Saturday, January 17, 2009


Ever since Thursday's post about the difficulties of translation I have been trying to think of a famous example that would illustrate the point: this morning I was talking to someone about 1984 and I suddenly thought, "Eureka!" [And I wasn't even in the bath at the time.] The beginning of that novel reads,

"It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen."

"Thirteen" in this context sounds strange and even sinister to a mother-tongue English speaker as the 24-hour clock is not normally used in conversation or descriptions. How does the poor translator convey this to an Italian reader in whose language it is quite normal to say, "Ci vediamo alle tredici" ["See you at 13.00"]? The answer is that he / she cannot, without resorting to a footnote, so the sentence has been rendered as,

"Era una fresca limpida giornata d'aprile e gli orologi segnavano l'una."

L'una, just as acceptable as tredici, has no sinster overtones whatsoever.

So we see that, as with our song title Et Maintenant being kept for the Italian version, there are some problems you just can't resolve. We won't go into what "one o'clock" means to an Italian!

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