Lost in translation

Over the summer I spent a week holidaying in Sicily - the first time I have been on a plane in about 30-ish years. My brain has been rather all over the place since getting back, and it has taken me a while to marshal my thoughts sufficiently to share the experience. There are a number of different angles I shall approach over the next few posts.
We met up with many relatives and friends of Francesco, and dined out a great deal. At one particularly impressive meal I was asked to conclude the evening with a story. Only a small number of the people at table spoke any English, and I currently have only about a dozen words of Italian. So the story of Pomona and Vertumnus was conveyed by a combination of Francesco's translation of my words, a sprinkling of what little Italian I do know, and even more body language than usual.
Edward Sapir claimed that language shapes thought (a concept now known as linguistic relativity)- people thinking in Dutch will do so very differently from someone thinking in Mandarin. One of my holiday reads was Donna Tartt's 'The Secret History' which makes a similar claim that thinking in Ancient Greek is very different from thinking in (American) English - and not just thinking, it changes the way that characters in the novel see and experience the world.
As my Italian improves I may discover that it alters how I think and comprehend the world. The musicality of languages is also interesting - a small example being that English speakers say the name Aphrodite with a long i-sound, to rhyme with mighty. Italians say it with a short i-sound, to rhyme with pity. Not a massive difference, but Roman poetry is based on patterns of long and short vowel sounds (all those iambs and trochees you might remember from school) - rhyme and rhythm schemes can often indicate the accent of the poet. Does the invocation of a deity have a different effect if done in one language rather than another? Our minds, to some extent, mediate the presence of a deity within our lives - and if Sapir is even only partially correct about the way words shape our minds, then Aphrodite flowing through Italian, Greek, or German-structured minds might express herself very differently than if she were moving through English, Zimbabwean, or Tagalog-structured minds.
The experience of telling a story through the medium of translation was an interesting one, and may lead to further thought on issues of purveying stories and meaning in other languages - in this case putting a story back into what is almost its original language.
There are a number of curious stories - snippets of stories, really - from Sicily that could be worked up into interesting stories. When I finally get the chance to string some brain cells together, I'll record some and post them here.


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