L’editoria italiana che ha l’amico ‘che questo me lo traduce aggratis’

Editoria italiana. Diciamolo, Feltrinelli. Vengo approcciata per la traduzione di vari scritti di filosofi da varie lingue (inglese, francese, e tedesco) per la pubblicazione di un volume. Due settimane di tempo per tradurlo. Contiamo le parole, decidiamo un prezzo. Applico il prezzo da cucitore di palloni da 0,04 cent. a parola. Voglio assicurarmi la traduzione del volume. 1000 €. Il secondo editore è contento. Io pure, a dir la verità. Il secondo editore telefona a chi di dovere. Durante la telefonata, il suo volto cambia espressione. Chiude il telefono. Hanno detto che vogliono cercare qualcuno che lo traduce a gratis. Il mio pane quotidiano per quel mese sparisce, e con lui, anche un’aggiunta importante al mio curriculum. Ora io vorrei dirvi che cose di questo tipo mi sono capitate solo e solamente con italiani. Quando anche venni contatata per la traduzione di un sito di dimensioni bibliche dal tedesco e proposi 300€ come prezzo, mi dissero che andava bene, ma poi, non venni più ricontattata. Vi ricordate il prezzo da cucitore di palloni? Per la traduzione di quel sito, la tariffa che fui costretta ad applicare fu ancora più bassa, ovviamente nella speranza di potermi aggiudicare il lavoro.

In Italia c’è una grande sottovalutazione dei saperi. Per acquisire le mie capacità traduttive, ho impiegato decenni a sudare sui dizionari, e nottate impiegate a cercare di comprendere la sintassi tedesca. Ora, gente che per prendere un B1 di inglese deve fare voto alla Madonna, bistratta le mie qualifiche (e di tanti linguisti e traduttori come me), considerate opzionali.

Certo, opzionalissime (non esiste come superlativo, ma credo ci stia bene per descrivere quello che accade). Non a caso addirittura grandi nomi della stampa come La Repubblica, hanno (e non so con quale coraggio) spesso pubblicato articoli frutti del sudore non di un traduttore, ma di Google Translate. E si vede. Potevo risalire con una precisione millimetrica alla sintassi della lingua inglese in quell’articolo (secondo loro) in italiano, tanti erano i calchi sintattici per i quali il nostro amichetto Google Translate è così celebre. Il risultato è un giornale che rispetto ad altre testate di altri Paesi (non parlo delle anglofone di natura in generale, ma testate internazionali non anglofone di nascita oppure multilingue, come AlJazeera, PressTV, ed Euronews) risulta molto provinciale. A prescindere da quanto vi possano piacere, la loro cura del lato linguistico e della stampa in svariate lingue li rende sicuramente molto più professionali e meno provinciali di una testata, ad esempio, quale La Repubblica. Ovviamente non scappano nemmeno altri (orma non più) grandi nomi come l’Unità o il Corriere della Sera.

L’Italia soffre di un’ignoranza linguistica dilagante. Sono passati i tempi in cui sul Corriere c’era un maestro della lingua (e traduttore) come Pier Paolo Pasolini. Il confronto tra gli articoli pubblicati allora e quelli che si possono leggere ora risulta in una colossale figura barbina della stampa odierna. Clickbait, Google Translate, errori di battitura… La lingua è stata buttata al cesso (scusate), e con essa la qualità di un’editoria intera. Questo ovviamente è riflesso della cultura nazionale. I laureati in lingue non sono abilitati all’insegnamento (come invece lo sono i laureati in Scienze della Formazione, che sinora insegnavano le lingue al posto nostro alle elementari, con le conseguenze di cui sopra. Alla generazione di mia madre è invece stato permesso di insegnare a scuola con il terzo superiore magistrale, mentre noi neanche dopo aver finito la laurea di 5 anni siamo abilitati a qualcosa), e la loro figura non esiste nel mondo del lavoro italiano. Se si cerca tra gli annunci, con la laurea in lingue al massimo, in Italia, si può fare la segretaria . Un assaggio al mercato del lavoro estero mostra invece figure altamente professionalizzate per la quale è richiesta la laurea in lingue. Tra queste, oltre al tipico insegnamento, (alcune immagino inaudite ai più), il linguista forense, il linguista computazionale (linguaggi artificiali, anyone?), il corrispondente estero, il traduttore (giurato e non, letterario o scientifico) di  siti e videogiochi, il correttore di bozze (presentatene uno alla stampa italiana), l’analista dei decreti legge per verificarne la chiarezza, e così via. Tutto questo ovviamente senza contare le figure presenti nel mondo della ricerca (di cui non voglio parlare, mi sono già svegliata con i capelli rizzati stamattina, non voglio peggiorare la situazione).  E se parliamo di insegnamento, c’è un’ignoranza così diffusa delle dinamiche linguistiche in genere, che un povero laureato in lingue non può insegnare neanche nelle diverse scuole private di lingue, secondo le quali è meglio essere laureato in ingegneria ma madrelingua per insegnare, che non essere un linguista laureato, altamente fluente in quella lingua, e cosciente di quali siano i problemi che i suoi compaesani incontrano quando devono imparare una determinata  lingua x.

Science on newspapers & magazines? Be aware of what you read

Last week I stumbled upon a very interesting website, called Climate Feedback. As you might have guessed, the goal of this website is to give scientists-backed feedback on divulgative  articles on climate change that appear here and there on newspapers and magazines. The results, not surprisingly, are fairly discouraging. Many articles covering climate change topics are found to be flawed, resulting in a great disservice to those outside the scientific world that do not have the tools to verify the data in the magazine articles they are reading. What is surprising, instead, is that the sheets flawing data are some of the most influential and read newspapers out there. Among them, even Forbes failed to produce trustworthy content for its readers. There is a widespread trend worldwide involving the so-called clickbait, consisting in viral content posted and re-posted ad nauseam, often with the goal of generating traffic on the website in order to gain money out of it. Clearly, all of this is at the expense of truthfulness and accuracy. Needless to say, this trend includes some of the media giants of press, like the CNN or the British The Telegraph. This happens in the so-called hard sciences, like physics, chemistry, biology, climate science, and medicine. But not only there. Humanist sciences (term I firmly reject,  because 1) any science could be humanist, and 2) some of them, like linguistics, are more similar to mathematics and physics than they are to literature, but we’ll talk about this on another post) also fall victims to this clickbait trend, mainly because their results are the hardest to reproduce. Going back to linguistics (which I call the atom physics of language) I found that given that we all talk, everybody feels entitled to write something about the way language works. Does it make sense? Is everybody able to talk about neuroscience just because we all have neurons? Well, of course, 80% of what I read online about language is pure and trivial nonsense.  Some of the most annoying content includes the soda/pop battle, how many names do Eskimos have for snow? or which American accent are you? Is this linguistics? Yet again, needless to say, absolutely not. Today, for example, I read an article on the Guardian on the way women should talk wrote by an historian who wishes to give us all pretty ladies some useless and unscientific advice on how to talk. What’s the difference between an article wrote by a linguist on language, and some trivial stuff wrote by someone who knows nothing about it? The gap in the middle is immense. Unluckily for linguists, almost nobody knows what linguists do, so almost nobody asks for their advice. Some of the most important topics- like the origin of language, its structure & the way it works, its links to identity, its biological and neural basis, or how the superficial differences between all languages hide a common structural ground, are left to people (grammarians above all!) who, just because of the fact they hold a degree in some humanist science think they’ve got it covered and that they have the tools to discuss about it. Sadly, it takes more than that. Syntax is more similar to informatics than grammar,   and linguists are bordeline scholars who jump from genetics to physics and from neuroscience to programming, just to cite a few. So is a MA’s in English or History enough to talk about language? Doesn’t seem so. Journalists have a responsibility, and when they do not have the tools to cover a topic, they should leave it to an expert.

Italian idioms: Ambaradam

Un ambaradam di gente; Un ambaradam di colori. Literally meaning a confused plethora, the idiom ambaradam is one of the last linguistic vestiges of the Fascist regime, whose non-Romance origin easily stands out.
Going back to the Fascist attempt to create an Italian empire over Lybia, Ethiopia, Somalia, and EritreaAmba Aradam is the name of a mountain 500 km north of Addis Abeba, Ethiopia.

On this very mountain, the Italian Army fought to conquer Ethiopia, and some tried to convince the local tribes to agree to a compromise with them, thus generating a confusion between the two parties.

In a Roman neighborhood, particular for many examples of Fascist architecture, San Giovanni, there is a street entitled Via dell’Amba Aradam.

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Via dell’Ambara Adam with some houses under construction in 1936, the fourteenth year of the Fascist regime. Gallery by Roma Sparita

 

 

 

 

 

 

Education and research in the Bel Paese

The phrase Bel Paese, which stands for Italy, evokes many beautiful images. This is probably why it is so widely used. It reminds us of the splendor of our past, rich in notable artists, musicians, poets, architects, philosophers, scientists, and Nobel Laureates. While it is true that Italian scholars and artists have always been praised for their work and study, it is also true that the environment in which they were born and where they have been educated is paved with labyrinthine paths which often require knowing the right person in the right place.

This is an account of a person who was born, grew up, was educated, and graduated in Italy. It describes my own experience in the system – with its ups and downs.

I was born in a small town in Southern Italy, and in this same place graduated from school. Like in many towns in Southern Italy, dialect in my hometown is the main linguistic system in use for everyday life, with a great presence in the school system, local literature, theater plays, and radio stations. Dialect is so rooted in our lives that even the Mayor, who also happens to be a parliamentary in the Italian Parliament, is often mocked for his poor Italian and seems confused about how to correct himself when trying to speak proper Italian. What I have just said is by no means a critic to the use of dialect, of which I am a fierce defender, but just a matter of fact, which needs to be stated in order to understand the social and linguistic background in which schools in Southern Italy operate. To many readers the role of dialects in Italy might seem pretty confusing, and needs to be – even if shortly – explained. To do this, we must jump into XIXth Century Italy, and quickly look at how it was administered and ultimately ruled.

italy_unification_1815_1870

As a result of the collapse of the Roman Empire, Italy slowly fragmented in many, small states. At the dawn of the Unification, which was completed in 1871, the most important states of the Italian peninsula were the Kingdom of the two Sicilies, with Naples as capital city, the Papal States, with Rome as capital, the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, with Florence as capital, the Kingdom of Sardinia, with Turin as capital, and the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia, with Venice as its last capital. Regardless of disputes regarding the legitimacy of the Unification, the linguistic and cultural differences existing between and inside these states were mostly left uncared of. The abandon in which Southern Italy was left after the Unification lead, in the 70s of the XIXth Century, to the migration of masses of people to other Countries of Europe, to the Americas, and to Australia. Little has changed since then, and the economic gap between South and North is still tangible and greatly influences the education system.

Speaking of education, little has done to integrate in the school system those who only speak dialect. With the great wave of immigration that reached Italy in the last decades, scholars and teachers have put their efforts into rethinking our schools in the light of multilingualism and multiculturalism, having to provide education to pupils with Arabic, Chinese, Romani, Romanian and Albanian (among the others) as mother tongue.

But what about the dialect-only speakers? While it is true that Italian is the language of education, press, and television, it is also true that, for many reasons, still many people do not acquire an active competence in the Italian language. I have seen many students drop out of school because of this stigma that dialect speakers still carry. In the light of these assumptions, teachers at school must get rid of this dialect-bashing policy that originated in the Fascist Ventennio, and approach dialect speaking students in order to make them part of the school system, in order to avoid school dropouts, which are very frequent in dialect-only speakers and only harm their participation in the job market and outside the area where their dialect is spoken.

But what about education funding?

Mine was a very old-style school, there were only two scarcely equipped laboratories, no activities, and a ‘book-only’ kind of didactics. Teachers copiously assigned paged to study for the next day, whose study had to be verified through an oral test, interrogazione, or a written test. Grades were rarely high and teachers always expected us to read every single word on the book, and to remind every date or historical event. We were taught to read, understand and translate Latin, and we used to have intense readings of main literary works, with a great focus on the Divina Commedia. We were required to skillfully converse on philosophical topics and to be able to  recognize and describe historical pieces of art, and to learn by heart every bone’s name in our body.

Is all this studying and reading bad? Sure, it gives the student a great cultural background and the ability to pick the subject that most fits them and to prepare them for the copious quantity of readings that students at the University are given. But then it stops there. The path for researchers and scholars is confused and poorly paid. Many Italian graduates are obliged to flee their own country in search of a system that is able to reward all these years that they spent studying. University fees are based on income – I paid nothing for my University education and got a Bachelor’s and then a Master’s degree for as much as 14 € of fees each year, went to study for a semester in German for free, went to the Netherlands as a visiting student  to do research on my thesis for free, but now? Now I am just one of the many graduates who must know how to navigate unemployment, and the Ivory Tower that Italian Academia is. Poor wages, non-renewable contracts, in a system were the average age for tenure track is 50-60 years, where are young Italian scholars going to go? Abroad, of course. And if they try to come back, they’ll find all doors slammed in their faces. For those who speak Italian, there is a video that summarizes the situation.