They said it couldn’t be done.
Although many Italians have become enthusiastic fans of La Bella Lingua, publishers in Italy insisted that my book on their language was intraducibile (untranslatable). That didn’t deter Alice Giorgi, a candidate for a laurea magistrale in lingue e culture comparate (comparative languages and cultures) at the Università degli Studi di Macerata.
“The first time I saw your book in a bookstore, I felt like it was calling me from its shelf!” she wrote in an e-mail. Although she knew that translating what she calls my lunga dichiarazione d’amore (long declaration of love) for her mother tongue would be difficult, Dottoressa Giorgi took it on as una bella sfida (a beautiful challenge).
The result is a 137-page thesis: La Bella Lingua di Dianne Hales: Una proposta di traduzione (A Proposal for Translation), which includes a discussion of my testo poliglotta e transculturale (multi-language and trans-cultural text); a translation into Italian of the introduction and first chapter; an interview with me; a technical analysis of the book’s phonology, lexicon, grammatical syntax, linguistic and “extralinguistic” phenomena; and comments on the stile dell’autrice (author’s style).
For me it was fascinating to read my words on Italian in Italian. In English, I describe myself as “a sensible woman of sturdy Polish stock” who never expected “to become madly, gladly, giddily besotted with the world’s most luscious language.” In Italian I am transformed into “una donna assennata dalle solide radici agresti polacche” who became “follemente, felicemente, frivolamente infatuata della lingua più seducente del mondo.”
A friend I call “a va-va-voom gorgeous blonde” turns into “una bionda da urlo" –literally a blonde to scream for. As Dottoressa Giorgi explains in her thesis, in the slang of the young, this term refers to a beautiful woman who would make Italian men whistle in appreciation.
In her thoughtful analysis, Dottoressa Giorgi describes how she worked to capture the rhythm as well as the meaning of my words. She also checked every citation, noticed differences in an American versus an Italian perspective (including what struck her as an unfair generality that all Italians admire un furbo, a clever trickster or conman) and added necessary explanations (such as tracing a “Just the facts” reference to Dragnet, an American television series that never made it to Italy).
Without a doubt, to use an expression that doesn’t translate into Italian, Dottoressa Giorgi “gets it.” The Italian words that run throughout La Bella Lingua are indeed le vere protagoniste (the true protagonists) of the book. She also successfully captures “lo stile della Hales,” which she calls “espressivo e personale” (expressive and personal). I am flattered that she concludes that La Bella Lingua is “un lavoro molto gradevole che unisce l’utile e il dilettevole” (a very appealing work that combines usefulness and enjoyment). Click here to read a sample of her translation.
I am not the only one impressed with Dottoressa Giorgi’s accomplishment. The professors who reviewed her thesis gave her the highest marks. Bravissima!
Words and Expressions
Testo inglese (English text) Traduzione italiana (Italian translation)
embarrassing slips imbarazzanti scivoloni
labor of love opera amorosa
thunderbolt genius genio lampante
native speakers parlanti madrelingua
verbal gleam brillìo verbale
happenstance lasciato al caso
Dianne Hales is the author of La Bella Lingua: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language. Click below for a brief video of one of her presentations.