Lost without translation
It is quite illuminating to see a theatre play in a language we don’t understand. We become quite aware of what is lost without translation.
For very good reasons I’ll explain soon, a few weeks ago I saw a play in a language I couldn’t understand: Sassarese. (I promise I’ll explain why I watched the play very soon… It had something to do with saving that particular language.)
Sassarese is spoken in northern Sardinia, so closely related to Corsican that there is no consensus as to whether they are separate languages or not (which is a common predicament). What Sassarese is not is a dialect of Italian.
The experience of seeing a play in an unknown language without translation is quite curious. You hold on to every detail to understand the story.
It was not impossible to follow the play’s broad lines. There's a common human (or is it Southern European?) base that allowed me to recognise gestures, intonations, jokes.
However, when we see a play with characters we can easily identify with, but do not understand, we begin to develop what we could call translation yearning. We don't want the play to be in our language — but we do want to understand it.
We are always hearing complaints about what is lost in translation, about how it is so much better to read the original text... Many people seem to forget they don't speak but a fraction of the world's languages.
Translation gives them access to books, films, texts and plays from all over the world.
Translators’ work is taken for granted in everyday life. When it is absent where we expect it, we finally understand what is lost without translation.
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