Language. Mobility. Environment.

Multilingual cultures in translation.

Can minorities train translators to face the languages of the future?

In my humble opinion, the answer is yes.

Scots may have resolved that they actually do #bettertogether, but what about the rest of European populations ‘at the margins’? Catalonia is looking into a potential referendum to break free from the

‘We are one nation’.

Spanish-Castilian sovereignty. Minorities across Europe see Scotland as a model to follow, a wise martyr determined to drop out of a system on the edge of a breakdown. And if we have to be honest, these guys have a point. This interconnected society we have come up with needs to be re-elaborated, because it promises but uncertainty. I remember to have read somewhere that all what the Scots are objecting to is what triggers increasing discontent in the rest of the UK as well. Then, is division actually the best route to take? Cultural studies on minorities are sometimes frowned upon, mainly because promoting the preservation of such cultures may echo an enclosed, narrow-minded society willing to step back from a new system. A new system that is, conversely, unwinding across borders.

Whilst working on a research project on the translation of Sardinian literature, I have resolved that this study can lead to two main general approaches, and it is completely liable to how the researcher takes up the matter. If the preservation of minorities is entirely addressed to perpetuate division and discourages dialogue, any attempt of preservation is very unlikely to be welcomed by the wider community.  Research should lead forward, research entails progress. In the present international scenario specifically, division means ‘going back’.

Personally, I do not see the preservation of minority languages as a political strategy to ignite the spirits of independentist parties. Like any other form of cultural protection, it should be done for the sake of our own identity and relationship with our past. It should be done because we desperately need to understand thoroughly the meaning of integration and intercultural understanding. And if we need to find the material earnings of these preservation campaigns (because this is how things work in the 21st century), I might have an idea.

Please, watch this video:

It might steal a big smile off you. However, the boring linguist that I am has noticed that although most of these guys here start talking to their parents in English, the conversation carries on in the family’s native language – or even more interestingly, it’s completely bilingual. Leaving what this video is about aside for one moment, these moments of family intimacy portray the reality of millions of people out there who have a foot in their native country and another in the country where they live: they are multilingual and speak hybrid languages that mix up one another. This society of migrants and travellers is now so large and established that its influence is making an impact on the world cultural production – they write books and poems, which have a remarkable success, too. This production can be a very interesting subject of study, as long as we can all have access to it.


That’s the reason translation is there for.

At this point, we want to raise a question – how can hybridity be translated?

A starts a conversation in English. B replies in Hindi. A keeps using English, but uses words in Hindi time to time.

This conversation between A and B is in a novel that will be soon translated into French. How can you keep the hybrid language, how can you tell a French reader how that conversation is actually taking place, keeping its naturalness and perfect combination of languages?

[T]he receptors of a translation should comprehend the translated text to such an extent that they can understand how the original receptors must have understood the original text”.  (Nida)

There is, of course, no straightforward answer. What’s at stake is not only an attempt to find the right lexicon or to play with a new, original jargon. There are indeed more factors including context, individual perceptions of language and identity, background stories of the words chosen by the individual speakers. Is a foreign language able to breach through this thick wall of sounds and memories?

There is no clear answer. But there is a model that translator may follow: methodologies of translating minority cultures within their respective national contexts. The radically opposite phenomenon of international mobility represents nonetheless a possible model to translate intercultural hybridity. Both these expressions of modern society can be considered as marginal. People on the move are at the margin of society as we traditionally conceived it, in a criss-cross of states, borders and passports; minorities are at the margins of the countries to which they officially belong, where their local culture is constantly subjected to the influence of the ‘national’ macro-culture and language. This kind of interaction especially gives light to a rather similar form of hybridity that sees the cross-over of two different cultures and languages and the subsequent creation of a hybrid culture that draws from both.

Translations of this kind of linguistic phenomenon are taking place already. The translation of literature in regional Italian is a striking example. Regional Italian is a mix of standard Italian and regional variants (dialects or what are formally considered languages) that resents heavily of calques translated literally or phonetically or morphologically, thus breaking that linguistic barrier between the national and the local. Sardinian literary production for instance is a very unique linguistic phenomenon as the prose of the novels

Italian linguistic diversity.

written on the islands mirrors the hybrid language Sardinians use on a daily basis. Translators have written articles about how they personally have taken up the challenge, how they have played with words and how they have challenged the target language in order to convey the same images and expressions present in the original text.

Can such a nationally-rooted hybridity influence international hybridity (= transnationalisation)? Should translator pay more attention in the local language, and find different patterns of linguistic specialisation? This is the opportunity minority have to demonstrate that marginal does not mean division. The local can help us understand the global, and vice versa. And who knows, perhaps governments will find themselves at the bottom of the line of a Domino game and this interaction going on under their nose will call for more attention and understanding of these margins… maybe even before they ask for an independence referendum.

Blog post smart art

 Foreign texts that are stylistically innovative invite the English-language translator to create sociolects striated with various dialects, registers and styles, inventing a collective assemblage that questions the seeming unity of standard English. (Venuti 1998: 11)

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