Many times people say that the work of a translator is not so difficult: he just needs to transfer a message, a text or a document in another language!
Well, it doesn’t work that way, everything we write in our own language, if translated literally in another language would not have the same meaning or maybe it would not have a meaning at all! Let’s give an example: if we say “I’ve just gone to the cinema” it Italian it is “Sono appena andato al cinema” but if we want to translate it literally in English the latter Italian sentence would be “I’m just gone to the cinema” …it has not the same meaning…
So if we see that there are grammatical and syntactic problems in such a short sentence, have you ever thought how many problems a translator can find in a specific medical, or legal or informatics text to be translated? The real fun starts when you want to translate any kind of cultural humour.
We know that most of the telefilms that we see in all the world come from America, so the humour that characterizes all this series has to click with a new country, a new way of thinking and above all a new culture. One of the American telefilm that had more success and that is still broadcasted in all the world is Friends, a funny telefilm in which we can enjoy following the adventures of six guys that live together and share their busy and sometimes problematic lives. We have no doubt that it makes people laugh in America as in France, in Spain or in Italy…but are you sure that the actors are actually saying the exact same things in English as in other languages?
I will write about some episodes in which it is clear that the translator had to think a lot to render the same irony that characterizes the telefilm in its original language.
In one of the episodes we can see that two of the characters, Monica and Phoebe, are speaking about a friend of them with whom they don’t get on really well and that is coming from London. The entire sketch is focused on the two women reproducing the British accent of the friend, it is obviously really funny for an English speaker because he is able to understand the differences between the two accents: one of the example is that they are making fun of her for using mobile (British word) instead of phone (really more common in America). But how do you translate this irony in an another language? The Italian translator for example, knowing that no Italian spectator would have laughed about this sketch if translated literally, decided to change the reason of the joke moving it to the fact that after living in a metropolis like London the woman became a bit snob so all the “R” presents in the sentences of Monica and Phoebe have been changed in “V” (Italian people use to do it when they want to reproduce a snob person: ex. Cara that means Dear becomes Cava). So associating the “snob speaking” to the smirks of the women he managed to create a funny sketch in Italian as well.
An another interesting episode is when Joey (an Italo-American character) has been come over by his Italian grandmother that doesn’t speak English at all, well in this case the Italian translator has expected to find a lot of problems to reproduce the communication problems of the old woman. In fact, if the episodes are broadcasted in Italian how to translate this funny inconvenience? Anyway also in this case our translator managed to find a great solution: the Italian spectator, indeed, knows that the communication problems between the lady and the other guys are due to the deafness of the old woman but when Phoebe offers to her something to drink telling it in Italian she is creating another trouble for our poor translator. In fact, when Joey ears that she is able to speak Italian asks “Are you able to speak Italian??”, but it is obvious for the Italian spectator that she can, so also this time the translator has to change something, translating “You won my grandmother over! How did you do??”, in fact taking advantage from the great smile of the woman due to listen someone speaking Italian the translator makes the Italian spectator believe that it is just for the funny kindness of Phoebe.So after these example it is clear enough that a translator does not have only to transfer words from a language to another one, but he has to consider a lot of elements like the culture and the country, he must be creative and able to create sentences and expressions that must be natural in the target language as they had not never had a source language.
By Giovanna Persico