serena Vitale
Despite their hard work, translators do not have a lot of credit for their job. They work in the shadows, and even though the majority of people reading a book do not know the name of the translator, they shape the culture of a country. That’s why we decided, every once in a while, to talk about some famous, or not so famous, translator.
Serena Vitale is an Italian translator, and writer. She was born in Brindisi (in the south of Italy) in 1945, she majored in Russian and Czech, but most of her work is related to the Russian culture.
During her career, she translated a lot of works from different Russian authors, Russian literature was not so well known in Italy, since a lot of works didn’t have a translation, it is thanks to her if today in Italy is possible to read many poems by Marina Tsvetaeva, Osip Mandel’štam and many others.
She spent her childhood in Brindisi, and then moved with her mother in Rome at the age of 10. She studied with Angelo Marina Ripellino, one of the most important Italian Slavists, in 1967 she went in Russia for the first time, at the time it was not easy for her, but then her love for Russian culture won over all of the fears she might have. She had the chance to meet some important figures of the Silver age of Russian literature, like Lilya Brik, Mayakovsky’s muse. She focused mostly on poetry, in particular on Marina Tsvetaeva. She translated almost all of her works.
She didn’t only translate Russian literature, but wrote about it, she won different Italian prizes for some of her books. Among them she wrote a novel about Majakovskij’s last days, and many other short stories related to Russia and Russian culture.
She is very well know by all of those whose studies are related to Russian in Italy, but considering that she was able to translate some of the best works from Russian literature, she should have more credit.
Here you can read a small bit of one of the poems she translated:
Рас-стояние: версты, мили… Distanze: verste, miglia…
Нас рас-ставили, рас-садили, Ci hanno divisi, disperse, costretti
Чтобы тихо себя вели a vivere dimessi, muti, buoni,
По двум разным концам земли. ai confini opposti della terra.
[The poem is: Ras-stojanie: versty, mili… by Marina Tsvetaeva]
by Roberta Mingo
18th of May
How to stay motivated when you read a book in a foreign language
When you learn a foreign language, it is very useful to read books in that language. This week I wanted to deal with one interesting article written by Arjen de Korte and another by Stephen Krashen. Reading helps to develop language skills unconsciously and without a lot of effort!
- Read Regularly! Reading 30 min per day helps you to learn new words and new expressions, but also improves reading, comprehension, writing and grammar skills.
- To begin and keep motivated to read books in foreign languages you should take a book which is at your learning language level. Personally, I also recommend reading a book that you have already read in your mother tongue. For example, the first books I have read in English was the Harry Potter series, because I knew the story and it is written in an accessible way. When reading nothing is worse than spending more time in the dictionary to understand every word than reading the story itself.
- Do not try to understand every word. You are not a dictionary! Just try to understand the general meaning, and use the dictionary if you really feel lost.
- Pleasure reading goes hand in hand with language acquisition. Read books in foreign languages that you would read in your mother tongue (comics, short stories, novels, etc.), and never force yourself to read; if you find a section of the book too difficult, or too boring, just skip it !
- Deal with all the practical problems before you begin your “reading programme”. For example, do you know where you can find books in foreign language without going bankrupt? Is there choice in the local library? Do you know places where you can get second-hand books ? Think of that before you start, because if you cannot read in a foreign languages as much as you want, you may lose motivation.
- Read the primary sources, pick up the novel rather than reading a selection of excerpts from a course book. Even if a book for language learners contains a lot of excerpts from many novels, these excerpts are sometimes adapted to highlight grammar rules, thus they can be more easily frustrating.
- Try to find groups who also read books. This is not very difficult because there are plenty of groups which share their passion on social media or on blogs. The interaction aspect is very important because other readers will not only encourage you if you lose motivation, but they also advise you on what to read next.
- Do a “wish list”: a wish list is a list with all the books you would like to read. This wish-list will be enriched by books you’ve heard of from other passionate people in your reading club, or elsewhere. It is important because you need to read regularly, and thus to get new ideas of books to read.
Use these tips and get reading!
by Florient Georges
11th of May
Pro and Cons of learning a language online.
Nowadays technology changes every aspect of our life, including the field of learning. The many online tools that are now available have created a new way of learning languages, not everybody thinks that it is the proper way to learn a language though. Here are some pros and cons of learning a language online!
The great thing about learning online is that each one of us can choose when, where and for how long to practise. It could be five minutes during the lunch break or two hours from home. It is completely free, it is perfect for those who do not have time for a course but still want to learn something new.
- Possibility to speak with native speakers:
In the past, it was hard for language students to meet native speakers unless they moved, especially for uncommon languages. Nowadays everyone can create a linguistic tandem, you will be able to practise any language you are learning with a native speaker just staying at home!
- Improves responsibility:
Unlike in an academic course when it comes to online learning it is unlikely that the student needs to fulfil specific tasks in a short amount of time, which means that it is up to the student when to study and how much, this will definitely help to improve the sense of responsibility toward the subject.
- Free access:
Learning a language is expensive and therefore not for everybody, but thanks to the online tools many people can learn a new language for free.
- Low motivation
Of course the possibility to study whenever we want can also have a side effect, if the student is not motivated enough he will probably end up not studying every day, which is one of the main goals when studying a language.
- Possibility to speak with a native speaker
This is not only a pro, but can be a con. When studying with a native speaker in an university environment we are sure about his preparation and knowledge of the language, while when we speak with any random native speaker we might acquire a bad pronunciation or bad grammar on some things without even knowing. Just because they are native speakers does not mean that their language proficiency is perfect.
- Lack of a personalized path of study
When studying with a teacher it is possible to stop and improve some topics that are harder for the student, and maybe skip topics that are easily acquired, while studying on the internet does not allow the student to change the path that is already established by the app or the website that he is using.
by Roberta Mingo
4th of May
8 Reasons to Learn a Foreign Language
I remember, when I was younger, I used to say that learning foreign languages was a waste of time. However, with the benefit of hindsight, I understand how wrong I was.
To learn foreign languages is an asset that will reinforce (or develop) your self-confidence, but it will also open your mind and help you enrich yourself. Here there are 8 reasons to learn now languages.
- It improves your employability :today many businesses work in an international context, buying or selling their products abroad. There are also many foreigners and their communities in all countries in the world. To be able talk with these potential clients is therefore a very important asset in this context. In today’s globalised world, to be fluent in another language opens the door in terms of job opportunities
- It is an undeniable asset : People who are bilingual or multilingual are generally more efficient when performing tasks. They are able to directly focus on the essential and what is most relevant, because they are used to do so, instead of analysing all the information. This is can be a big help when you interact with a person from a foreign country.
- It’s good for your brain: researchers have proven that multilingual people have cognitive and neurological advantages. In fact, when you listen to a language which is not your native one, your brain is more simulated than when you listen to your mother tongue. To speak a foreign language often also helps to roll-back dementia.
- It helps to overcome your fear of appearing ridiculous : when you go abroad to practice your language, native people, far from laughing at you, are generally impressed by your attempts to be better in their mother tongue!
- It opens your mind: To learn languages is always a source of surprises. You always learn something new, discover another thing, use your imagination to remember what you’ve learnt. By speaking a foreign language you will also get to know new people more easily, and thus you will have less prejudice toward people who are different.
- It will help you to master your mother tongue:Today there is an important interaction between countries, and each language is influenced by others. English speakers use a lot of French words (and vice-versa), many German words are close to English ones, etc. By learning foreign languages you will boost also your vocabulary in your mother tongue.
- A language is a vision of life:learning languages helps to understand differences between cultures and the specificity of each one. For example, the French through their language highlight their need for formality at work, with „you“ that can be translated in a formal and informal way, whereas English speakers do not look for that and use the same word.
- It will help you to have a super travel experience:Travel is not only going to the most beautiful places of an area and taking pictures of them! It is also about discovering a new culture and,a way of life! How can someone really enjoy Ireland without enjoying a pint of Guinness with Irish people, while complaining heartily about the weather?
So stop procrastinating and get learning!
Written by Florient Georges