July 12, 2007

Words with no pause

I found it! A prize piece of verbose and obtuse prose. Right in the bathtub!

Exhausted and covered in dust (from cleaning out boxes of old stuff and lugging most of it to the trash down four flights), I fell into the tub with a brochure called "Il Senso dei Luoghi" that presents the 2007 regional summer festivals prepared by the Regione Lazio Assessorato Cultura Spettacolo e Sport . The opening page stopped me cold -- one paragraph filled the entire page. I couldn't continue after the first sentence, so I did a word count instead, just under 500 words in one never-ending paragraph. Wow. I am sure it is full of jewels of wisdom, but I just can't read it. It's an American thing, we need paragraphs -- we have short attention spans and organizational/spatial needs.

My son doesn't. When he moved to the Italian school system four years ago, he showed me one of his first "temi" or essays. Before even reading the text, I said, "First, I would break it up into paragraphs." He replied that this was the way he was supposed to write in Italian and that the teacher wouldn't say anything about paragraphs (like his international school teachers would have done). In fact, it came back with a good grade and no mention of the missing breaks that I had been taught should occasionally interrupt the page.

Drives me crazy.

I zoomed on the center of the page and read, "L'obiettivo (the objective or goal, that's a good start) è andare ben oltre la mera valorizzazione: stiamo inaugurando nuove modalità di fruizione, affinché i cittadini possano riappropriarsi di luoghi caratterizzanti per l'identità storica e culturale della regione." I got lost, what was the goal? "To go beyond mere enhancement (of what?): we are unveiling/inaugurating new ways to use/enjoy (what?) so that citizens can regain for themselves places that characterize the historical and culture of the region." Hmmmm. Whatever. In any case, the program itself looks great!

a domani,


sognatrice said...

Oh this is so true. I *hate* the lack of paragraphs! This is what makes reading some Italian so hard for me--you forget the beginning of the sentence by the time you get to the end!

A translator's nightmare to be sure--especially when, like in your example, there are phrases like "to go beyond mere enhancement," and I'm thinking, like you, "of what?" Can I throw in something (life? your holiday? mah) or do I just have to rephrase the whole thing? I can't believe Italians continue to write like this--and are *taught* to do so. Scary.

How are your lessons going, btw? Are you verbose yet?

Kataroma said...

And legal Italian is even worse! I translate a lot of Italian legal documents as part of my job and it drives me nuts trying to make this kind of verbose Italian into passable English.

Legal English is pretty bad too but not nearly as bad as legal Italian. I think it's one of those Wizard of Oz "man behind the curtain" things. Makes the lawyer look like he knows his stuff! :)

Elizabeth said...

Kataroma, I can feel for you. I occasionally help out my brother-in-law by translating legal correspondence and it is indeed a task! Medical Italian is not much better. I also help an Italian cardiologist prepare her presentations for international conferences and it is hard to figure out where the blood is coming from and where it has to go. I think it is the wide use of the impersonal form that makes it so difficult to translate. We need to know WHO DOES IT and, TO WHOM which isn't clear with the impersonal, especially when the object is "intended". Happy translating!!

Hey dreamer, Italians are taught to write like this, or at least they are not forced to follow paragraph structure as we were....opening sentence, body, closing sentence for each paragraph. Instead they are better at understanding things in their context and not because they are spelled out -- they have always had to.

Alex (Italian teacher) talks about the importance of musicality, "musicalità dà efficacia", so what seems like flowing jibberish is actually effective (to them) because of its musicality and flow.....will we ever get it?

Shelley - At Home in Rome said...

This is why I gave up reading Italian newspapers long ago. I kept forgetting the first part of the sentence.

Elizabeth said...

Dai!! there is lots of interesting stuff in the newspapers and not all the articles are incomprehensible (just the ones on politics). The TV news is worse, so you have to dig in somewhere to know what's going on.