Sunday, December 16, 2012

Compare and contrast, arguments concerning the death of art: from rationalism and assumption, and from observation and empiricism
I had started the editing process in a spirit of easygoing cooperation, determined to set aside any pride in Englishness and work to produce the best package possible for an American public. After all, the work was being paid for by an American publisher and my commissioning editor had proved extremely helpful when it came to discussing the shape of the book. But doubts soon arose. Prose is not something that remains the same when words are substituted—“jeans” for “dungarees,” for example—or when one synonym is preferred to another. Rhythm is important, and assonance likewise. Ninety-eight uses of a two-syllable “carriage” are not the same as ninety-eight occurrences of a single-syllable closed-o “coach.” This is why, statistically, assonance, alliteration, and rhythm tend to be weaker in translations than in original texts; consciously or otherwise a writer, even of the least ambitious prose, is guided by sound, while the language itself is constantly forming standard collocations of words around pleasantly assonant combinations—fast asleep, wide awake. Any intervention in these patterns, whether simply substituting words to suit a local use of the same language, or more radically translating into another language, disturbs the relationship between sound and semantics.

But my train book isn’t just a text written by an Englishman to be published in America. It’s about Italy, the Italians, how they see things, their mental world. One of the ways one can get across the difference is to focus on words or usages that don’t quite translate—the appearance of coincidenza, for example, in station announcements, which can mean a planned and timetabled train connection, or a quite unplanned, unexpected development to which an urgent response is required, such as a last minute platform change. Over these matters the American editor dutifully followed. But where I had written mamma and papà, the edit had transformed to “mamma” and “pappa.” This rather threw me, in part because I had assumed that Americans said mama and papa, but mostly because papà is accented on the second syllable, whereas in Italian “pappa”, with the accent on the first syllable and that double p that Italians, unlike Anglo-Saxons, actually pronounce, is a word for mush, or babyfood.
"Davidson is also known for rejection of the idea of a conceptual scheme, thought of as something peculiar to one language or one way of looking at the world, arguing that where the possibility of translation stops so does the coherence of the idea that there is something to translate."

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