What you don’t know about Italy

Milan's Duomo

How many times do we hear the phrase ‘lost in translation’? Probably too many and now we ask ourselves “Where does it come from?”.

It is the title of a famous 2003 film where an American actor, far past his prime, visits Tokyo in an incredible trip that enables him to finally ‘discover himself’. Since the film, this phrase has been used for articles, jokes etc., and ‘abused’ as people don’t really know its true meaning.  ‘Lost in translation’ denotes that the true meaning of something has been lost along the way.

As a Translation Agency, ‘lost in translation’ means a lot more to us. Our clients trust us to communicate their message and brand identity in another language, not only in words, but also in the culture and traditions behind those words. So, we aim to give our clients something more; to avoid any part of their message becoming lost. We need to ensure that the final document doesn't really seem like a translation at all, but has been written in the target language; perfectly reflecting the original message.   

At Talking Heads we love languages and most of our team speak more than one language. Our favourite Italian, Ginny, discusses variations of Italian with us.

"I’ve been in the UK for nearly 2 years now and I’ve noticed that Italy for the British people is a land of many stereotypes: great food, great wines, great weather and amazing scenery. But how many of you know anything about the Italian language?

Italian is a Romance language and is descended from Latin. The official language was adopted by the state after the unification of Italy and it is based on Tuscan, which was a language previously mostly spoken by the upper class of Florentine society. In fact, if you happen to read some of Dante’s masterpieces you will see the similarities between his old Tuscan and modern Italian, although the development of modern Italian was influenced by other Italian dialects and by the Germanic languages of the post-Roman invaders.

Despite the fact the country has an official language there’s a variety of local dialects in Italy, which are almost languages in their own right. I grew up in the northern part of Italy and I learnt Italian and a bit of my dialect, Milanese.

The dialects are so different that if I want to talk with a person from Bergamo (a city only 35 miles from Milan), we may not understand each other. A quick example; ‘chair’ in Italian is ‘sedia’, in Milanese dialect is ‘cadrega’, while in Bergamo’s dialect the word is ‘scagna’. You can clearly see a similarity, however they are different words. Imagine stringing together a whole sentence full of these dialectal differences – two people would not understand a word of what each other is saying.

The abyss between languages grows tremendously if we take into consideration dialects from the north and dialects from the south. For me talking with someone from the south is exactly the same as talking to an Arabic person - I would even be totally oblivious to the subject of the conversation.

Even with your quirky British accents, imagine if someone from London could actually not understand someone from Newcastle at all. Mayhem would ensue!