Jackie Kay`s The Adoption Papers: An Italian translation

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Jackie Kay`s The Adoption Papers: An Italian translation
Università degli Studi di Padova
Dipartimento di Studi Linguistici e Letterari
Corso di laurea Magistrale in
Lingue e Letterature Europee e Americane
Classe LM-37
Tesi di Laurea
Jackie Kay’s The Adoption Papers:
An Italian translation
Prof. Katherine Ackerley
Isabella Guarnieri
n° matr. 1053260 / LMLLA
Anno Accademico 2014 / 2015
Chapter 1
1.1 Jackie Kay
1.2 Autobiographic works
1.3 Post-colonial heritage in contemporary Britain
Chapter 2
2.1 Translated literature
2.2 Translation theory
2.2.1 General consideration
2.2.2 Different approaches to literary translation
2.2.3 Translating poetry
2.2.4 Translating autobiographic works
2.3 My experience as a translator
Chapter 3
3.1 Analysis of the original text
3.2 Translation of the original text
3.2.1 Translation
3.2.2 Commentary on the translation
3.3 Translation – relevant aspects
3.3.1 Metaphors and similes
3.3.2 Dialect
3.3.3 Shift and transposition
3.3.4 Culturally specific aspects
3.3.5 Flow of thoughts
Appendix 1 (original text)
This dissertation consists of the translation of Jackie Kay’s long poem The Adoption
Papers. My interest in the Scottish writer started with the course of Contemporary
Literature in English, during which I came across the drama The Lamplighter, a journey
through the Atlantic slave trade. Kay’s sensitivity struck me and I began to read her
works. Starting from personal experiences, she is able to depict people’s weaknesses; her
writing explores the human condition and, through her intelligence and humour, she leads
readers to reflect upon their bittersweet existence.
The Adoption Papers (1991) is a long poem that tells the story of a black girl’s adoption
by a white Scottish couple: it is Jackie Kay’s story. The personal experience has
determined the literary subject matter, thus the author’s autobiography took an artistic
form. This is her breakthrough work whereby she began to obtain positive outcomes from
The admiration for Kay’s writing and my personal involvement in her story brought me
to analyse and translate this highly emotional text. My aim was to put myself to the test
with a double challenge: autobiographical works and poems require particular attention
to details in terms of content, for the former, and form, for the latter. Moreover, I chose
to work on a text that so far, officially, has not been translated into Italian.
In the first chapter, I presented the biography of the author, making an overview of her
works; even if her life has determined the subject of all her writing since the beginning
of her career, I focused on the main theme of identity in her autobiographic works, The
Adoption Papers (long poem) and Red Dust Road (novel). The context of her writing is
that of contemporary Britain, where racism, developed as a consequence of the colonial
period, has not been extinguished but has only changed shape. Writing has encouraged
Kay to face discriminatory attitudes and to define a faithful representation of herself;
despite all difficulties, she has taken advantage of her complex heritage, becoming one of
Scotland’s most popular writers.
The second chapter concerns translation theory and the place of translated works in
literature. Starting from a reflection on the value of translated literature and established
that translation requires the same competences and abilities of writing, I directed my
attention to the different phases of the translation process. I analysed the two main
approaches toward the original text and the corresponding translation methods:
translation). Then, as far as methods are concerned, I described Newmark’s theory,
referring in particular to semantic and communicative translation. Because of the nature
of The Adoption Papers, I expanded the analysis of the main features of translation theory
related to poetry and autobiographic works. Finally, I illustrated my experience as a
translator, describing my approach to the text, the methods I followed and the steps I had
to take in order to reach a respectable translation.
The translation is in the third chapter, following a section on the analysis of the original
text, where I described linguistic features, structure and content. The translation is
accompanied by a parallel commentary that clarifies my translation choices: on the left
there is the translation of the poem, while on the right we find the commentary; the
original text can be found in the appendix. The last section is devoted to those features of
the translation that have required particular attention because of their complexity:
figurative language, dialect, shifts, cultural matters and different traits of stream of
consciousness. The solutions I proposed may supply a potential way to follow for a
translator that deals with a text that has similar features to The Adoption Papers.
Jacqueline Margaret Kay, better known as Jackie Kay, was born in Edinburgh on 9
November 1961 to a Scottish mother and a Nigerian father. Her mother, Elizabeth Fraser,
was a young nurse who had an affair with a Nigerian university student, Jonathan O. Their
relationship did not last a long period, as Jonathan had to go back to Nigeria after his
studies because he was betrothed to another woman. In the sixties, being a white
unmarried mother with a black baby was a disgrace and her family encouraged her to give
her daughter away. After a few months Jackie was adopted by Helen and John Kay, a
white couple from Glasgow, who had already adopted a boy, Maxwell. Helen was the
Scottish secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, while John worked for the
Communist Party of Great Britain.
Kay studied at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, following her dream of
becoming an actress, and in 1983 she graduated with honours from the University of
Stirling, where she studied English. After graduating, she moved to London with the
intention of becoming a dramatist, but once there she worked at a series of menial jobs
while focusing on her literary career.
In 1988 she gave birth to her son Matthew, who graduated from the University of
Guadalajara, Mexico, and is now a film maker in London. A few years later she met the
Scottish poetess and playwright Dame Carol Ann Duffy and their relationship lasted until
On 17 June 2006, the writer was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire
(MBE). She now lives in Manchester and is Professor of Creative Writing at Newcastle
University and Cultural Fellow at Glasgow Caledonian University. In October 2014, she
was nominated as the new Chancellor of the University of Salford and from the 1 st
January 2015 she holds the position of University ‘Writers in Residence’.
When she was at school, her English teacher was so impressed by her poems that she
showed them to the Scottish writer Alasdair Gray, who recognised a real talent in what
he read. She began writing poetry at the age of twelve, when she composed ‘One Person,
Two Names’, an eight-page poem about an African-America girl who pretended to be
Since the very beginning, her life has determined the subjects of her writing; as a black
adopted lesbian, she has always focused her attention on the question of identity. Starting
from herself, she writes about the imaginary, since she wants her works to be accessible
to everybody. Kay believes that writing should have more than one meaning, and as she
states in an interview “It’s very important to me that readers do find the way into my
works” (Key in Severin 2002).
Determined to escape categorization as a writer, Kay has published several collections of
short stories as well as collections of poems, works for theatre, television and radio,
novels, memoirs and she has also produced writing for children.
After two early novels, Everyday Matters 2 and Stepping Out, she turned her attention to
the stage with the first play Chiaroscuro, which evolved from a half–hour play that Kay
was commissioned to write by the Theatre of Black Women in 1985 and whose final
version was performed by the same company at London’s Soho Polytechnic in 1986. Her
second play is Twice Over and was produced by the Gay Sweatshop Theater Company in
But her breakthrough work is her first collection of poems The Adoption Papers
(Bloodaxe Books 1991), which tells the (autobiographical) story of a black girl’s adoption
by a white Scottish couple; the collection includes also some poems reflecting issues of
identity, for example sexuality, blackness, Scottishness and the belonging to the working
class. In 1993 she published Other Lovers (Bloodaxe Books), a collection of poems which
explores the search for identity in the experience of slavery during the colonial period and
which contains some poems on the jazz and blues singer Bessie Smith. The year after, the
collection won the Somerset Maugham Award.
Off Colour (Bloodaxe Books 1998) explores the theme of injustice and abuse through
images of disease and violence; despite the dark themes, Kay wants to underline the need
for community and dialogue among people.
The same year she won the Guardian Fiction Price and the Author’s Club First Novel
Award for her first novel, Trumpet (Picador); Kay took inspiration from the true story of
the life of the American jazz trumpet Joss Moody, who lived as a man but who was really
a woman. Like The Adoption Papers, the novel is a polyphony, whose voices belong to
Moody's wife, his adopted son and a journalist from a tabloid newspaper. The book was
also shortlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.
In 1999 she published her first collection of poems for young readers, The Frog Who
Dreamt to Be an Opera Singer (Bloomsbury) and in 2002 the children novel Strawgirl
Her first collection of short stories, Why don’t you stop talking (Picador 2002), explores
the world of mental illness, while the following collection, Wish I Were Here (Picador
2006), extends into human emotion, and in particular into love with all its faces. As
Tranter (2008) states,
Many of Kay’s characters are drawn from the unfashionable literary shadows: the middle-aged,
the unloved, the overweight, the disappointed. Her stories give a voice to those from these oftenignored ranks, and gain our compassion through the use of shrewdly-observed humour which is at
its best when at its most bittersweet (Tranter 2008).
The collection of poems Life Mask was published in 2005 (Bloodaxe Books), the novella
Sonata in 2006 (Picador). In 2007 she turned again her attention to children literature,
producing a new collection of poems, Red Cherry Red (Bloomsbury). In the same year,
she published another collection of poems for an adult readership, Darling: New and
Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books).
The Lamplighter (Bloodaxe Books 2008) is a drama that explores the Atlantic slave trade
through the voices of four enslaved women and a white man; it was broadcast on BBC
Radio3 in March 2007 and published the year after. Kay won the British Book of the Year
in 2009 (British Council) and her work was also shortlisted for the 2009 Saltire Society
Scottish Book of the Year Award.
The work Maw Broon Monologues combines rhythmic verse and music and was
performed in 2010 at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow; the same year it was shortlisted for
the 2010 Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry.
Red Dust Road (Picador 2008) is her memoir: Jackie Kay traced her upbringing as a
mixed-raced adopted child and told of her search for and encounter with each of her
biological parents. In 2011, the writer was shortlisted for the PEN/Ackerley Prize and
won the Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust Book of the Year Award (British Council).
Her last collection of poems is entitled Fiere (Picador 2011); it was shortlisted for the
2011 Costa Poetry Award and the 2011 Saltire Society Scottish Book of the Year Award.
Her last publication is the collection of short stories Reality, Reality (Picador 2012); as
Kay usually does, also in this work she deals with existential questions of contemporary
life. The title of the book is a satire on how reality TV makes people lose touch with
reality; Sethi (2012) summarizes in a few lines the meaning of Kay’s stories:
Feeling that "something's missing" in their lives, not least their own minds, characters fill the void
with food, fags, sex and reality TV. Each to be savoured, these taut tales hauntingly depict the
psychological realities of loss and loneliness (Sethi 2012).
Jackie Kay has spent all her life writing; she has encompassed a wide range of literary
genres, but her work has continued to gravitate around the theme of identity, being central
to her and to everybody of us. Starting from her personal experience, she is able to create
believable characters who tell themselves, generating empathy among readers.
Kay is one of Scotland most popular writers.
Jackie Kay began to obtain positive outcomes from critics with her first collection of
poems, The Adoption Papers (1991), which received a Scottish Arts Council Book
Award, a Saltire First Book of the Year Award and a Forward Prize. The collection bears
the same name as the main poetic sequence, whose lines tell the story of the author’s
adoption through a polyphonic symphony. The three narrative voices, adoptive mother,
biological mother and daughter, dramatize the adoption experience, presenting it from
different points of view. On one hand we read the experience of a woman, who considers
her infertility a personal failure and is full of anxiety; at first she is worried about not
being up to the task of adopting a baby, and then, after having become a mother, she is
terrified of the idea that her daughter could prefer her biological mother to her. On the
other hand, there is the story of a young woman who, forced to give away her baby by
her family, spends all her life regretting it. In the middle we find the daughter, whose life
has been determined by their choices and who has to deal with her complicated identity
every day.
The singular personal experience has determined the literary subject matter, creating a
fictionalized text, where the author’s autobiography takes an artistic form. As I have
already outlined in the previous section, the theme of identity plays a fundamental role in
Kay’s entire work, as it is central also in her life. Since she was a child, the writer has had
to struggle to discover and understand her real nature. Having African roots and being
adopted by white communist Scottish parents, she started to feel different from the other
children at primary school, where she was often offended not only by her classmates but
also by her racist teacher.
The conservative society of the ‘60s looked down upon adopted children, especially when
they were a different colour from that of the dominant group. When the adoptive parents
went looking for a baby in several adoption agencies, their daughter was not even
considered a possible choice because of her skin colour:
They told us they had no babies at first
and I chanced it didn’t matter what colour it was
and they say oh you are sure
in that case we have a baby for you –
to think she wasn’t even thought as a baby,
my baby, my baby (Kay 1991: 24).
The community’s racism upset Kay and growing up, she began to reflect upon the
importance of blood inheritance. Bowed down by blood questions, she came to the
conclusion that blood ties are not significant:
I know my blood.
It is dark ruby red and comes
Regular and I use Lillets.
I know my blood when I cut my finger.
I know what my blood looks like (Kay 1991: 29).
She could not stand people who gave too much importance to lineage and tried to convey
the idea that the only people she could consider her real parents were her adoptive parents,
as they were those who brought her up with love and shared her joys and losses.
Despite her strong relationship with her white family, she started to feel the need to search
for someone who looked like her and identified with the American politician black activist
Angela Davis. They had the same skin colour and hair, and these identity markers made
her fight for the cause of Davis and wish to attain her bravery. Embracing the activist’s
cause might equal fighting for her own cause in a closed society that did not acknowledge
her rights because of its prejudices and boundaries.
If on one hand she recognized that real parenthood was not directly linked to genetics, on
the other she was pushed by curiosity to find out who her biological parents were. Kay
started to imagine her biological mother’s appearance but the act of visualizing a neverseen figure turned out to be confusing:
She is faceless
She has no nose
She wears no particular dress
She is faceless, she never
weeps. She has neither eyes nor
fine boned cheeks (Kay 1991: 30).
In the poem, the daughter (as I mentioned before Kay starts from her experience to create
a fictionalized text) got obsessed by the desire of a meeting with the birth mother and the
woman begun to dog her also in dreams. Wanting to make sure that her biological mother
had a physical appearance, after some searches, she tried to contact her by phone. She
was only able to speak with her mother’s sister, who promised her that when the woman
would be ready she would have written her a letter, which never arrived.
The Adoption Papers was written by Jackie Kay while she was in the process of tracing
her birth mother; it was when she was pregnant (1988) that she really thought about her
for the first time. Kay wondered what it was like for her mother when she was pregnant
with her and decided to try to get her own original birth certificate in order to find the
woman who, up to that time, was a set of abstract images in her mind.
The poetic sequence stands for a journey of self-discovery and Kay portrays identity as a
process whose formation never ends. In an interview, the writer states that nobody can
have the same identity forever, as “identity's something that's fluid, it's not something
that's static and fixed and I'm really interested in writing about identity and how fluid it
is” (Kay 2005). She is fascinated by the capacity people have to invent themselves,
creating and transforming their identity endlessly.
Kay’s identity has never taken a fixed form and its different aspects coexist without
eclipsing one another: she is a Scottish woman with African roots, a lesbian and a mother,
a university professor and an artist.
Thus, the poetess represents identity as a process of production that has many different
phases but which does not lead to a well-defined final product. As Elgezeery (2015)
The self in Kay’s poems is reinvented in many forms that show how identity formation is a creative
act that is frequently performed so that the self can undertake a renewable process of self-discovery
and self-actualization (Elgezeery 2015: 12).
They main characteristic of Jackie Kay’s idea of identity is fluidity; through her works
she conveys the idea that human beings are not just the product of genetics, but they are
the dynamic and mobile result of the multiple interactions with the different
Kay wrote this first collection of poems driven by a deep personal need for selfunderstanding:
I think that we write often in order to try and discover or understand ourselves and so The Adoption
Papers was a cathartic book for me to write. I wrote it before I had ever traced a birth parent and
it made me think about nature and nurture and the conflict of identities. It was a searching book to
write and in the end it did feel healing too (Kay 2010).
More recently, nearly twenty years later, Kay has revised her own life story in her memoir
Red Dust Road (Picador 2010). In this second autobiographic work she focuses on the
process of search for her biological parents; she describes their meetings and the
relationship they have established. While The adoption Papers is a fictionalized text that
took form starting from a personal experience, the novel is the faithful and accurate
narration of important moments in Jackie Kay’s life. Another difference between the two
works is represented by the importance given to the figure of the biological father, since,
if in the poem the daughter never mentions him and he only appears twice in the birth
mother’s memories, in Red Dust Road he plays a fundamental role.
The narration opens in 2003 in the Nicon Hilton Hotel in Abuja, where Kay meets her
natural father for the first time. He is a born-again Christian who prays over her for two
hours trying to make her receive Christ in order to be cleansed of his sinful past. She is
distressed by what she is experiencing in that hotel room, as she understands that she is
just a sin in her father’s eyes:
I realized with a fresh horror that Jonathan is seeing me as the sin, me as impure, me as bastard,
illegitimate. […] He’s moved on now, he’s a clean man, a man of glory and of God, but I’m sitting
on the hotel room chair little better than a whore in his eyes, dirty and unsaved, the living proof of
sin (Kay 2010: 6).
After that time Kay and her father never meet again. She makes other efforts to keep in
touch with him, among which another journey to Nigeria, but without any result, since he
considers her part of his past and does not want her to be part of his present.
Luckily, the refusal of the natural father is balanced out by the successful meeting with
one of her half-brothers. He immediately accepts her as his sister and he wants to change
their father’s mind and speak to his other brothers and sister about Jackie.
He wants her to be part of the family:
‘This is your heritage,’ Sidney says. ‘You have a right. If our father dies and I say you must come
and bury our father, what’s going to happen? You’re supposed to come to Nzagha and nobody
knows who you are?’ (Kay 2010: 273).
Through her last journey to Nigeria, Kay’s fluid identity has absorbed another phase,
adding itself to the others and not obscuring them; African roots have become part of her
in a more concrete way and the red-dust roads of the local landscape now belong to her:
The whole time I’ve been in Nigeria, I’ve never come across a red-dust road exactly like the one
in my imagination until I come to my own village. I ask Pious to stop so that I can get out and
walk on it. I take off my shoes so the red earth can touch my bare soles. It’s as if my footprints
were already on the road before I ever got there. […] I feel such a strong sense of affinity with the
colours and the landscape, a strong sense of recognition. There’s a feeling of liberation, and
exhilaration, that at last, at last, at last I’m here. It feels a million miles away from Glasgow, from
my lovely Fintry Hills, but, surprisingly, it also feels like home (Kay 2010: 213).
The first time Kay meets her mother is also in a Hilton Hotel, but in Milton Keynes,
England and in 1991, twelve years before the meeting with her father. When the woman
recognizes Jackie, her eyes fill with tears and she hugs her. They converse about their
lives showing each other several pictures and the mother tells her that she has married a
black man and has three children. She was a Catholic, but subsequently she has become
a Mormon and, like her natural father, is a great believer. The woman reveals herself to
be very fragile and sensitive and she manifests the need to avoid speaking about her past.
Their encounters take place about every four or five years, and with the passing of time
the woman appears increasingly more confused, manifesting memory problems.
Also her mother’s family does not know anything about the existence of Jackie and the
woman wants to keep the secret because she is afraid of her ex-husband’s reaction; Kay
is sorry for that, but respects her mother’s decision. The two women grow fond of each
other and Jackie is touched by her mother’s mental-health condition, but she cannot do
anything in order to help her:
I wondered if she would remember to feed herself, and who would look after her properly, and
how long it would be before she would have to go into a home. […] A lost soul, she seemed to
me, my mother. A woman who had first lost her baby and much later lost her mind. […] When I
get home, I find a little pink heart-shaped Post-it note, stuck inside the zipped part of my purse,
which reads, Jackie, Elizabeth loves you which moves me to tears because I don’t know if she’s
reminding herself or me […] (Kay 2010: 90).
In the novel Kay speaks also about her adoptive parents, two extraordinary people who
raised her with much love; she what she is thanks to them and in order to be grateful she
has dedicated her autobiography to them, defining it “a letter of love to my parents” (Kay
Red Dust Road describes Jackie Kay’s long path to self-knowledge and self-acceptance,
it is a book of existential questions, which gradually builds up answers; through the work
the writer has laid bare her deeper emotions, her vulnerabilities and her dashed
expectations as well as her successes. It has been a long and hard journey into herself, but
finally she has increased self-awareness, realizing that she is only alone in the way
everybody else is alone (Kay 2010:46).
The dismantlement of the English colonial Empire entailed the relationship between the
ex-colonies and the ancient motherland, leading to the development of an ambivalent
attitude of the colonized people toward the conquerors. If on one side there was the need
for cultural independence and for the affirmation of their own identity, on the other side
the bond with the language and the institutions of the motherland continued to be strong
among people. Thus, starting from the ‘50s, the United Kingdom became the destination
of massive migrant waves from India, Africa and Caribbean islands (the new States were
economically and politically unstable), acquiring a multi-ethnic nature.
The citizens from the ex-colonies were not welcomed with open arms, especially by the
conservatives, who carried out restrictive ad hoc acts (Commonwealth Immigration Act
1962 and 1968)1, with which they reduced the right to migrate to the UK. These actions
were counterbalanced by the antidiscrimination measures of the Labour Party members
(Race Relation Act 1968)2, who tried to limit racial integration problems. The majority
of English people were still nostalgic about the Empire and its civilizing mission, but they
started to realize that England had changed (Marzola 1999).
Despite limits of society, in the ‘60s, the English Left worked toward libertarian
proposals; for example, some acts in favour of individual freedom were approved, capital
punishment and theatre censorship were abolished, divorce was legalized, abortion was
facilitated and homosexual acts in private were decriminalized (Marzola 1999: 201). The
creative community paid great attention to the working class and the petit bourgeoisie;
artistic works depicted an image of the society, which was much close to reality, much
more heterogeneous than what people wanted to lead to believe.
In 1962 Richard Hoggart, a New Left exponent, founded the Centre of Contemporary
Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham. The intention was to conduct research
The Commonwealth Immigration Act 1962 permited only those with a job to settle in the U.K. and
defined a limited number of immigrants. The Commonwealth Immigration Act 1968 forbade entry to
those who did not have substantial connections with U.K., restricting the right to those born there or who
at least had one parent or grandparent born there (Marzola 1999: 199).
The Race Relation Act 1968 made it illegal to refuse housing, employment and public services because
of race, colour, ethnic and national origins (Marzola 1999: 200).
into “mass” culture, rather than focus on “high” culture, operating through history,
anthropology, sociology and literary criticism and therefore, going against conventional
academic practice. Hoggart tried to convey artistic dignity to cultural products that were
usually not taken into consideration by traditional literature and for this reason, his work
was obstructed; only in the ‘70s with Stuart Hall3, the Centre of Cultural Studies reached
complete academic independence.
In the same decade, the racial tensions were weighted down by the development of a
“New Racism”, as Gilroy (1996) defines it. It is a kind of racism that is not based on a
biological classification (races), but on the certainty that each culture needs to find its
own collocation in a distinct and unique national context (Oboe 2012). This nationalist
position could be identified in the English conservative politician Enoch Powell’s racist
ideology; in his speech “Rivers of Blood” (1968), he predicted a bloody future for Britain
society, if the state did not put an end to new migrant waves, which were the cause of
Britain’s transformation. His celebration of tradition and refusal of libertarian policies of
the ‘60s became some of the basis of Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government
(1979-1990). During her mandate, integration problems increased because of her patent
racism. Nostalgia for the imperial past and desire for a reborn Englishness based on
traditional values led to institutional racism and police brutality, which, in turn, gave rise
to violent social protests all over Britain. Uprisings were depicted as the expression of
black identity and immigrants’ refusal to respect the law, rather than the result of social
injustices and abuses of power. Violence became synonymous with black culture and its
opposition to legality of British people defined two antithetical cultures that could only
exclude each other, without any possibility of coexistence (Oboe 2012).
If the first generation immigrants generally kept a low profile, hoping that a submissive
attitude might provide a reward, like being fully integrated into society, the second
generation fighted for the denied rights through demonstrations, political activism (Black
Power movement)4 and art in all its expressive forms. Art, in particular literature, became
Stuart McPhail Hall (1932 – 2014) was a Jamaican-born cultural theorist and sociologist; along with
Richard Hoggart and Raymond Williams, he was one of the founding figures of the Centre of
Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham (Procter 2004).
The Black Power Movement started in the United States in the mid-1960s with the aim of emphasizing
racial pride and encouraging the struggle for social equality. In England the movement was already active
at the beginning of the 1970s and it also involved militants from the United States (Elia 2011: 74-75).
the new emblem of political resistance, since people started to understand the power of
language as means of self-representation.
Thus, the struggle moved forward and assumed a new form, shifting “from a struggle
over the relations of representation to a politics of representation itself” (Hall 1992: 253).
Both spoken and written languages produce meanings, through which people conceive
the world. Using Foucault’s terminology, we can speak of production of knowledge
through what he called discourse; for him, a discourse is a system of statements within
which the word is brought into being and people come to understand about themselves
and the relationship to each other (Ashcroft et al.1998). From this point of view, language
can be considered an identity-producing mechanism. Some discourses have created
systems of meaning that have gained the status of “truth”, dominating over other
discourses, marginalised and subjugated. In our case, the British society represents the
power, which through its apparatus has produced the “truthful” knowledge, defining
immigrants’ identity.
Immigrants tried to redefine alterity and to take their identity back, using art and language.
As Oboe (2011) states,
Their narratives, paintings, poems, songs, performances have for us an aesthetic value as art, but
also an epistemological value, because their imaginative effort produces knowledge as a result of
a confrontation with power and an entanglement with power – with Englishness, the tradition, the
canon, the mainstream (Oboe 2011: 9).
It is evident that one of the outcome of colonialism was the production of specific
subaltern groups. The term subaltern was adopted by Antonio Gramsci to refer to those
groups in society who are subject to the power of the ruling classes and who, therefore,
have restricted access to institutions and so to the means that define their representation
(Ashcroft 1998). The subordination can be of different types, as it can concern race as
well as class, age, gender, ethnicity and any other distinctive factor. Subaltern groups
have a complex history but it is not complete, since the “official” history is that of the
dominant classes. Cultural studies, in particular post-colonial studies, analyse the
subaltern condition, starting from Spivak’s essay Can the Subaltern Speak? (1988); the
American philosopher with Bengali origins examines the condition of Indian women
through the analysis of the practice of sati5 and replies to the starting question with a strict
no. But subaltern voices can be heard through post-colonial discourse, an example of
speaking in which the dominant language is appropriate to represent the voices of
marginal groups. Moreover, literature becomes an escape route from subordination and a
way to draw to a close the act of being defined by others. Writing gives voice to those
subjects and those points of view, which have always been confined to alterity and
silence, determining the loss of centrality of white culture and defining the
multiculturalism of the contemporary British literary production.
Jackie Kay is regarded as an ethnically-marked writer, but above all she is a person with
a complex cultural heritage and identity. Because of her features, she could have been a
subaltern, one of those people who do not have a place inside history, whereas, “putting
into words things that should be left silent as stone” (Kay 2010: 140), she has become one
of Scotland’s most popular writers. Writing has helped her to understand herself, to face
discriminatory attitudes and behaviours and last but not least, since of fundamental
importance, to define a faithful representation of herself:
Being a black child adopted by a white couple, being black in Scotland, being gay in a
predominantly heterosexual society, being a woman writer in a male dominated literary tradition.
All these borderline experiences have generated Key’s sense of otherness as well as her need to
write into existence her supposedly impossible identity as a black Scottish lesbian. (Schrage-Früh
As she states in Red Dust Road, it was literature that changed her racial awareness: Franz
Fanon, Audre Lorde, Toni Morrison, Ralph Ellison, Alice Walker changed her life,
transforming the image she had of herself before coming across these writers and their
thinking. How these people gave voice to her thoughts, she, with her works, may give
voice to all those marginal subjects, who are still victims of the stereotypes of our rather
racist society. As Phillips (2011) asserts, “As long as we have literature as a bulkwark
against intolerance, and as a force for change, then we have a chance”.
The plunge to take nowadays is that of recognizing the heterogeneous nature of the British
culture, since, despite the current visibility of a group of names, black artists are usually
The Sanskrit term sati (“good woman” or “chaste wife”) refers to the Indian custom of a wife
immolating herself either on the funeral pyre of her dead husband or in some other fashion soon after his
death. (Encyclopaedia Britannica available at http://www.britannica.com/topic/suttee)
relegated to a separate space for exhibition and recognition. A first step towards this
direction was in 2005, when the QCA (Qualifications and Curriculum Authority) stated
the need for recognition of the black presence in Britain, still underestimated (Giommi
2011: 14). Solidarity to people who are undeniably part of the society and their reception
and engagement in the sociocultural space may reduce the social inequality and
multiculturalism may become a resource rather than a disgrace.
Yet who would wish to discourage the people of the world from translating, merely because it is
fundamentally impossible? (Mann 1970: 211)
The question of the possibility of translation has always been central in translation theory.
If on the one hand the impossibility of translation is in a sort of way not questionable,
since every language has a distinct structure, vocabulary and sound, on the other hand it
is undeniable that our civilization founds its aesthetic and moral consciousness on
translated texts (Molesini 2004: 763). Thus, we cannot do without translation, but we can
make a distinction: it is not possible to fully render something written in one language
into another language, but it is surely possible to translate in a satisfactory way.
Those theorists who consider translation as a process of reformulation of ideas believe
that linguistic difficulties do not exist, since the role of language is seen as secondary.
The diametrically opposed position is that of those who mainly consider translation as a
linguistic process, in which words are culture-specific and each language has an intrinsic
grammar. I agree with Newmark’s midway position that, “everything is translatable up to
a point, but there are often enormous difficulties” (Newmark 1988: 72).
Once defined that translation consists in the replacement of textual meaning in one
language (Source Language) by equivalent textual material in another language (Target
Language) (Catford 1965: 20), and established that this process is possible, the following
issue concerns the place of translated works in literature. The Romantic Movement
defined the first position, which nowadays is still very current: the strict distinction
between original work and simple translation leads to a neat line between authentic
literature and translated literature, entailing an underestimation of the latter. According to
Devy (1995), a literary translation has a double existence: “Those who do not know the
original language tend to look at it as literature, those who know the original look at it as
a secondary product of translation” (in Barnstone 1993: 10). This statement highlights
that translation has the same potentialities of ordinary literature and can create high-level
works. Nevertheless, as Devy (1995) adds, the critics demonstrate greater attention to
original products, overshadowing translated texts and limiting the translation essence to
a “wandering existence in perpetual exile” (in Barnstone 1993: 10).
As Steiner (1978) sustains, literary translation is an “existential experience” more than a
formal exercise, since the translator needs to re-experience the creative act that led to the
original work. In this way, the translated text is not considered as a literary by-product:
we do not have an original and a copy, but two works with equal artistic dignity. The
commonplace of the superiority of the original work is also brought into question by the
principle of the transformation of language through time (Molesini 2004: 18). The
necessity of constantly retranslating literary works in order to adapt them to linguistic
changes has to be combined with the idea that original texts are not static, as their words
are semantically in movement, as well as their grammatical and syntactic structures
As far as poetry is concerned, things become more complicated, since it conveys many
meanings in a quite small numbers of signs, and its low redundancy level defines a wider
number of interpretations than in those literary genres with high redundancy (usually
more explicit). Molesini (2004) affirms that poetry escapes definitions, being self
presenting. In his opinion when a translator translates a poem, he writes a poem first of
Una traduzione è anche un commento, una interpretazione, una scelta tra diverse possibilità, e per
questo motivo, saggiamente, si pensa che la traduzione comporti comunque la perdita di qualcosa.
E l’originale resterà, compiuta la sfida, inalterato, irraggiungibile, protetto dalla lingua straniera in
cui vive. Però la traduzione ha raggiunto qualcosa che prima non c’era, un testo – nel duplice senso
di tessuto e di testimonianza – parallelo, che vive di vita propria e turba quella dell’originale
(Molesini 2004: 766).
Every translated poem is a new poem, it is an experiment through which the translator
offers his/her own interpretation to the target language readership. This means that the
loyalty towards the original text is defined by the interpretation of the translator: different
translations of the same poem may convey different meanings to the new readerships.
Translating poetry is so fascinating and at the same time so demanding, and as Denham
(1656) states, what cannot absolutely be missing is the addiction of a spirit to the final
“Poesie is of so subtle a spirit, that in pouring out of one Language into another, it will all
evaporate; and if a new spirit be not added in the transfusion, there will remain nothing but a Caput
mortuum” (Denham in Venuti 1995:49).
From this derives that the purpose of any translation of achieving the equivalent effect of
the original can be considered as a desirable result rather than as the main aim of the
translator (Newmark 1988: 48). Reaching equivalent effect means to produce the same
effect (or one as close as possible) on the readership of the translation as was obtained on
the readership of the original (Newmark 1988: 48). It is always important to consider that
first of all the act of translating derives from the act of interpretation, and to interpret
means to bet that the meaning we identify in the original text is somehow the meaning
thought by the author.
The interpretative act then combines with the communicative aim, creating a balanced
relationship between equivalence and adequacy. The translator interprets the original
meanings and tries to find the right language to convey them, but at the same time he/she
has to pay attention to how to reach the new readership and consequently to how to adapt
the translation to its necessities. The act of translating needs to be placed in a wider
context than the linguistic one, since translation is a combination of linguistic and extralinguistic factors, it is the result of the comparison between two different linguistic
systems, as well as two different cultures. As House (2009) states:
Translation is not only a linguistic act, it is also a cultural one, an act of communication across
cultures. Translating always involves both language and culture simply because the two cannot
really be separated (House 2009: 11).
In a few words, understanding and reproducing the original requires more than a merely
mechanical process, more than the simple mechanical application of standard rules.
Spaziani (1989) depicts an appropriate and beautiful image of the process of translation,
speaking about the distance and enchantment of the translator. The translator is distant
from the original work since he/she is outside it, but at the same time, he/she needs to
indulge completely in emotions. Translation is a creative process, equivalent to writing,
the only difference is that the starting sensation does not come from reality, but from the
text itself.
Defining a translation theory with specific and standard rules is almost impossible, since
we need to consider different kinds of approaches according to the type of text being
worked on. As Canali (1983) sustains, usually literary translators do not have a welldefined method, but their choices are determined by experience; he also adds that, as a
long-time translator, he cannot say what has to be done, but only what it is better to avoid
while translating.
Translation is a decision-making process (Levý 1957) both with regard to interpretation
of the original and to its reproduction into the target language. Once he/she has identified
his/her meaning of the text, the translator can choose how to convey it, having at his/her
disposal a series of alternatives of expression. Rules work at the systemic level, “that is,
the level determined by the comparative systems of two languages” (De Beaugrande
1978: 14), but criteria of equivalence are only partially based on rules, since great
relevance is given to surrounding factors. Thus, translation theory does not provide patent
solutions for all kinds of problems, but it rather supply strategies and principles useful to
approach them. Newmark (1988) states that, first of all, translation theory identifies and
defines translation problems, then it indicates factors to take into account in solving them
and finally it lists the possible translation procedures.
The first step in the translation process is the act of reading the original in order to
understand what it is about and to analyse the language, its features and contingent
problems. Thus, reading is an act of interpretation and interpretation most of all depends
on the reader’s expectations, which are formed through attitudes, beliefs, interests, habits,
language experience and knowledge of ordinary grammar and lexicon (De Beaugrande
1978: 18). If the text contains too much unexpected material or new information, then the
translator-reader’s comprehension may be difficult and this might lead to
misinterpretation. Expectations may conduct the reader to believe having read something
other than what is really on the page. This is the reason why it is more probable that errors
in translation derive from inaccurate reading than from inaccurate writing and so it is
important to focus foremost upon reading, as the starting point of the translation is not the
original text, but rather its representation in the translator’s mind.
As Burton (1988) affirms, “the translator must first be able to decipher the “true” meaning
of what he is translating. That is, the translator must first understand, as fully as possible,
his text”. The translator needs to analyse the source text from all points of view (genre,
register, function, linguistic features, cultural features, philosophy, audience, etc.),
without taking anything for granted; Robinson (2012) sustains that it is always better to
never assume the perfect understanding of the source text, since there is always something
to analyse more in depth.
In a few words, to translate is to read and to interpret. In the process of interpreting a text,
attention shifts from the work to the reader-translator as human being: there is a shift from
the semantics of the text to the pragmatics of the text interpretation (House 2009: 19).
This means that while understanding a text, readers bring to it their subjectivity; their
personal background, cultural heritage, contextual knowledge and surroundings have an
active role in the process of interpretation. To think of the translator as an invisible being
is an illusion, called by Venuti (1995) “the illusion of transparency”, which is an effect
of the translator’s effort to ensure fluent readability.
After the reading and the resulting understanding and interpretation of the original, the
process of translation begins:
Then the act of translation occurs, not by lingering on the page but in the mind, through
interpretative readings and rereadings and the subsequent transformation of initial thought into
new thought. Finally, the new thought becomes so dominant that it assumes its own authority, and
then the translator transcribes this new creation onto papers as a translation of the thought into
script (Barnstone 1993: 21).
Thus, the first place where the translation appears is in the reader’s mind and only later
becomes it tangible and appears in translator’s papers. Author, translator and reader are
involved in a series of dependent acts based on translation: the author translates his/her
thoughts writing a text, which the translator reads, interprets and translates by writing a
second text, which the reader reads and translates in his/her mind. It is rather difficult for
the final reader to reach the original meaning, since translation is not an objective process
but a creative one, like all other activities of writing.
Newmark (1988: 19) defines four more or less conscious levels in the translator’s mind
while he/she is translating: textual level, referential level, cohesive level and the level of
naturalness. The base level while translating is that of the ST’s language; the referential
level is that of images of reality behind the text and it is built up while transforming the
SL into the TL text; the cohesive level is more general and grammatical, and it follows
the structure and the mood of the text; the level of naturalness ensures that the translation
makes sense and it reads naturally. As we can deduct from what said above, the process
of translation is not a merely mechanical process, which consists of the replacement of
one word in the SL with the corresponding word in the TL. To use a nice image depicted
by Newmark (1988), the translating activity can be compared to an iceberg: the translation
is the tip – what is written on the page- all the work a translator does, many times much
than what it is visible, is the iceberg.
Since an effective translation is one that is carried out from meaning to meaning, not from
word to word, the concepts of co-text and context acquire great importance. Co-text and
context allow the reader to identify which markers of the total meaning are to be activated
for interpreting correctly the text. By co-text we mean items in the text which accompany
the item under discussion; by context we refer to those elements of the extra-textual
situation which are related to the text as being linguistically relevant (Catford 1965: 31).
The meaning of words is influenced by what surrounds them at a linguistic, referential,
cultural and personal level, and the process of narrowing down potential meaning into
actual meaning is defined contextualization. Obviously this process does not solve all
translating problems, but without it communication would not be effective. As Longacre
(1958 in De Beaugrande 1978: 95) states, pointing out what all translators know, “one
must translate items in context or not at all”.
Independently from the kind of approach to literary translation, all translators should start
from the assumption that the author’s view is the point of reference; this means that the
writer and his/her thoughts and ideas are more important than any language rule as well
as any translator’s necessity. The translator does not have the right to twist the text, for
example, he/she cannot overlook details, since, as Osimo (1998: 43) asserts, literature can
be read without paying attention to details, but then it becomes a passive and lifeless
product, similar to a non-literary text. The translator does not also have to try to improve
the text, since that practice is named retelling and is another sort of writing (Eco 2010:
118). Words cannot be changed just because translators do not like plain one-to-one
translations or like synonyms to show how resourceful they are (Newmark 1988: 36).
Another important aspect concerns explicitation: often translators dislike ambiguities,
unclear passages and linguistic structures and so they tend to make everything more
explicit in the translation. It is better not to complete the text, filling in gaps and adding
details, since the risk is to deprive it of its intentionally dynamic aspect (De Beaugrande
1978: 30). By doing so, the translator supplies the reader’s task of making associations
and does not respect the author’s intention of indefiniteness.
To sum up, it is better to avoid all arrangements that betray the original, as there is the
constant danger that the translator will create a text based on individual priorities,
distorting the intentions of the author:
Fidelity is indeed of the very essence of translation, and the term itself implies it. For which reason,
if we suppress the sense of the original, and force into its place our own, we may call our work an
imitation, if we please, or perhaps a paraphrase, but, it is no longer the same author only in a
different dress, and therefore it is not a translation (Barnstone 1993: 85).
As discussed at the beginning of this section, errors in translation can derive from
inaccurate reading, but there are also other factors that determinate unfaithful translations.
First of all, the lack of knowledge and experience in the source language, perhaps even
in the target language, then a not sufficiently developed writing competence, ignorance
or misguided knowledge of both cultures, “no awareness of writer-reader interaction as
represented by the original text” (De Beaugrande 1978: 132), inability to find lexical and
grammatical equivalents and, last but not least, lack of experience in translation.
Translation can be considered concluded only after the final revision stage. Usually
translated works are the result of a variety of intermediate revisions, since translators,
however skilled, cannot focus upon all aspects of the text and its translation on only one
time. In order to avoid missing errors and working on many mental levels at once, Wagner
(2002) recommends working on the main features (completeness, accuracy of spelling,
clarity of syntax and style, transmission of the message) into separate phases. If the first
version closely reflects the mental representation, little by little the translation acquires
naturalness and artistic dignity and becomes a real literary product.
The final revision stage requires a certain level of distance from the product, since there
is the necessity to observe it from an objective point of view. While being critical toward
their own work is hard, translators need to use some techniques to elude this obstacle;
Osimo (1998: 52) defines the most effective ones:
Reading the text on the screen
Reading the printed text
Reading the printed text out loud
Reading the printed text out loud to someone else
Listening to the text read aloud by someone else
These are five levels of perception of the text as other and translators can use all of them
or just one, according to the level of distance required by the text at hand.
The relationship between translation theory and translation practice has always been
problematic, but they are two interdependent identities, it may be almost impossible to
think about the one without the other.
There are only two different methods of translation. Either the translator leaves the author in peace,
as much as possible, and moves the reader toward him; or he leaves the reader in peace, as much
as possible, and moves the author towards him (Schleiermacher 1838 in Lefevere 1977: 74).
The nature of the translated text depends on the translator’s approach toward the original
text: he/she can mainly choose between a source-oriented translation and a target-oriented
translation. In the first case the translator opts for foreignization methods, focusing on the
original and manipulating it as little as possible; in this way the translated text registers,
and therefor shows, the linguistic and cultural differences of the source text, valuing them
“by disrupting the cultural codes that prevail in the target language” (Venuti 1995: 20).
The reader enters a new world, glimpses a new culture and differences are preserved,
seeking to restrain ethnocentrism. Osimo (1998) supports foreignization and makes a
comparison between translation and food, stating that,
se il lettore standard non ha denti abbastanza robusti per masticare un testo letterario, questo non
è un buon motivo per dargli sempre omogeneizzati (Osimo 1998: 45).
On the contrary, the translator has to help the reader to enjoy the real thing, with notes
and explanations if necessary (Osimo 1988: 45). At the same time, source-oriented
translation can be of difficult comprehension, since the new readership might get lost
because of too many foreign elements.
Target-oriented translations are instead based on domestication methods; the original text
is reduced and imprinted with target-language readership’s values. Here “the ethnocentric
violence of translation is inevitable” (Venuti 1995: 310): foreign language and culture
undergo reduction and exclusion to the point that the reader does not realize that he/she
is reading a translated text. This method appears efficient because of naturalness obtained
in target language, but there is “the risk of reducing individual authors’ styles and national
tricks of speech to a plain uniformity” (Cohen 1962: 35).
Faced with the question of which of the two methods is most suitable, Eco (1995) replies
that a rule does not exist and that foreignization and domestication have to be used
alternately, according to the problems the translator needs to solve.
Newmark (1988) deals with the basic translation problem whether to translate literally or
freely, defining a V diagram that summarizes all the possible translation methods:
Figure 1 Translation methods (Newmark)
SL emphasis
TL emphasis
Word-for-word translation
Literal translation
Free translation
Faithful translation
Idiomatic translation
Semantic translation
Communicative translation
As can be seen in Fig.1, word-for-word translation consists of translating words singly by
their primary meaning, so out of context, preserving SL grammar and word order. In
literal translation, words are still translated singly, but the SL grammatical constructions
are converted into their nearest TL equivalents; Newmark believes it to be the basic
translation procedure, since the longer the unit of translation is, “the rarer the one-to-one”
(Newmark 1988: 69). Faithful translation attempts to preserve completely the writer’s
intentions, reproducing the contextual meaning of words within TL grammatical
structures’ limits. The last SL oriented method, semantic translation, gives much
importance to the original’s aesthetic value (natural sound of language), reaching a
compromise on meaning where possible in order to avoid repetitions, assonances and
words-play. While faithful translation is dogmatic, semantic translation is more flexible
and admits the exception to total fidelity to the original, encouraging an empathetic
approach to it.
On the right side of Fig.1, at the top we find adaptation, which is the freest form of
translation: themes, characters, plots are preserved, while the SL culture is converted into
the TL culture. Free translation consists in the reproduction of the content without the
form of the original; usually the resulting work does not seem a translation, but rather a
paraphrase since it is much longer than the original text. Idiomatic translation reproduce
the original, distorting the meanings by the introduction of idioms and colloquialisms.
Finally, there is communicative translation, whose content and language are highly
comprehensible to TL readers: through this method, the translator is able to convey the
exact contextual meaning of the original text.
Newmark (1988) concludes his reflections on translation methods, conferring first place
to semantic and communicative translation, since they are the only two that fulfil the main
aims of translation, economy and accuracy. While semantic translation works at the
author’s linguistic level, following his/her authority, communicative translation furthers
the TL reader’s linguistic level, despite the readership being wide and not well defined,
concentrating on the transmission of the message. On one hand, we have a method
through which the translator interprets the original, on the other a method whose aim is
to explain the writer’s text.
The translation of poetry has traditionally been seen as more arduous than the translation
of other genres. In poems the word has more importance than in any other kind of text
and if it is the first unit of meaning, the second is the line, rather than the sentence in prose
and drama. Another characteristic of poetry is the non-ordinary use of language and
grammar: the author usually does not arrange information into transparent forms, but
seems to evade rules intentionally. Thus, besides the low redundancy level of poetry, also
its unusual use of language, determines a wide range of interpretations among readers and
this might compromise faithfulness to the original message of the writer.
De Beaugrande (1978) reports different considerations about the relationship between
poetic and ordinary language: some researchers see poetic language as derivative from
ordinary language; some consider them as two variations of the total language; according
to others, poetic language is the greater realization of the language, while ordinary
language is its by-product. The American linguist does not take a stand with regards to
these viewpoints, he just underlines that “poetic language cannot be evaluated without
reference to ordinary language” (De Beaugrande 1978: 23).
As far as translation is concerned, Newmark (1988) affirms his scepticism about the idea
that the translator of poetry tries “to create the same effect on the target language readers
as was created by the poet on his own readers” and sustains that his main attempt is to
translate into words the effect the original poem has on himself.
An interesting approach to poetry translation is that of Lefevere (1975), who starts from
making a list of translation methods, underlining strengths and above all weaknesses, and
ends rejecting them. He believes that a list of exhaustive and effective rules does not exist,
but defines a series of competences that the translator should own in order to perform
satisfactorily when translating a poem. The first competence concerns the ability to
comprehend the original as a whole, without focusing on one single aspect; beside
linguistic knowledge, the translator should also be familiar with the text’s social, cultural,
literary background. The second ability is that of measuring “the communicative value as
well as the sense of the source text, and consequently the ability to replace it by a target
text which approximates, as closely as possible, the same communicative value”
(Lefevere 1975: 101).
Here we can introduce the concept of structuration and poetic competence, theorised by
De Beaugrande (1978). Structuration competence is the ability to activate language
structures for interpreting and producing texts, “together with an awareness of relative
degrees of ordinariness and expectedness within these processes” (De Beaugrande 1978:
22). It requires knowledge of ordinary grammar and lexicon and strategies for dealing
with non-ordinary material. Poetic competence is the ability to interpret and produce
poetic use of language.
Getting back to Lefevere, the third place is occupied by the ability to identify those
elements of the text, which need to be adapted or explained; in the case of time-placetradition elements understandable from the context or connected with analogous elements
in the time, place and tradition of the TL reader, neither explanation nor adaptation are
needed. The last ability concerns the selection, within the TL literary tradition, of a form
that matches the position the original occupies in its literary tradition as much as possible;
if the translator does not find an appropriate form, then he/she has to create one,
developing the native literature. To the four competences, the translation theorist adds the
fundamental ability to interpret the author’s original meaning correctly; in order to
achieve the ideal translation, the translator should remain faithful to the original on an
overall level, having a comparatively freedom to treat details (Popovič 1975).
I share Lefevere’s idea that often poetry translations fail because translators focus
exclusively on one aspect of the original, rather than on its totality. Instead of being
conditioned by a single aspect, which restricts the freedom of action, the translator should
devote to the transmission of the global meaning. The aim of preserving the
communicative value of the original text leads Lafevere to refuse all kinds of translation
methods with strict rules.
Phonemic translation, that is correspondence sound for sound, rarely achieves a
satisfactory rendering of the SL sound together with an acceptable reproduction of its
sense. This method can work only with the translation of onomatopoeias, proper names
and when SL words are replaced by TL words etymologically related to them; in these
cases the translator can create the illusion of sound correspondence, by reducing the
dissimilarities to a minimum. To reach the aim, the translator is forced to use obsolete
words and the final product often seems a linguistic experiment: “By concentrating on
sound only, the phonemic translation distorts all the other aspects of the source text, and
reduces it to a curiosity, a bilingual parody incapable of survival the literature of the target
language” (Lefevere 1975: 96).
Literal translation, correspondence sense for sense, requires the use of footnotes, notes
within the text, explanatory comments, and these elements often become a sort of
improvement of the original text, an attempt to make the source text more explicit and
therefore more complete. The primary of sense equivalence leads to the opposite result,
the betrayal of the writer, and its illusory accuracy “strips the source text of all its
genuinely literary characteristics” (Lefevere 1975: 96).
Metrical translation, correspondence metre for metre, tries to preserve the outward form
of the source text, focusing too much on it and consequently distracting from the
communicative value of the original sense. As Holmes (1969) states,
no verse form in any language can be entirely identical with a verse form in any other, however
similar their nomenclatures and however cognate the languages (Holmes in Lefevere 1975: 38).
Moreover, being committed to a certain number of feet in a line, the translator is not free
in the choice of words and needs to find out strategies to make them fit the line; as a
consequence, also syntax becomes contorted. This way, metrical translation results not
only misleading but also unintelligible. Lefevere excludes also the translation of poetry
into prose, the translation focused on rhymes and some other approaches, since their
products are not up to the writer because of the falsification of the original.
The common belief that poetry translation is impossible can be debunked, but as we have
seen, the translator needs to have a series of well-defined competences, which allow
him/her to immerse himself/herself into the poem in order to reproduce its original
meaning, rather than follows specific methods and rules.
Autobiographic works belong to personal narrative, defined by Baker (2006) as the group
of “stories that we tell ourselves about our place in the world and our own personal
history” (Baker 2006: 28). In autobiographies, the main character is the autobiographical
I, which is composed of the real I and the narrating I (Smith and Watson 2011). In the
text, the real I, the author, is replaced by the implied real I, which is the narrating I, the
narrator. If the difference between author and narrator is easy to catch in fictional
literature, in personal narrative the matter is more complicated. Because of the authentic
nature of autobiographies, readers expect to come across the real experience of an existing
person, but in reality, despite the identity of name of author, narrator and character, they
do not have access to the real I: the autobiographical I is a constructed image of the author.
It follows that in translation, the translator reframes the autobiographic I and not the real
I, which seems to remain unattainable to everybody.
In particular, what characterizes the translation of autobiographies is the relationship
between narrator and experience (Marshall 2013); while the original narrator has direct
access to experience, since it is his/her own, in translation the connection between narrator
and source of writing is interrupted. In a few words,
An original
narrates the
experiences, whereas
by the
text (Marshall 2013: 11).
Author-knowledge and translator-knowledge relationships differ, since author and
translator’s identity do not coincide and while the mode of acquisition of knowledge of
the former is direct, the latter acquires information indirectly.
This distance between translator and author may be attenuated by a process of
identification of the first with the second, based on empathy. The Oxford English
Dictionary defines empathy as “the power of identifying oneself mentally (and so fully
comprehending) a person or object of contemplation”. It is the ability to take up the
perspective of another person, to understand someone else’s experience as if it was our
own. In this way, the translator accesses the author’s knowledge, appropriating them as
if they were his/her own. According to some scholars, translator-author empathy
represents one of the aspects of translation competence. For example, Newmark (1981)
considers it a prerequisite for successful translation: “A successful translation is probably
more dependent on the translator’s empathy with the writer’s thought than an affinity of
language or culture” (Newmark 1981: 54). Nida (1964) also suggests that a valuable
translator should have the same empathetic spirit as the author. The translator needs to
emotionally identifies with the text he/she is translating in order to achieve satisfactory
results, since as Untermeyer suggests, translation is not “merely a linguistic exercise”, but
“an adventure in empathy” (Untermeyer 1965 in Marshall 2013: 31).
Beside the difficulties I mentioned, another problem arises, that is the cultural dimension
of language. When people write in a foreign language, part of what they want to tell (and
so part of themselves) is lost. This shows how deeply identity is bound up with natural
language. Languages differ in sounds, grammar and vocabulary, but they also represent
different kinds of thinking, of perception of the world and of ways of representing it. As
Besemeres (2002) affirms,
A person is partly shaped by, and develops in response to, shared values and assumptions
embodied by the natural language he or she lives in. […]. A natural language is the source of
concepts of what is to be a person, or of how one should relate to others, which make possible a
particular interpretation of experience (Besemeres 2002:19).
If people writing in another language lose part of themselves, we can imagine how much
is lost of authors in the process of translating their works from one language into another.
Autobiography is a delicate field in translation, since often this literary genre’s aim is not
that of entertainment, but writing functions as a means for identity representation.
However, despite all difficulties, the translator accepts the “challenge” and tries to reduce
the distance that keeps him/her away from the author, developing the empathy necessary
to appropriate the original knowledge. In this way, he/she may also overcome language
obstacles and find the more suitable words to convey the author’s personal experience as
if it was his/her own.
Translators can be considered as authors, since the competences and abilities they should
have in order to translate literary works are the same as those who write them. Besides a
good command of the SL and a broad knowledge of the culture and history of the author’s
country, they also need to write perfectly in their own language, knowing all its ordinary
and non-ordinary usages.
Chesterman (2002) claims that a translator should have two main abilities:
One is the ability to come up with several possibilities, several potential equivalents. The second
is the ability to select the best one, for the purpose in hand. The first skill needs divergent
intelligence, imagination, creativity; the second needs convergent intelligence, the ability to
criticize, analyse, compare, assess (Chesterman 2002: 81).
Translators do not only need specific abilities, but also particular personality traits. For
instance, they have to be humble and accept that the author comes first, without taking
the liberty of thinking “that it worked better my way rather than the original writer’s way”
(Burton 1988: 125); they also need be intuitive to catch the right meanings and at the
same time constantly vigilant because something can always pass unnoticed. They can
never ignore anything, that is, they cannot neglect a word just because it seems
nonsensical or because its meaning is unfindable in the dictionary. They have to decide
the sense of each nuance, even if the interpretation, being subjective, might be wrong:
Non è mai possibile stabilire con certezza se una data interpretazione di un testo sia, o no, legittima,
a meno che in soccorso del traduttore venga l’autore, l’unica autorità indiscutibile (Osimo 1988:
Once defined the possible meanings, translators will inevitably find the words to convey
them, since, as Jakobson (1995) sustains, languages do not differ in what they can express:
“Each cognitive experience can be expressed and classified in every existing language”
(in Nergaard 1995: 56).
With the translation of The Adoption Papers, I put myself to the test with a double
challenge, as I dealt with a long autobiographical poem. Following the classification of
translation methods outlined by Newmark (1988), I would say that the translation I
propose displays characteristics that belong to two types of approach: semantic and
communicative. Semantic translation permits the translator to remain faithful to the sense
and spirit of the source poem; in autobiographical works, this is fundamental, since the
voice of the author needs to be placed first, remaining as intact as possible. I have tried
to respect the authority of Jackie Kay, as the story I rewrote is her personal story, it
represents her memories and bares her feelings.
The sense of the author is required, and we do not surrender it willingly even to the plea of
necessity. Fidelity is indeed of the very essence of translation, and the term itself implies it. For
which reason, if we supress the sense of the original, and force into its place our own, we may call
our work an imitation, if we please, or perhaps a paraphrase, but it is no longer the same author
only in a different dress, and therefore it is not translation ( Cowper 1979 in Barnstone 1993: 85).
Nonetheless, the translator has a double moral responsibility: if on the one hand, he/she
has to preserve the original sense, on the other he/she has to consider the reader’s
reactions. Communicative translation works at the reader’s linguistic level, in the attempt
to get the same effect as the original. In order to render the text accessible to the new
readership, I used different techniques dealing with culturally specific aspects, taking into
consideration their nature and role in the text. As I will explain in chapter 3, section 3.3.4,
in a few cases I opted to add explicative footnotes with additional cultural information,
in other situations I adapted the culture-bound terms to the TL culture and in others I
maintained them. Anyway, being an autobiographical text, my aim was to preserve as
many original features as possible, but without imposing a totally unknown system of
values on the reader.
Reading has been the first step in my translation process; I read the whole text several
times, then I found the general meaning, I understood the linguistic register, I marked the
difficult words and passages but also the distinctive features and, only after the analysis
of sense and language, started I translating. After the first draft, I sat back and reviewed
the poem stanza by stanza, trying to improve lines on both content and form. I found it
very useful to read other works of the author, especially her autobiographical novel Red
Dust Road, where Kay recounts her life in a more detail. Some episodes are dealt with in
both the poem and the novel, so I could understand them better since the figurative
language of poetry often leads to misinterpretations.
Since the final revision requires objectivity, I used all the techniques defined by Osimo
(1998) and outlined in section 2.2.1 to reach a good level of distance from the translation.
I read it on the computer screen, I printed it out and read it aloud both to myself and to
someone else, and finally I asked two Italian native speakers to read it to me. In this way,
and also thanks to the two readers’ suggestions abaut the natural usage of Italian, I could
modify the last details and produce a satisfactory work. My translation includes a
commentary, since I found it important to explain the choices I made in order to make
them understandable.
My experience as a translator has given me the chance to learn new linguistic aspects of
English and to further developing knowledge of my mother tongue; not only has my level
of both languages been enriched but also my translating skills have improved. Moreover,
Kay’s reflections on identity and family relationships have driven me to meditate on my
own experience, broadening the awareness of the meaning of human existence.
E tutto il piacere del traduttore (se piacere può dirsi); tutta l’impellente attrazione che lo spinge
consiste nel sentire, grazie a quel certo testo, un allargamento della propria esperienza o coscienza
(del proprio essere o esistere, più che del conoscere), giustappunto perché tale testo lo costringe
ad esplorare zone del proprio io che altrimenti - forse - non avrebbe mai conosciuto (Caproni in
Buffoni 2004: 33).
The analysis of the original text is always an essential step in the translation process; it
enables the translator to understand the work better and therefore to choose the more
suitable translation strategies to adopt. The poetic sequence The Adoption Papers is
characterized by the use of free verse. The author did not follow either rhyme schemes or
metric forms: the text is devoid of any sort of rhyme and the number of syllables is
completely random.
The autobiographic poem is divided into three parts and each section reflects different
moments in the adoption experience. Every section is composed by chapters (five
chapters in part one, two in the second one and three in the last section), in which the
voices of the three characters come in succession without a specific order. Immediately
after the title, a note states that the voices are distinguished by different typefaces; this
graphic support facilitates the reader in understanding the multitude of thoughts. In the
first page (we can define it as “the introductory page”) there are three stanzas, which
introduce the three speakers and their stories to the reader: the adoptive mother discloses
her infertility and announces the idea of adopting a child, the daughter tells of her
traumatic birth and her survival, the natural mother still thinks of the baby she gave away
twenty-six years before.
After a first glance at the general picture, the reader enters the story of the adoption. Every
section makes reference to a precise period of time, but it is also possible to find stanzas
which reflect events that come before or after those particular period. In Part One, the
adoptive mother tells the troubled period she went through when she discovered she could
not have children, her relationship with the adoption agencies and the social workers, and
the very beginning of her maternity. The birth mother describes her pregnancy, the
decision to give her baby up for adoption and the regrets deriving from it. The daughter
is twenty-six and she is trying to discover something about her original family. Part two
is mainly focused on the moment when the adoptive mother tells the daughter that she is
not her real mum. The girl suffers some racial insults at the hands of her schoolmates and
of her teacher, and she starts to feel different from other children. In the last section, the
daughter is twenty-six again. She reflects a lot on her identity and origins and she finally
decides to contact her birth mother, who is still suffering for the loss of her child many
years earlier. The girl speaks with her mother’s sister, who promises that the woman will
write her. After this call, the daughter dreams a meeting lacking in sentiment, but rich in
embarrassment, and in the last scene of the poem we imagine the daughter staring at the
post box, waiting for a letter.
The structure is not linear and sometimes it appears unclear. The narration occupies a
period of time of about thirty years and fabula and syuzhet do not coincide. For example,
the events of the first part happen between 1961 and 1962, that is when the baby was
born, but when the daughter speaks, she is twenty-six. This way, the author announces
what will happen in the last section (flash-forward). In the second part, where the events
take place between 1967 and 1971, the birth mother remembers her Nigerian lover, going
back to when she got pregnant (flashback).
As previously mentioned, the three main characters in the poem are the daughter, the
adoptive mother and the birth mother and their reflections come one after another without
a specific order. The text is a narrative poem, in which stream of consciousness plays a
fundamental role; given the author’s wish to convey her autobiographic experience, this
technique is the best one “to depict the multitudinous thoughts and feelings which pass
through the mind.” (Cuddon 1982:661). As the lack of punctuation is a typical feature of
stream of consciousness (Cuddon 1982:661), also in The Adoption Papers we find several
examples: sometimes the question mark is omitted (“does she imagine me this
way”,introductory page; “Mammy why aren’t you and me the same colour”, Chapter 6),
the direct speech is reported without inverted commas ( “Well she says, you have an
interesting home”, Chapter 3; “my teacher shouts from the bottom/of the class Come on,
show”, Chapter 7) and commas and full stops are regularly left out.
In every chapter, the speakers tell a little piece of the adoptive experience from their point
of view, creating a polyphony. In the poem the narration of the events prevails but great
importance is given to intimate reflections, from which the characters’ mood and attitudes
emerge. For example, in some passages, the bond between the two mothers and the
daughter arises touchingly. At the end of chapter six, the adoptive mother replies to those
who think that it is not like having a real child, saying that “she’s my child, I have told
her stories/wept at her losses/laughed at her pleasures,/she is mine.”, and then “I listened
to hear her talk/and when she did I heard my voice under hers” (Chapter 6). Also the birth
mother expresses her affection for her daughter: “I still have the baby photograph/I keep
it in my bottom drawer/She is twenty-six today”. As far as the reverse relationship is
concerned, the daughter is faithful to her adoptive mother, since she considers the woman
as her real mum (“Now I come from her,/the mother who stole my milk teeth/ate the
digestive left for Santa”, Chapter 5). On the other hand, she feels contrasting feelings
towards her natural mother; curiosity pushes her to search for information on the woman
and to contact her (“I’d like my original birth certificate”; “I have had my grandmother’s
Highland number”, Chapter 2 and 9), but fear restrains this impulse (“It is all so long ago.
Does it matter?”, Chapter 5).
Another fundamental aspect to take into consideration is the language. To start, it is
important to underline that the content of the poetic sequence defines the type of language
used by the three characters. The subject of the poem is the personal experience of the
adoption seen from three different points of view, and, as I have already mentioned,
beside the narration of events, many stanzas represent the speakers’ thoughts and feelings.
Thus, the language used is colloquial and informal and sometimes there are some dialectal
expressions. This does not mean that the author made use of a banal terminology; she
simply used this sort of language because it is the most suitable to convey private
reflections and everyday life. Furthermore, colloquial language imparts a sense of realism
to the work, and in this way, the author can relate a strong connection with her readers
(Nergaard 1995).
It follows that the complexity of the poem is not given by terms, but it derives from the
abstractness of the poetic language. On one side the difficulty lies in understanding the
deep meaning behind words, on the other, the non-ordinary use of language may create
some problems. In my opinion, the reading of Jackie Kay’s autobiographic novel Red
Dust Road has been essential for the interpretation and comprehension of the poem. The
main subject is the same in both works, but in the novel events and concepts are expressed
in a more direct way through the ordinary use of language and, consequently, the reading
is much easier.
Starting from the assumption that “Some researchers have suggested that a special
grammar might be constructed for poetic texts” (De Beaugrande 1978: 47), also in The
Adoptive Papers the non-ordinary use of language manifests itself in several ways. For
example, besides punctuation, sometimes constituents of the sentence are intentionally
omitted, creating an elliptical proposition (“left a gash down my left cheek”, Introductory
page), or the subject is put at the end of a line and the verb is given in the following line
(“The adoption papers/ can’t be signed.” ; “my hand/ would sweat down to his bone.”,
Chapter 4 and 7), or to place emphasis on the object, it is placed before the subject and
the verb (“All the copies of the Daily Worker/ I shoved under the sofa”, Chapter 3).
Furthermore, the text is characterized by the presence of some Scots dialectal expressions
(“that there wasnie wan/ giveaway sign left”, Chapter 3), by several idiomatic expressions
(“I’m on the home run”; “But just as we get to the last post”, Chapter 3) and by figures
of speech commonly used in poetry, like similes and metaphors (“and watch her tiny
eight-pound body/sink to shells and reshape herself”; “Land moves like driven cattle”;
“and saw the ground move and swell/the promise of a crop”, Chapter 2,4,4).
The narration appears dynamic especially because the voices of the three speakers follow
one after another, giving different pieces of information and perspectives on the adoptive
experience. And, in relation to what said before, also this aspect defines the language,
since each character has a dissimilar style of speaking. Reading Jackie Kay’s biography,
I discovered that her adoptive mother was a waitress in her youth and then became the
Scottish secretary of Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, while her birth mother was a
nurse. I think that they can both be considered working-class women, with the difference
that the adoptive mother is socially and politically active. She uses a quite direct and clear
language; the way in which she expresses herself does not create confusion to the reader,
since she follows a logic sequence in her speeches. On the other hand, the natural mother
speaks in a more enigmatic way; she uses many similes and her thoughts seem to be
reproduced without written language mediation. The language of the daughter changes
through the text, since she grows up. At the beginning of part two, she is a little girl who
uses simple words and simple sentences, and sometimes she also mangles words (“Ma
mammy picked me (I wiz the best)”, Chapter 6) and uses Scottish dialect terms like oot
(out) and mibbe (maybe). In the same sequence, since time passes by, the girl’s way of
speaking develops, becoming more structured. Her adult lines are characterized by deep
thoughts and reflections on identity, but despite the delicate issue, she uses strong images
and speaks in a very direct way.
Culturally specific features are another trait of the poem; for instance, one of the first
things that stands out is the use of the so-called Imperial system (miles, pounds, ounces,
etc.). Other terms have to do with typical English food (e.g. digestive), rooms (e.g. airing
cupboard), fabric (e.g. tweed), newspapers (e.g. Daily Worker), places (e.g. Aberdeen,
Higlands), songs (e.g. Ye banks and braes, I gave my love a cherry). The author also
mentioned some famous American people’s names, which may not be familiar to the
Italian readership, such as the actor Paul Robeson, the political activist Angela Davis, the
singer Bessie Smith and others.
After the analysis of the original English text, in the following pages I propose my Italian
translation of The Adoption Papers. On the left page there is the translation, while on the
right page I wrote the comment on my work in order to understand how I achieved the
final text. I added numbers to lines both in the original and in the translation as it is useful
to make the commentary clearer. Kay’s original poem can be found at the end of the
dissertation, in the appendix.
Documenti di un’adozione
Nella sequenza poetica Documenti di un’adozione, le voci dei tre personaggi sono distinte dal carattere tipografico:
Figlia: Carattere Palatino
Madre adottiva: Carattere Gill
Madre naturale: Carattere Bodoni
In the translation I propose, great attention has to be given to language and in particular
to the choice of words. As Newmark (1988: 163) states, “Poetry is the most personal and
concentrated of the four forms, no redundancy, no phatic language, where, as a unit, the
word has greater importance than in any other type of text”.
In my work, I have tried to be as faithful as possible to the original text, mainly because
of its autobiographical nature. In order to obtain a respectable translation, besides an accurate translation of words, I also tried to maintain the same syntactic structure. The writer
expresses his/her message not only through words, but also through the structure of sentences. It means that the way in which words are put together is the outcome of the writer’s
will and it plays a fundamental role in the transmission and reception of the message
(Munday 2009). As far as the length of lines is concerned, I managed to keep it very
similar to the original one, despite English grammar is more concise than Italian.
Since the very beginning of the poetic sequence, that is the title, I had to focus on the
meaning of the words used, contextualizing them. As De Beaugrande (1978) asserts in
Factors in a theory of poetic translating, “When words occur in actual texts, the co-text
and context allow the reader to determine which segments of the total possible meaning
of all component words are to be activated for interpreting those texts. This process of
narrowing down potential meaning into actual meaning can be termed contextualization.
Without this process, language items cannot be used to communicate effectively.”(De
Beaugrande 1978: 19). In the poem, the title The Adoption Papers is mentioned and it
refers to the documents needed to go on with the adoption, but at the same time, the whole
text reflects the thoughts of the subjects involved in this process. The title may refer both
to the documents and to the collection of written memories and reflections. Scritti di
un’adozione and Documenti di un’adozione are the two possible titles I thought about,
but, since the word scritti is more representative of the concept of memories, documenti
seems to convey both meanings better.
Ho sempre voluto donare la vita
fare quella straordinaria cosa naturale
che le donne fanno – Sono quasi crollata
quando ho saputo che non potevamo,
e poi il mio compagno disse
bè c’è sempre l’adozione
(non c’erano la procreazione assistita e il resto al tempo)
perfino agli albori degli anni sessanta
c’era qualcosa di scandaloso nell’adottare,
svelare al mondo il tuo intimo fallimento
allevare un alieno,
chi sapeva cosa sarebbe diventato
As in the three sections of the poetic sequence, also in the introductory page there are
several aspects of the translation to take into consideration. In the following pages, I sum
up briefly the content of each chapter before dealing with the analysis of my translation,
as the understanding of the context has always an essential role in the translation process
(De Baugrande 1978). In this first page, the adoptive mother speaks about the discovery
of her infertility, the daughter describes the moment she came to life and the birth mother
remembers the baby she gave away.
In the second line of the first stanza, I changed the typical English order adjective-noun:
natural things (“Do that incredible natural thing”) becomes cosa naturale. In the Italian
language the position of the adjective is not fixed by grammatical rules, but it is based on
stylistic choices. Sometimes I changed the original order, while other times I maintained
it: in line ten secret failure (“telling the world your secret failure”) is translated into intimo
fallimento. In line six, I opted for the Italian discourse marker bè to translate well; in well
there is always adoption, the discourse maker is used to acknowledge a situation, about
which the speaker seems to express a feeling that keeps resignation together with hope.
As far as brackets are concerned, I decided to keep them all, since the information
contained is additional, but at the same time, important to understand the overall meaning
of each passage. Even if the omission of brackets and the text contained within is one of
the possible choice to make while translating, I never opted for it, since I consider all
details important to the text. In line eight (“Even in the early sixties there was / something
scandalous about adopting,”), the adverb even is used to underline the fact that even if it
was the sixties, and so a decade of revolution, protests and change in society, there were
anyway some prejudices, among which the scandal of adoption. In the translation I
replaced it with the adverb perfino, which underlines the exceptionality of the fact, that
astonished the adoptive mother: perfino agli albori degli anni sessanta/c’era qualcosa di
scandaloso nell’adottare. Finally, I reflected a lot upon the expression alien child in
Bringing up an alien child, since I was uncertain about the connotation given to it by the
author. At first, I thought to use a more general expression like bambino altrui, because I
did not want to misunderstand the original meaning; at a later stage, I supposed that the
strong negative image could be voluntary, considering the personal disappointment of the
adoptive mother, and I expressed the idea using the noun alieno. I made a transposition,
changing the word class from adjective to noun: allevare un alieno
Sono stata estratta con il forcipe
mi ha lasciato una ferita sulla guancia sinistra
quattro mesi in incubatrice
ma lei venne fedele
da Glasgow a Edimburgo
e mi fissava attraverso il vetro
devo aver percepito che qualcuno desiderava sopravvivessi;
lei non avrebbe scelto un altro bambino
Ho ancora la sua fotografia
la tengo nel corredo
Oggi ha ventisei anni
i miei capelli sono grigi
La pelle attorno al mio collo è rugosa
chissà se mi immagina così
In the daughter’s speech, the second line (“left a gash down my left cheek”) is devoid of
subject; but in the previous line she tells that, when she was born, she was pulled out with
forceps and so the implied subject is the instrument (“Sono stata estratta con il forcipes /
mi ha lasciato una ferita sulla guancia sinistra”). The other aspect I want to focus on is
the verb tenses. When the adoptive mother arrived at the hospital, she started peering at
the baby in the glass cot, and she went on doing it as long as she stayed there. I translated
came (“but she came faithful”) with the simple past venne (”ma lei venne fedele) and
peered (“and peered through the glass”) with the imperfect mi fissava (“e mi fissava
attraverso il vetro”). Like in this situation, the imperfect can express a past action,
focusing on its development (descriptive imperfect) (Duro 1986).
The last three stanzas belong to the birth mother. In the first line (“I still have the baby
photograph”), I opted for a shift in word class: the noun baby became the possessive
adjective sua (“Ho ancora la sua fotografia”). In the second line (“I keep it in my bottom
drawer”) we find the expression bottom drawer, which does not just have a literal
meaning (the lowest drawer of a chest), but it also has a figurative use to refer to the items
that a woman stores in readiness for marriage. Since in the poem the expression is
preceded by the possessive article my, and since in Red Dust Road I found out that Jackie
Kay’s birth mother got married, I used the Italian term corredo to render it (“la tengo nel
corredo”). In the second stanza I had to make another kind of grammatical shift from SL
to TL, that is the change from singular to plural (Newmark 1988:85). In English hair is
singular, while in Italian capelli are plural, so My hair is grey became i miei capelli sono
grigi. The last consideration concerns the line “does she imagine me this way”. The
sentence is an interrogative form lacking in punctuation, and it may be rendered by the
Italian translation chissà se mi immagina così, where the adverb chissà modifies the verb,
indicating a lack of certainty. I preferred to choose this solution, since the literal
translation mi immagina così without question mark could also express an affirmation,
deviating the reader.
Prima parte : 1961-1962
Capitolo 1 : Il Seme
Non avrei mai pensato che sarebbe stato più veloce
di percorrere a piedi la strada principale
Voglio stare di fronte allo specchio
il pancione, il pancione enorme
Il momento, l’esatto momento
per quel particolare seme di essere scelto
Voglio dormire a pancia in su
voglio fare pipì tutto il tempo
fra tutti gli altri
come scegliere un compagno per danzare
Bramo il dolore come alcune donne
bramano il cioccolato o la terra o il fegato
Intanto queste settimane scorrono lentamente
non riesco a smettere di pensarci continuamente
Non posso credere di aver provato per cinque anni
quello che può accadere in cinque minuti
Ci volle solo una frazione di secondo
non un minuto o più.
Voglio il dolore
il dolore intenso che fa piangere
Part One – Chapter 1
Part one describes the events that happened between 1961 and 1962; it is composed by
five chapters and the first one is entitled The seed (Il seme). The birth mother describes
the moment she got pregnant and expresses sadness for the absence of her lover: she had
an affair with a Nigerian student, but he had to go back to his country because he was
betrothed. The adoptive mother deeply suffers for her infertility and she really would like
to sense the same feelings of the other women; she feels incomplete.
The adoptive mother makes a list of daily actions and sensations, typical of pregnancy.
For instance, in the second stanza she says that she wants to look at herself in the mirror
and see the bump. The context makes clear the meaning of the second line swollen bellied
so swollen bellied, and I expressed the idea translating it into il pancione, il pancione
enorme. In the first line of the fourth stanza (“I want to lie on my back at night”) I got
away from the surface structure of the source text, to express the intended meaning in the
target language with different words. The idea of lying on the back at night can be
rendered by the Italian expression dormire a pancia in su (“voglio dormire a pancia in
The biological mother expresses her thoughts and feeling using many similes and
metaphors. A simile is a figure of speech in which two things are explicitly compared
through the use of words of comparison, such as like or as; whereas a metaphor is a
figure of speech which makes an implicit comparison between two things that are
different to each other but have some characteristics in common (Duro 1986). The first
simile compares the way in which the sperm is selected at the moment of the conception
to the way a person selects a dancing partner (stanza 3, “The time, the exact time / for
that particular seed to be singled out / amongst all others / like choosing a dancing
partner”). I decided to translate it literally, because I intended to maintain the originality
of the idea: Il momento, l’esatto momento / per quel particolare seme di essere scelto /
fra tutti gli altri / come scegliere un compagno per danzare.
Voglio che mi si rompano le acque
come il diluvio universale
Voglio spingere e spingere
e urlare e urlare
Quando fui sicura scrissi una breve nota
sei settimane dopo – una breve lettera
Era dispiaciuto; avremmo dovuto saperlo
lui non poteva lasciare la Nigeria.
Mi mancava lui, le cose sciocche
La sua improvvisa risata sguaiata,
I suoi occhi magnetici
la musica che mi suonava
The adoptive mother uses a simile to compare the strength of the water-break to that of
Noah’s flood (stanza 11, “I want my waters to break / like Noah’s flood”). As far as this
simile is concerned I chose to express the meaning without mentioning the Bible
character, but using the most common term with which Italian speakers refer to the flood,
that is “il diluvio universale”: Voglio che mi si rompano le acque / come il diluvio
This first chapter ends with another simile; the birth mother listed all the aspects of her
lover that she missed, like the silly things they did together, his laugh, the music he played
her and finally his eyes. The simile compares the gaze of the Nigerian man to a vortex,
meaning that his eyes capture the woman. In my translation I used a metaphor to render
the image the author wanted to convey: I suoi occhi magnetici (“His eyes intense as a
Capitolo 2: Il Certificato di Nascita Originale
Dico all’uomo al banco
vorrei il mio certificato di nascita originale
Hai idea di quale fosse il tuo nome?
Ride sotto i baffi. Ebbene qual era?
Lento come una tortura rivela a poco a poco
il nome di mia madre, il mio nome originale
l’ospedale in cui nacqui, il momento in cui venni al mondo.
Chapter 2
The second chapter of part one is entitled The Original Birth Certificate (Il Certificato di
Nascita Originale) and the two main characters are the daughter and the birth mother. The
daughter is twenty-six and she is searching for her original birth certificate in order to
discover something about her origins. The mother comes back to when she was nineteen
and describes the three nights after giving birth: the first night she thinks that she can not
pretend the baby has never been because her body is a witness of what has happened; the
second night she thinks how to free herself from the new-born; the third night she is
worried for her daughter’s life and she wills her to survive. The woman is very confused
about the situation: she changes her mind every day.
In line four (“Close, close he laughs. Well what was it?”) there are two aspects I want to
focus on: the first aspect concerns the meaning of the word close and the second one the
interjection well. The term close can have different meanings depending on the context;
as De Baugrande states, “the meaning of a word can be classed as a set of markers
normally assignable to that word. When the word occurs in a text, not all of those markers
are necessarily activated, because the potential meaning often exceeds in range the actual
meaning in a particular context.” (De Baugrande 1978: 38). By reading the other lines I
understood that the man the daughter is speaking to is not very polite (she says that he
gives her information bit by bit, in a very slow way, as if he found it funny). Thus, I
thought he is amused by the fact that she does not know her original name and I
interpreted his laugh as a snigger. I translated Close,close he laughs with the Italian
idiomatic expression Ride sotto i baffi, giving the meaning of secret/hidden to close. As
far as well is concerned, I rendered it with the interjection ebbene. This kind of interjection
can be used to press for a reply to something and in this specific context the girl wants to
know her original name without wasting any time. In the first line of the second stanza
we find a simile, which I translated literally, since it gives a clear image of how wearying
the wait is: Slow as torture he discloses bit by bit is rendered with Lento come una tortura
mi rivela a poco poco. In my translation I omitted the subject he, since in Italian the
subject can be understood.
Edimburgo è impregnata di luce
parlo a me stessa passando davanti al castello.
E così, alla fine, sono figlia della mezzanotte.
Ho diciannove anni
La mia intera esistenza sta cambiando
Prima notte
Vedo i suoi occhi chiusi nei miei sogni
Non posso fingere che non sia mai esistita
i punti mi tirano e minacciano di strapparsi
il mio corpo un testimone
riversa sangue sulle lenzuola e latte sulle camicette
Seconda notte
La soffocherò con un cuscino di piuma
La seppellirò sotto ad un salice piangente
O la porterò in mezzo al mare
e guarderò il suo minuto corpo di tre chili e mezzo
affondare tra le conchiglie e prendere forma nuova.
Molto meglio così piuttosto che il suo corpo
venga racchiuso in una teca come un pezzo da museo
In my work I never omitted details, I only left out some words which are superfluous to
the overall meaning of lines; for example at the beginning of the third stanza I omitted
the adverb outside, and I just translated Outside Edinburgh is soaked in sunshine into
Edimburgo è impregnate di luce. In this last stanza we can identify a contrast between the
“sunshine” and the “midnight”: the first image may refer to the light made on the girl’s
origins, while the second one may allude to the black ethnicity she belongs to.
After the daughter’s reflections, all the other stanzas belong to the birth mother. Here we
find several examples of adjective-noun order. In the second line of the fourth stanza (“my
whole life is changing”) I kept the original order and so I translated it into la mia intera
vita sta cambiando. In the following example we find the adjective postponed to the noun:
shuttered eyes becomes occhi chiusi. Finally, I translated her tiny eight-pound body into
il suo minuto corpo di tre chili e mezzo: in the translation the qualifying adjective comes
before the noun while the complement indicating the measure comes after it. Here we
meet a unit of measure (pound) of the so-called Imperial system, which I converted to the
corresponding unit of the International System; 1 pound corresponds to 0.454 kilograms
and so the eight pounds of the original text become three and a half kilograms in the
In the line my stitches pull and threaten to snap (stanza 6), I turned the possessive
adjective my into the personal pronoun mi, maintaining the idea that the stitches belong
to the birth mother (“i punti mi tirano e minacciano di strapparsi”).
Among these lines we find one of the most strong image of the poetic sequence. The birth
mother thinks of how to get rid of her daughter and she also considers takes to drown her,
but despite the extreme thought, the author is able to create a positive image: the baby
sinks to shells and becomes one of them. The woman tries to cheer up, thinking that her
little baby could start a new life under a different shape. Given the originality of the line,
I tried to translate it as faithful to the original as possible: sink to shells and reshape
herself can be rendered with affondare tra le conchiglie e prendere forma nuova (stanza
Terza notte
Mi rigiro nel letto non ho attraversato questi mesi
per vederti morire ora
la terza notte mi ritrovo
a desiderare la vita per lei
ad infonderla lungo tutto il corridoio
fino al vetro dell’ incubatrice
attraverso cui faccio passare i miei capezzoli
In the first line of the last group of stanzas (“I toss I did not go through these months”,
stanza 12) I translated I toss with Mi rigiro nel letto; I added the locative complement nel
letto, since in Italian it is not implied in the verb and the verb by itself does not make
The last aspect I want to analyse concerns the lines on the third night I lie / willing life
into her / breathing air all the way down the corridor (stanza 13,14). From the context I
understood that the birth mother is very anxious because she worries for her baby’s life,
so I imagined her breathing life into the little daughter: la terza note mi ritrovo / a
desiderare la vita per lei / infondendola lungo tutto il corridoio.
Capitolo 3: Le Liste D’attesa
La prima agenzia a cui ci siamo rivolti
non ci ha voluto nelle sue liste,
non vivevamo abbastanza vicino ad una chiesa
né eravamo praticanti
(tenevamo però segreto il fatto di essere comunisti).
La seconda ci disse
che non guadagnavamo abbastanza.
Alla terza piacemmo
ma avevano una lista d’attesa di cinque anni.
Per sei mesi ho provato a non guardare
le altalene e i seggiolini dei carrelli della spesa,
né a pensare che il bambino che avrei voluto potrebbe avere cinque anni.
La quarta agenzia era al completo.
La quinta disse di sì, ma nuovamente niente neonati.
Proprio mentre stavamo uscendo dalla porta
dissi oh sapete che non ci importa del colore.
Bastò questo, l’attesa era terminata.
Chapter 3
In the third chapter, entitled The Waiting Lists (Le Liste d’Attesa), all stanzas belong to
the adoptive mother, except for the second one, which reflects the daughter’s thoughts.
The adoptive mother and her partner went to several adoptive agencies before finding the
one through which they adopted their baby, but this agency took them into consideration
just because they said that the colour did not matter. The woman also describes what she
did in order to make her home a non-communist house in the eyes of the social worker
and tells of the meeting they had; the outcome was positive and they could go on with the
adoption. The daughter gives a little information about her birth mother, which she
obtained from some searches.
In the seventh line of the first stanza I made a shift of lexical category, as I changed the
couple adjective (high enough) + noun (earners) into verb + adverb. In Italian there is not
a generic noun that defines somebody who earns money (earner), since the noun salariato
was used in the past and now it only refers to workers. We weren’t high enough earners
became che non guadagnavamo abbastanza. Both in line fifteen and seventeen we find
the word just: Just as we were going out the door and Just like that, the waiting list was
over. In both cases just is an adverb, but while in the first line it is followed by the
conjunction as, meaning at the moment when, in the second one it forms a single
expression with like that, signifying suddenly. In the translation proprio mentre stavamo
uscendo dalla porta, the Italian adverb proprio stands for in that precise moment. As far
as the second line is concerned, I chose to translate the adverb with the verb bastare,
which corresponds to the English to be enough: bastò questo, l’attesa era terminata. In
line sixteen (“I said oh you know we don’t mind the colour”) there is direct speech, which
lacks speech marks (inverted commas). The author puts the words that are said inside
inverted commas only in two cases (chapter 6 ‘ah but / it’s not like having your own child
though is it’, chapter 9 ‘I used to work ages ago with your daughter / Elizabeth, do you
have her present address?’) and rarely separates the direct speech from the rest of the
sentence with punctuation marks. I respected her choice: dissi oh sapete che non ci
importa del colore.
Questa mattina ricevo una sottile busta di manila
inviata da Edimburgo: un foglio
sono riuscita a consultare le tue microschede
(dal momento che oggigiorno questo è tutto ciò che conservano gli archivi).
Dalle lettere di tua madre, le seguenti informazioni:
tua madre aveva diciannove anni quando ti ebbe.
Pesavi tre chili e settecento grammi.
Le piaceva l’hockey. Lavorava ad Aberdeen
come cameriera. Era alta un metro e settantadue.
Pensai di aver nascosto tutto
di non aver lasciato
alcuna traccia
Misi Marx Hegel Lenin (non Trotsky)
in caldaia –
sicuramente non controllerà tra gli asciugamani
In the second stanza there are only two aspects to focus on. In line seven and line nine
there are some examples of Imperial units of measure; as before, I converted them into
the International system units. Since 1 pound corresponds to 0.454 kilograms and 1 ounce
corresponds to 28.35 grams, eight pound four ounces becomes tre chili e settecento
grammi. As far as length is concerned, 1 foot is 0.308 meters and 1 inch is 2.54
centimetres, and so five foot eight inches becomes un metro e settantaquattro. Even if the
readership of the poem is adult, it is improbable that everyone knows the various
equivalences with precision, and so I preferred to transform the units. In line eight (“She
liked hockey. She worked in Aberdeen”) we find the first geographic term of the poem:
Aberdeen is one of the main city of Scotland and I left it untranslated since in Italian the
Scottish city is known with the same name.
The last part of chapter three is composed by fifteen tercets. In the first we meet a Scottish
dialectal expression: that there wasnie wan / giveaway sign left (stanza 3). This expression
stands for there was not one and I opted to translate it into neutral language: di non aver
lasciato / alcuna traccia. The author uses some Scottish words to foreground her cultural
identity and to show a slang use of language (Newmark 1988: 195), underlining the
colloquial register of the poetic sequence. In this case, as in the others, the dialectal terms
are not idiomatic expressions or words with particular meaning.
In stanza four we meet a culturally specific term linked with the English context; an airing
cupboard is a small place, which contains a water heater and where shelves are positioned
above and around it to provide storage for clothing, usually for linen and towels. In Italian
houses there is not a place like this, but we have the boiler room where it is also possible
to dry clothes. I adapted the term to the target context, using the nearest local equivalent
(Robinson 2012: 175), so I translated in the airing cupboard into in caldaia.
Tutte le copie del Daily Worker1
le spinsi sotto al divano
la colomba della pace la tolsi dalla toilette
Un poster di Paul Robeson2
con scritto dategli il suo passaporto
lo staccai dalla cucina
Lasciai un busto di Burns
i miei gialli
e l’intera opera di Shelley
Arriva alle 11.30 in punto.
Le offro del caffè
con il mio nuovo servizio ungherese
E stupidamente prego
che non ne chiederà l’origine – questo bambino
mi sta davvero dando alla testa
Il Daily Worker fu un quotidiano britannico fondato nel 1930 dal Partito Comunista della Gran Bretagna. Nel 1966 il
nome della testata venne cambiato ed oggi è conosciuto come Morning Stars.
Paul LeRoy Bustill Robeson fu un cantante e attore americano, nonché un membro del movimento per i diritti civili. La
sua vicinanza al pensiero comunista e le critiche rivolte al governo degli Stati Uniti lo relegarono alla lista nera del presidente
McCarthy. Nel 1952 vinse il Premio Stalin per la pace assegnatogli dall’ Unione Sovietica, ma non poté ritirarlo per il sequestro del
passaporto avvenuto due anni prima.
In the fifth stanza we find the name of a newspaper founded in Britain in 1930 by the
Communist Party of Great Britain, the Daily Worker, which now is a tabloid newspaper
and is known as the Morning Star. I did not replace it with an equivalent Italian
newspaper, like Il Manifesto, but I kept it and I added a footnote, which gives a brief
I wrote a footnote also for the following stanza (6), where we find Paul Robeson, in order
to illustrate who he is and why his poster states “Give him his passport”. In Italy Robeson
is not a well-known personality and so I wanted to give some information about him.
Furthermore, it is important that the reader knows him because this contributes to
understanding the political orientation of the adoptive mother.
I did not write footnotes on Burns and Shelley, since they are world-famous writers.
In stanzas five and six of the original text the author put the object before the subject and
the verb: all the copies of the Daily Worker / I shoved under the sofa / the dove of peace
I took down from the loo and A poster of Paul Robeson / saying give him his passport / I
took down from the kitchen. This kind of sentence structure is called left dislocation and
it can be used to emphasize a topic, which in these cases is the object. In Italian we can
have the same structure, but the object put at the beginning of the sentence is always
followed by an unstressed personal pronoun or by a pronominal particle
(http://www.zanichellibenvenuti.it/wordpress/?p=7871). In my translation I left the
objects where I found them in the original text: Tutte le copie del Daily Worker / le spinsi
sotto al divano / la colomba della pace la tolsi dalla toilette and Un poster di Paul
Robeson / con scritto dategli il suo passaporto / lo staccai dalla cucina.
In the ninth stanza there is another dialectal expression, which stands for will not, that is
willnae. Also in this case I chose to translate it into neutral language, since it is just an
auxiliary verb: And foolish pray she willnae/ask its origins became E stupidamente
spero/che non ne chiederà l’origine. In the last line of this stanza we find the idiomatic
expression go to someone’s head (“honestly/this baby is going to my head”), which I
translated with the corresponding Italian idioms dare alla testa (“questo bambino/mi sta
davvero dando alla testa”).
Accavalla le gambe seduta sul divano
mi immagino di sentire le copie del Daily Worker
frusciare sotto di lei
Bene dice, ha una casa interessante
Vede che alzo le sopracciglia.
È diversa precisa.
Maledizione e io ho trascorso tutta la mattinata
a farla apparire normale
- una casa graziosa per il pupo.
Si abbottona il cappotto tutta sorridente
è fatta
Ma proprio all’ultimo istante
il suo sguardo così come il mio viene colpito
da un nastro rosso con una ventina di spille per la pace nel mondo
In the translation it is not possible to translate Daily Workers with i Daily Worker, since
in the Italian language newspapers’ names are uncountable (we can not say i Manifesti).
The same meaning can be render by the use of the word copie (copies): I fancy I hear the
Daily Workers can be translated into mi immagino di sentire le copie del Daily Worker.
In the following stanza (11) there are two other examples of direct speech, without speech
marks; also in these cases I respected the choice of the author and I did not add the
inverted commas nor transform the direct speech into indirect. Well she says, you have
an interesting home became Bene dice, ha una casa interessante; It’s different she
qualifies is translated into È diversa precisa. Here and in line ten, I put the adjectives that
qualify the noun home after it, so we have una casa interessante and una casa graziosa
instead of an interesting home and a lovely home.
In stanza thirteen and fourteen there are two idioms, which do not have an equivalent
idiomatic expression in Italian and so I made use of the paraphrasing. This technique gave
me the possibility to reproduce the author’s meaning as closely as possible by using my
own words (Munday 2009: 214). The expression home run is used when something or
someone succeeds in achieving its/his/her goals and in my translation I rendered it with
the Italian expression è fatta: I’m thinking / I’m on the home run became penso / è fatta.
The idiom last post refers to the last step of something, in this case of the meeting between
the adoptive mother and the social worker. I translated the line But just as we get to the
last post into Ma proprio all’ultimo istante.
Esplicito come una falce e martello
appeso al muro.
Oh, dice è contro le armi nucleari?
Al diavolo. Bimbo o non bimbo.
Sì dico. Sì sì sì.
Vorrei che questo bambino vivesse in un mondo libero dal nucleare.
Oh. I suoi occhi si illuminano.
Sono molto favorevole alla pace dice,
e si siede per un'altra tazza di caffè.
In the following stanza (15) the first line is a simile, which compares the red ribbon with
the world peace badges mentioned in the previous stanza with the hammer and sickle.
The adoptive mother forgot to hide the ribbon and when the social worker notices the
object, she thinks to have revealed her political ideals and to have wrecked everything. I
translated the adjective clear with evidente (evident), since this is the acceptation of the
word, which emerges from the context. I kept the original comparison: Clear as a hammer
and sickle became evidente come una falce e martello. In the last line there is another
example of direct speech without speech marks, which I maintained: Oh, she says are you
against nuclear weapons? is rendered with Oh, dice è contro le armi nucleari?
Also in the last two stanzas (16, 17) we find direct speech which is not indicated by
quotation marks. Since in English there is not a courtesy form to address to people like in
Italian, choosing to translate the pronoun you with tu or lei is up to the translator. In the
examples of the chapter there are two adult strangers, who converse in a formal situation
and so I opted for the pronoun lei to render you in the direct speech.
Capitolo 4: Piccolo Lazzaro
La terra si muove come una mandria ordinata
I miei occhi afferrano qualche parola
titoli di prima pagina si susseguono:
L’assistente sociale ci ha telefonato,
il nostro piccolo è una femmina ma non è sano
non supererà il controllo del dottore
finché non starà bene. I documenti dell’adozione
non possono essere firmati. Riagganciai.
Avvampai. Non agitiamoci.
Cosa aspetta? Non sono una madre
fino a quando non firmo quel pezzo di carta
Chapter 4
Chapter four is entitled Baby Lazarus (Piccolo Lazzaro) and is divided into three main
parts indicated by the name of a month (November, December, March). The voices of the
biological and the adoptive mothers alternate, expressing feelings and impressions on the
same period of time but from different points of view. In November the adoptive mother
discovers that the baby is a girl but not healthy and so that, for the moment, the adoption
papers can not be signed; in December she and her partner go to Edinburgh to visit the
baby at the hospital; in March they receive the good news and they go to pick up the baby.
While the adoption develops, the birth mother keeps going over what she has done, to the
point that she imagines that the spirit of the little baby visits her. She really suffers for the
loss of her daughter, but she had no option but this, since she was an unmarried young
woman and her family made her give the baby away to avoid disgracing the family’s
The first line of the first stanza, that is Land moves like driven cattle, is a simile, which
compares the movement of the land seen from a train to cattle driven by a stockman. Both
movements are characterized by evenness. The literal translation of driven is guidata, but
since cattle, when driven, moves in an orderly way, I expressed the idea by translating the
term driven into ordinata. I kept the simile, making its sense more explicit: La terra si
muove come una mandria ordinata. In the last line of this first stanza we find the proper
name of a geographical element: the Clyde. In the translation I added fiume (river) to the
hydronym to give an additional geographical information to state what the Clyde is.
In the first stanza (2) of the part entitled November the title of the poetic sequence appears
for the first and only time. Here the adoption papers refer to the documents needed to go
on with the adoption.
Il ritmo del treno mi conduce
attraverso la terra gelida
l’incessante sbuffo è un ciuccio
una culla a dondolo
Forse mi si legge
in faccia
un titolo a carattere sottile
Abbiamo raggiunto Edimburgo in auto,
ero così emozionata che i sessantacinque chilometri
mi sembrarono una vita. Come pensi che sarà?
Non lo so dice il mio compagno.
Era nervoso quanto me. Sulla via del ritorno
aveva un grande sorriso sul volto anche se
non era entrato. Solo io l’avevo fatto.
Indossavo una maschera ma non sembrava importarle
le dissi da un giorno all’altro tesoro mio da un giorno all’altro.
Nessuno l’avrebbe mai immaginato.
Non avevo altra scelta
Ad ogni modo per lei è la cosa migliore,
La mia firma su una linea tratteggiata.
In the third stanza I inverted the adjective-noun order and I translated frigid earth into
terra gelida (“over the frigid earth” became “attraverso la terra gelida”). The following
two lines (3,4) consist in a metaphor, which compares the chug of the train to a pacifier
and a rocking cradle. The author wants to convey the idea of something that calms down,
relaxes the biological mother on the way back home after the childbirth. I translated the
rhetorical figure literally, since it is an original metaphor invented by the author and I
wanted to keep its subjectivity (Newmark 1988: 112). The constant chug a comforter / a
rocking cradle can be rendered with l’incessante sbuffo è un ciuccio / una culla a dondolo.
In the following stanza (4) the birth mother expresses her worries; she fears that people
could understand that she gave away her baby, just looking at her, since her face betrays
emotions. This image is expressed using an idiomatic expression: maybe the words lie
across my forehead. In Italian when someone’s face reveals his/her feelings, it is used the
idiom glielo si legge in faccia: forse mi si legge / in faccia.
The second part (December) is composed by two stanzas. In the second line of the fifth
stanza we meet a new length unit, that is the mile. As in the previous examples, I
converted miles into kilometres; since 1 mile corresponds to 1.609 kilometres, the forty
miles of the original text became sessantacinque chilometri in the translation. In the
following lines (3,4) we meet two examples of direct speech, which differ in font: “What
do you think she’ll look like? / I don’t know” is written in block letters, while “any day
now my darling any day” (9) is written in italics. Both utterances are introduced by the
reporting verb to say and to tell, but maybe in the second case the author used a different
font, because it is a matter of intimate words told by a mother to a baby; it can be
considered a sort of personal reflection.
In the last line of the sixth stanza (“Ma name signed on a dotted line”) I omitted the past
participle and I translate my name signed into la mia firma, since a name written on a
dotted line is a signature: la mia firma su una linea tratteggiata.
La nostra bambina ce l’ha fatta.
Possiamo andare a penderla tra un paio di giorni.
Due giorni per l’amor di Dio,
non potevano avvisarci prima?
La terra si muove come una mandria ordinata
Devo smetterla. Devo togliermela dalla mente.
È inutile continuare a rimuginare.
Sono felice che abbia trovato una casa in cui andare.
Questo panino è di plastica.
Mi sono scordata di mettere lo zucchero nella borraccia.
L’uomo dall’altra parte del tavolo continua a fissarmi.
Avrei dovuto comprare un altro libro tutto quello che fa questo personaggio è baciare e chiedere scusa
andarsene e ritornare,
siamo tutti sciocchi ad avere fiducia.
Mi piaceva l’inverno
i luoghi deserti, l’aria fresca.
In the first stanza (7) of the last part (March) the expression for Christ’s sake is equivalent
to the interjection for God’s sake and in this context it expresses surprise mixed with
worry, since the adoptive mother has been informed that she can pick her baby up in a
pair of days. In Italian the expression per l’amor di Cristo is not used, but per l’amor di
Dio is very common; Two days for Christ’s sake became Due giorni per l’amor di Dio.
In the ninth stanza the pronoun it, in Put it out my mind, does not make reference to
something mentioned before and so I had to interpret its meaning; it is likely that the
pronoun refers to the daughter, since the mother has just given her away. The sentence
can be rendered by Devo togliermela dalla testa.
In the second line of the eleventh stanza I replaced the couple preposition + noun with
verb + noun: we are all foolish with trust became siamo tutti sciocchi ad avere paura.
Quando arrivai a casa
uscii in giardino –
la brina lasciava il segno sui miei vecchi stivali marroni –
e scavai un buco della grandezza della mia bambina
e vi seppellii i vestiti che le avevo comunque comprato.
Una settimana più tardi ero alla mia finestra
e vidi la terra muoversi e sperare
in un raccolto,
fu lì che iniziò a piangere.
12.10 Allora mi dedicai a lei, cantai
Ye banks and braes3, piantai
un cespuglio di rose, lessi il Libro di Giobbe,
mi maledissi per aver scavato un buco per la mia bambina
per aver sparso la cenere del focolare.
12.15 Tardi quella stessa notte
entrò dalla finestra,
il mio piccolo Lazzaro
e succhiò dal mio seno.
Ye banks and braes è una canzone popolare scozzese, che è stata scritta dal noto poeta e compositore Robert Burns nel
1791. Il titolo con cui è maggiormente conosciuta è The Banks O’ Doon. La canzone ha come soggetto la triste storia d’amore di una
ragazza scozzese, abbandonata dal suo innamorato dopo essere stata sedotta con l’inganno:
In the parenthetical clause enclosed in dashes (“- the frost bit my old brown boots”) the
verb to bite is used with a figurative sense, since frost can not snap at something. Instead
of using the Italian equivalent verb mordere, I preferred to retain the image explicating
it: - la brina lasciava il segno sui miei vecchi stivali marroni -. In this line I left the
adjective vecchi before the noun, while I postponed to it the adjective marroni. In lines
seven and eight it is described a vision of the birth mother, who feels so guilty for
abandoning of her baby that she goes mad. She buries her baby’s clothes in the garden
and a few days later she sees the ground moving and something arises; she starts to take
care of her imaginary baby, who visits her at night. In the translation I did not sacrifice
the original image, but I simplified the second part in terms of numbers of words: e vidi
la terra muoversi e sperare / in un raccolto (“and saw the ground move and swell / the
promise of a crop”). Halfway through this last stanza (line 11) we meet the title of a Scots
song written by Robert Burns in 1791: Ya banks and braes, better known as The banks o’
Doon. I kept the original name of the song, but I put a footnote, where I explained who
wrote it, when and what it is about. The Italian translators of Burns translated the title
with Le rive del Doon, but since the overwhelming majority of the readers would not
know this song, I preferred to maintain the Scottish title and remain faithful to the original
Capitolo 5: Il Sogno del Cappello in Tweed
Oggi chiamo l’agenzia di consulenza di Edimburgo.
Potete iniziare a rintracciarla attraverso i certificati di matrimonio?
Ci vorranno tre settimane cosa ti aspetti da tutto ciò.
Se mi vuole incontrare bene in caso contrario
andrà bene lo stesso.
Questa mattina telefona la consulente
ha trovato qualcuno che potrebbe essere lei
non ne è certa; conosco il nome di mia nonna?
Peccato. Si farà viva, non sa quando.
Chapter 5
The last chapter of part one (chapter five) is entitled The Tweed Hat Dream and it is
composed by five stanzas; the voices belong to the daughter and the adoptive mother. The
counselling agency communicates to the daughter that they have found someone who
might be her birth mother, but tha adopted woman wonders if finding out her origins has
a meaning after so a long time; furthermore, she considers her adoptive mother her real
mum, since she is the woman who has brought her up. The adoptive mother describes a
dream she had. Her baby’s birth mother turns up at the door with a tweed hat on and asks
to see her baby; the woman is in the daughter’s bedroom for a long time and so the
adoptive mother goes to the room to check, but once there she only finds the woman’s
hat in the cot.
The second line of the first stanza is direct speech reported without speech marks (“Can
you start to trace through marriage certificates?”), while the third is an example of free
indirect speech, which lacks punctuation (“It will take three weeks what do you expect
from it.”). I did not add the inverted commas to point out the direct speech (Potete iniziare
a rintracciarla attraverso il certificato di matrimonio?), nor I put a full stop after weeks to
divide the two sentences, making the passage more clear: Ci vorranno tre settimane. Cosa
ti aspetti da tutto ciò. The lack of punctuation is one of the main traits of stream of
consciousness, which, as a specific characteristic of the poetic sequence, has to be
In the last line of the second stanza there is another example of free indirect speech, which
consists of one single word written in italics: pity. The word may be rendered with
peccato: the counselling woman asks the daughter if she knows her grandmother’s name,
but she does not, and since the name could be useful to find the biological mother, the
counsellor expresses her regret.
Sua madre compare alla porta
con un cappello di tweed. Penso
che il tweed non le si addica, è troppo giovane.
In tutti questi mesi non avevo mai dato un volto a colei
che assomiglia a mia figlia – perciò immaginatemi
quando vedo quelle labbra. Sembra il suo ritratto sputato
tranne per il fatto che è bianca; di un bianco luminoso.
Con il suo delicato tono delle Highlands dice
Mi permette di vederla? Me lo permette?
Cosa potevo fare? Arriva dal nulla
come il vento in una bufera, sale le scale
come se conoscesse già la casa,
prende in braccio la mia bambina e le accarezza di continuo le guance
finché mi stufo e dico, sarò giù.
Accendo il bollitore, forse
del tè caldo renderà più rosse quelle guance,
preparo un piatto di biscotti che continuano
a scivolare sul pavimento.
È stata al piano di sopra per un sacco di tempo.
Non so da dove mi sia venuta l’idea
ma all’improvviso mi ritrovo a salire le scale
con impeto. Il suo cappello di tweed
è nella culla. È tutto.
Quella notte mi sono rigirata fino all’alba
qualche gene, del sangue, un parto.
Tutta questa seccatura, questi certificati, queste carte.
Risale tutto a molto tempo fa. Ha davvero importanza?
Ora io discendo da lei,
dalla madre che ha rubato i miei denti da latte
che ha mangiato il biscotto per Babbo Natale
In the second line of the third stanza there is a culturally specific term, which refers to the
kind of fabric of the birth mother’s hat, that is tweed. Even if tweed is a typical Scottish
woollen fabric, it is well known worldwide, and so I did not need to translate it, to find a
cultural equivalent or to put a footnote to explain what it is. A few lines below (line 8)
there is another cultural reference: the adoptive mother says that the birth mother speaks
in a soft Highland voice, referring to a particular Scottish accent and way of speaking. In
my translation I keep the cultural feature (delicate tono delle Highlands), since I want to
keep all elements that define the autobiographical tendency.
In translating the request that the birth mother makes of the adoptive mother (“can you
let me see her? Can you?”, line 9), I used the polite form, since the two women do not
know each other: Mi permette di vederla? Me lo permette?. In the following two lines
(10,11) there is a simile, that compares the swift way in which the biological mother
arrives to the wind in a storm: What could I do? She comes in swift/as wind in a storm,
rushes up the stairs. I understood that the mother blows in and so I rendered the simile
with arriva dal nulla/come il vento in una bufera.
In the fourth stanza there is another simile, which is used to make a comparison between
the adoptive mother’s way of going upstairs and thunder: but suddenly I’m pounding the
stairs/like thunder (line 8,9). In this case I did not maintain the rhetorical device, but I
paraphrased the comparison to give the reader the image of the original text (Chesterman,
Wagner 2002: 66): ma all’improvviso mi ritrovo a salire le scale/con impeto (with rush).
In the last line of the last stanza (5) there is a culturally specific aspect linked with typical
English food: a digestive biscuit is a round and hard semi-sweet biscuit, whose name
derived from the sodium bicarbonate contained, which has digestive properties. In the
translation I opted for the removal of the cultural reference and I translated digestive with
its superordinate biscuit. Ate the digestive left for Santa became che ha mangiato il
biscotto per Babbo Natale. Also Santa is a cultural feature, since this is the name with
which Anglophones call the mythical man who brings gifts on 24 December, and I
rendered it with its cultural equivalent Babbo Natale.
PARTE DUE: 1967-1971 Capitolo 6: La Rivelazione
La mia mamma mi ha comprata al negozio
La mia mamma dice che ero una bimba adorabile
La mia mamma mi ha scelto (Ero la migliore)
la tua mamma ha dovuto prendere te (non ha avuto scelta)
La mia mamma dice di non essere la mia vera mamma
(mi prende solo in giro)
Part Two – Chapter 6
Part two describes the events that happened between 1967 and 1971; it is consists of two
chapters and the first is entitled The Telling Part (La Rivelazione). The voices belong to
the daughter and the adoptive mother, while the birth mother appears only indirectly in
their narration. When the daughter is six years old, the adoptive mother decides to reveal
that she is not her real mum; the topic of the chapter is the narration of this delicate
moment and the description of the reactions and emotions of the two characters. The
mother believes that the truth can not be kept secret and she is fully convinced that she
would do the right thing in telling her daughter, but she suffers because this revelation is
something that will upset her girl. She is also worried that she may lose her daughter now
that she has the possibility to meet her other mother. The woman underlines that even if
she is not her biological mother, it is as if she was: she cries at her losses, laughs at her
pleasures and above all, she sees herself in her daughter’s mannerisms and way of
speaking. On the other hand, the little daughter has not really understood what her mother
told her and she is scared that her mum could vanish at any moment. The girl starts to tell
of herself as of a child who is different from her peers; she says that everyone thinks she
and her best friend are old –fashioned girls.
In the first three stanzas there are some examples of mangled words, since the daughter
is six years old and does not use Standard English: instead of my mummy, she says ma
mammy, instead of lovely, she uses luvly and instead of bought, bot. Furthermore, her
language is characterized by the use of Scottish dialect terms, which she has learnt from
her mother (in the previous chapter we observed that sometimes the adoptive mother uses
Scottish dialect). In ma mammy bot me oot a shop (stanza 1, line 1), the adverb oot stands
for out and in Ma mammy picked me (I wiz the best) (stanza 2, line 1) the word wiz is the
Simple Past was. In the translation I used a simple language, suitable for a child of six
years old, but I did not mangle words or used dialect terms: La mia mamma mi ha
comprata al negozio / La mia mamma dice che ero una bambina adorabile / La mia
mamma mi ha scelto (ero la migliore). As before, I decided to translate dialect terms into
neutral language. As far as mangled words are concerned, I opted not to reproduce them
in the Italian translation, because I considered them a matter of correspondence between
written language and pronunciation. Since in Italian the pronunciation does not differ
from written language like in English, I just used simple but correct words.
È un po’ come una parte studiata molto a fondo
che poi non riesci a recitare la serata di apertura
Lei dice che la mia vera mamma è molto lontana da qui
Mamma perché tu ed io non siamo dello stesso colore
Ma io amo la mia mamma sia che lei sia vera sia che non lo sia
Il mio cuore iniziò a fare bum bum bum come un tamburo
tutte le parole decollarono verso un altro pianeta
Ma io amo la mia mamma sia che lei sia vera sia che non lo sia
Riuscivo a sentire la confusione nella sua voce
dico non sono la tua vera mamma,
eppure Cristo sa perché l’ho detto,
Se non lo sono io chi lo è, ma tutto il mio bel discorso
volò dalla finestra
Mi prese quando non avevo dove andare
la mia mamma è la miglior mamma al mondo OK.
In the sixth line of the fourth stanza there is an example of onomatopoeia, that is a word
which phonetically reproduces sounds and noises (Cuddon 1982: 453). In this case the
expression rat tat tat suggests the sound of a drum and it is compared through a simile to
the beats of the adoptive mother’s heart: she is all shook up because she has to explain to
her daughter why they are not the same colour. In Italian when someone wants to evoke
the sound of a drum it is used the onomatopoeic sound bum bum bum, which can be
considered the equivalent of rat tat tat: Il mio cuore iniziò a fare bum bum bum come un
tamburo (“My heart started rat tat tat like a tin drum”).
In the sixth stanza (line 4) I expressed the meaning of planned speech with bel discorso
(literally nice speech), since in Italian the expression can be used to indicate a speech that
has been prepared for a long time, and so that it is perfect in all its details, that can not
fail in its purpose. As far as the last line (5) is concerned (“went out the window”), I did
not translate the verb to go out into uscire (literal translation), but I gave it the meaning
of flying, since in the previous stanza the adoptive mother says that her words took off to
another planet: tutto il mio bel discorso / volò dalla finestra.
Dopo che la mamma mi disse che non era la mia vera mamma
Ero terrorizzata che svanisse
o qualcos’altro o che magari scomparisse nel cuore
della notte e qualcuno avrebbe detto che era
una fata madrina. Così la mattina seguente toccai la sua pelle
per controllare che fosse carne, ma forse era solo
una buona imitazione. Come facevo a dire se la mia mamma
era un pupazzo con la voce di qualcun altro?
Così cercai per tutta la casa degli indizi
ma non trovai mai nulla. Comunque un giorno dopo
ricevetti il mio porcellino d’ India e mi dimenticai di tutto.
Ho sempre creduto nell’essere sinceri in ogni situazione.
Non puoi tenere una cosa del genere segreta
volevo pensasse che lì fuori la sua altra madre
stava pensando a quella sua bambina che avrà
oggi sette anni oggi otto e così fino
a sa Dio quando. Ho detto a mia figlia –
sono sicura che tua madre non ha mai dimenticato il tuo compleanno,
come potrebbe?
In the eighth stanza we find other examples of Scottish dialect terms. In the first line
(“After mammy telt me she wisnae my real mammy”), telt stands for told and wisnae
stands for was not. In line two she was gonnie melt means she was going to melt, while
in line three and six the word mibbe is the mangled word of mebbe, which means may be.
In lines four we find the word wis, which stands for was and which is synonym of wiz (a
term that I mentioned analysing the beginning of the chapter). I rendered all these dialect
words with neutral language, as I did for the previous cases. In the last line (11) I
translated guinea pig into porcellino d’ India, since this is the term with which the cavy
is known in Italy. This animal is neither from Guinea nor from India, but it comes from
the Andes; the two different names are two cultural specific terms, which indicate the
same animal.
In the first line of the ninth stanza (“I always believed in the telling anyhow”) I made a
shift, changing the word class from noun to verb + adjective: the telling has been
translated into essere sinceri. Three lines below (4) I converted the first person narration
into third person narration, making a significant shift from direct speech to indirect
speech; I got rid of the direct speech of the biological mother, who became part of the
narration of the adoptive mother. I translated that child I had into quella sua bambina (“I
wanted her to think of her other mother/out there, thinking that child I had will be” became
“volevo pensasse che lì fuori la sua altra mamma / stava pensando a quella sua bambina
che avrà”).
Il viso della mamma è una ciliegia.
Mescola la zuppa di montone nel pentolone
cantando Ho dato al mio amore una ciliegia
era senza nocciolo.
Le arrivo al grembiule.
Salto sui suoi piedi e mi aggrappo alle sue gambe
come un enorme paio di pantaloni,
cammina per la cucina sollevandomi.
All’improvviso scivolo dai suoi piedi.
E la mamma cade sul pavimento.
Non smette di cantare la canzone
Ho dato al mio amore del pollo era senza osso.
Sono corsa alla porta accanto per chiedere aiuto.
Quando lo zio Alec ed io torniamo
La pelle della mamma è caramello appiccicato al pavimento
E le sue ossa sono sparpagliate come giocattoli.
Ora quando la gente dice “ah ma
non è come avere un figlio proprio vero”,
io dico certo che lo è, cos’altro è?
lei è la mia bambina, le ho raccontato le storie
ho pianto per le sue sconfitte, ho riso per le sue gioie,
lei è mia.
Ero sempre la prima a sentirla durante la notte
tutta questa questione sul legame ombelicale non ha senso
- l’uomo può permettersi il sonno pesante è semplice.
Sono rimasta in ascolto per sentirla parlare,
e quando l’ha fatto ho riconosciuto la mia voce nella sua
e ora alcuni suoi modi di fare mi fanno piegare dal ridere
In the first line of stanza ten there is a metaphor, which compares the adoptive mother’s
face to cherries, meaning that it is flushed. In Italian when someone has a flushed face,
he/she is compared to a tomato, but since this would not be a sweet and delicate image, I
maintained the original comparison and I translated mammy’s face is cherries into il viso
della mamma è una ciliegia. Two lines below (3) we find the word cherry again and this
is the reason why I chose not to find an equivalent Italian lullaby, but I translated the
English one. The recurrence of the word in the same stanza can not be a chance, since in
poetry nothing is nonsense and the author always knows what he/she wants to say
(Newmark 1988: 34). I gave my love a cherry / it had no stone became ho dato al mio
amore una ciliegia / era senza nocciolo.
The lullaby continues in the following stanza: I gave my love a chicken it had no bone
turned into ho dato al mio amore del pollo era senza osso.
The proper name Alec is the Scottish version of Alex; in the translation I did not translate
it or converted it to neutral language, since it is just a name of a person which does not
have any particular meaning.
In the twelfth stanza we find the first example of direct speech indicated by speech
marks: Now when people say ‘ah but / it’s not like having your own child though is it’.
In the translation I kept the direct speech, but instead of using the single quotation
marks, I made use of the double marks, since in Italian they are more commonly used to
report direct speech than in English: ora quando la gente dice “ah ma / non è come
avere un figlio propio vero.
La mia miglior amica ed io
non abbiamo Donny Osmond o David Cassidy
appesi alle pareti e nemmeno indossiamo i pullover
di Starsky e Hutch. In giro per casa sua accendiamo
il vecchio giradischi imitando Pearl Bailey
Stufo della vita che conduco, stufo del blues che produco
e Bessie Smith Sono persa senza il mio chef.
Poi ci esercitiamo con il ballo da sala ridacchiando,
tutti pensano che siamo del tutto fuori moda.
In the last stanza we find the names of four famous American people, who may not be
familiar with the Italian readership: Donny Osmond and David Cassidy are two actors
and singers who were famous in the ‘70s, Pearl Bailey was an actress and singer and
Bessie Smith was the most popular black jazz singer of the ‘20s and ‘30s. I did not put a
footnote to explain who they are, since it is clear from the context that the men are two
examples of celebrity among young people, while the women are two examples of oldfashion icons. The author wants to convey the idea that the daughter is different from her
peers and in order to understand it, explaining who these American people are is not
necessary. Starsky and Hutch are the characters of the homonymous American television
series, which has had a worldwide success and so the problem does not exist at all.
Capitolo 7: Black Bottom
Forse è il motivo per cui non mi piace
tutto questo parlare della sua pelle nera,
l’ho allevata come se fosse mia
come avrei fatto con qualunque altro bambino
il colore importa agli svitati;
ma lei dice mia figlia dice
che a lei importa
Credo ci sarebbero state cose
che non avrei capito con nessun bambino,
sapevamo che era di colore.
Prima ci avevano detto che non avevano bambini
e io azzardai che non importava di che colore fosse
e loro dissero oh beh siete sicuri
se è così abbiamo un neonato per voi –
pensare che non era nemmeno stata considerata una bambina,
la mia bambina, la mia bambina
Chapter 7
The second chapter of Part two (chapter 7) is entitled Black Bottom and I did not translate
it, since it refers to a popular dance of the 1920s (Jazz Age), which is known with the
same name everywhere. In this chapter we find the voices of all characters. The birth
mother recalls her lover, Olubayo, and describes their passionate love with nostalgia,
saying that she looked for him in her daughter. The daughter tells of some episodes of
racialism she suffered at school not only at the hands of her mates, but also of her teacher:
children call her Sambo or Dirty Darkie and the teacher compares her to coal and makes
fun of her in front of the whole class. As a consequence, during primary school, she starts
to feel different and suffers. The girl dedicates many lines to Angela Davis, the only
woman she has seen who looks like her and who has become her heroine: on her bedroom
wall there is a big poster of her and she wears a badge which says Free Angela Davis.
The adoptive mother reflects upon the ignorance of people who care about colour and
expresses her difficulties in trying to comfort her daughter.
In the first line (“Maybe that’s why I don’t like) I made a shift, changing the word class
from conjunction to noun; instead of translating why into perchè I used the word motivo
(reason): forse è il motivo per cui non mi piace. With the following line (“all this talk
about her being black”) we understand that the colour of the daughter will be a factor,
which will contribute to her reflections on her identity and which will influence her
relationship with people and more generally her life.
In the second stanza (line 6) we find an example of direct speech, which does not have
speech marks but which is indicated by the use of italics (“and they said oh well are you
sure / in that case we have a baby for you-“). Since the English pronoun you can refer
both to the second person singular and to the second person plural, I had to interpret it
and I chose to give it the plural acceptation, as if the social workers are not answering the
mother, but are speaking to both parent. I rendered the two lines with “e loro dissero oh
beh siete sicuri / se è così abbiamo un neonato per voi-“.
Dal cancello della scuola inseguo il suo Sambo Sambo4 fino in fondo.
Afferro la giacca a vento - Come mi hai chiamato? Dillo di nuovo.
Sam-bo. Pronuncia la parola come una palla che rimbalza
ma i suoi occhi si muovono veloci come una pallina da ping-pong.
Lo spingo contro il muro,
dillo un’altra volta piccola merda. Sambo, sambo, ora sta piangendo
Gli do una ginocchiata sulle palle. Cos’è che hai detto?
Il mio pugno è d’acciaio; lo colpisco e ricolpisco allo stomaco.
Scusa non ti ho sentito? Le sue lacrime gocciolano come cera.
Niente emette a fatica non ho detto niente.
Lo lascio andare. È un ratto che corre. Si volta
e grida Sporca Negra lo seguo di nuovo.
Dei capelli biondi nella mia mano. Ma insomma!
Questa maestra di quinta elementare ci ferma.
Nomi? Domani vi porterò dal preside.
Ma maestra. Risparmialo per il Signor Thompson dice
Sambo è un termine che veniva utilizzato in età coloniale per indicare individui con origini miste, africane e amerindie, o
persone nate da uno schiavo nero e un bianco. Oggigiorno è considerato un termine dispregiativo e dunque offensivo.
At the beginning of the third stanza we find the word Sambo, a racist term for a person
with African heritage or mixed with Native American heritage, that came into the English
language in colonial times. I opted to put a footnote where I explained the meaning of the
epithet and its connotation, since the offensive term is unknown to Italian speakers. In the
second line (“A fistful of anorak”) I replaced the noun fistful with the verb afferrare (to
snatch), getting the translation afferro la giacca a vento; I preferred to express the action
through a verb rather than through a noun. In lines three and four there are two similes,
which concern the boy that offended the daughter: the first one compares his way of
pronouncing the word sambo to a bouncing ball, while the second one makes a
comparison between the movement of his eyes and a ping-pong ball. He is shameless and
insolent, but at the same time he is alert because he knows that he is irritating her and she
will revenge. In the original text the author refers to the game of ping-pong without
mentioning the ball, while in my translation I made explicit the reference to it: Sam-bo.
He plays the word like a bouncing ball/ but his eyes move fast as ping pong became Sambo. Pronuncia la parola come una palla che rimbalza / ma I suoi occhi si muovono veloci
come una pallina da ping pong. In the last line (6) we find an example of foul language:
the girl calls the boy wee shite. The presence of swearwords underlines once more the
informal register used in the text. Sometimes translating swearwords from one language
to another can be difficult, since literal correspondence does not always exist, but in this
case, like in the following one, the equivalence is obvious. Shite corresponds to the Italian
word merda, so I translated say that again you wee shite into dillo un’altra volta piccola
At the beginning of the fourth stanza the girl used the colloquial term balls instead of the
formal term testicles; also in Italian we use the same expression and so I literally
translated I knee him in the balls into gli do una ginocchiata sulle palle.
A few lines below (8) we find a cultural reference, which concerns the Scottish scholastic
system. In Scotland primary school lasts seven years and children attend it until they are
eleven years old; the last year (7) of primary school in Scotland corresponds to the last
year (5) of elementary school in Italy. In the text the daughter mentions primary seven
year and I translated it with its cultural correspondent: questa maestra di quinta
elementare ci ferma (“This teacher from primary seven stops us”).
Il viso della mia maestra abbozza un sorrisetto
Le sue lunghe unghie tamburellano sulla nota bene bene
vedo che ieri hai litigato, di nuovo.
Fra pochi anni diventerai una giovane delinquente.
Sai cosa significa? Cerca nel dizionario.
Fa lo spelling di ogni lettera compiacendosi lentamente.
Leggilo alla classe.
Criminale. Vandalo. Teppista. Alza la voce. Hai perso la lingua?
Ad essere onesti non ci penso quasi mai
tranne quando accade qualcosa, sapete
stupide chiacchere sui negri. Razzismo.
Madri che mi suonano il campanello con i loro bambini
in lacrime Glielo dica. Glielo dica. Glielo dica.
-No. Lei dica alla sua bimba di smettere di chiamare
con nomignoli la mia piccola e io dirò alla mia piccola
di smettere di importunare la sua bimba.
Stiamo facendo le prove per lo spettacolo scolastico
sto cercando di ballare il Cha Cha e il Black Bottom
ma non riesco a fare i passi giusti
il mio piede destro a sinistra e il mio piede sinistro a destra
la mia insegnante grida dal fondo
della classe Dai, facci vedere
In the fifth stanza the direct speech and the narration alternate and speech marks are not
used to distinguish the first from the second. In the line her long nails scratch the note
well well / I see you were fighting yesterday, again, the direct speech begins all of a
sudden, it seems part of the narration, since it is not separated from it by a full stop or
capital letter. My translation is faithful to the original text, since the unclear structure is
not accidental, but it is expression of the author’s will: le sue lunghe unghie tamburellano
sulla nota bene bene / vedo che ieri hai litigato, di nuovo. Translators usually tend to
explicit things, to make them more explicit than they are in the source text, risking
betraying it. “You can see this in the way translators tend to dislike ambiguities and
unclear structures, the way they use pronouns and connectors, the way things that were
implicit in the original often become more explicit in the translation, and so on.”
(Chesterman 2002: 30).
In the third line of the sixth stanza the adoptive mother addresses the reader: you know /
daft talk about darkies. Racialism. Since the personal pronoun you can refer to a second
person both singular and plural, I had to choose how to render it in the Italian version. I
imagined she would direct to the whole readership, so I opted to convey the pronoun a
plural connotation: sapete / stupide chiacchere sui neri. Razzismo.
A pair of lines below (5), I replaced the gerund crying (“Mothers ringing my bell with
their kids/crying.”) with the expression in lacrime (in tears), since the word tear belongs
to the same semantic field of the verb to cry.
In the seventh stanza the daughter tells of the school show she is practising for and she
mentions the Cha Cha and the Black Bottom. They are two different kinds of dance, which
are known worldwide with their original names, so I did not need to translate them or to
find their Italian equivalents.
Cosa sai fare pensavo
che la gente come te ce lo avesse nel sangue.
La mia pelle è calda come un carbone ardente
tipo quella volta in cui disse i negri sono come il carbone
di fronte all’intera classe – il mio sangue
cosa intende? Pensavo
che avrebbe smesso con tutto ciò dopo che l’ultima volta
mio papà le ha parlato al colloquio con i genitori
gli altri bambini sono tranquilli fino a quando lei non inizia;
i miei piedi vanno fuori tempo, il mio cuore inizia
a perdere battiti come quando la sera non riesco a dormire –
Cosa c’è nel mio sangue? La campanella suona, è ora.
A volte è difficile trovare le parole giuste
per dare conforto. Noi due sulla poltrona;
aspetta che le dica qualcosa, ‘ sono ignoranti
beviamoci del tè e mangiamoci un po’ di torta, dimenticali’.
In line four we find an ethnic slur, darkies, which is used by the teacher to insult the girl
on the basis of her skin colour; this word has a negative acceptation and can be rendered
with the Italian term negri, which causes deep offence among black people.
The word coal appears two times in similes within two lines: after the umpteenth offense,
the girl feels hot as if she was a burning coal, like that time when the teacher said that
black people are like coal in front of the class. The repetition is intentional, as in the
previous chapter, where the author mentioned the word cherry two times in the same
stanza. Thus, in the translation I did not resort to a synonym to render one of the two
occurrences, but I use the equivalent Italian term carbone: my skin is hot as burning coal
/ like that time she said Darkies are like coal turned into la mia pelle è calda come un
carbone ardente / tipo quella volta in cui disse i negri sono come il carbone (lines 3, 4).
In the third line of the ninth stanza (“the other kids are all right till she starts”) I understood
that the girl’s schoolmates do not make fun of her until the teacher begins with her racist
comments. The context defines the meaning of “all right kids” and I used the adjective
tranquilli (quiet) to convey the original image: gli altri bambini sono tranquilli fino a
quando lei non inizia.
Forse è proprio Bette Davis che voglio essere
la gemella buona o ancora meglio quella cattiva
o una tata che annega un neonato in una vasca.
Non sono sicura forse preferirei che Katherine
Hepburn mi scompigliasse i capelli rossi, con la sua
irascibilità. Dico alla mia insegnante Non è che potrei essere
Elizabeth Taylor, alcolizzata e grassa e lei
si limitò a ridere, ben poche possibilità.
Andai ad un’audizione per La strana voglia
11.10 di Jean. Non ottenni una parte
anche se recitavo da più a lungo
di Beverley Innes. È così. Davvero.
Olubayo aveva il colore della torba
quando passeggiavamo le teste si voltavano
come quelle dei cavalli, la gente restava impalata come alberi
i loro occhi fissi su di noi – mi faceva
avvampare, quello sguardo attraente; il sudore
della mia mano penetra fino alle sue ossa.
Infine, soli, ci siamo fusi
niente, niente avrebbe importato
Non l’ha mai vista. L’ho cercato in lei;
per un attimo è stato come se fosse stato lì
in quell’incubatrice a guardarmi attraverso lei.
Bette Davis, Katherine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor were three very famous actresses,
the first two were American, while the last one came from Britain. Since they played
important parts in well-known films, they are familiar also to the Italian readership; I did
not need to put any footnote to explain who they are and moreover knowing them is not
essential in order to understand the meaning of the stanza.
The prime of Miss Jean Brodie has a double translation in Italian: if we consider the novel
written by Muriel Spark the title is Gli anni fulgenti di Miss Brodie, if we talk about Jay
Presson Allen’s theatrical piece or Ronald Neame’s film we refer to it with La strana
voglia di Jean. Since the girl is speaking about an audition and says that she has been
acting longer than the girl who got the part, she is referring to theatre and I translated the
original title with La strana voglia di Jean.
In the translation of the lines my hand / would sweat down to his bone (stanza 12, lines
5,6) the subject became genitive case and the verb turned into subject: il sudore / della
mia mano penetra fino alle sue ossa. The author uses a metaphor to portray the intensity
of the love relationship between the biological mother and Olubayo, the man with which
she had the baby.
Sulla parete delle mia camera c’è un grande poster
di Angela Davis5 che è in prigione
proprio ora per non aver fatto nulla
tranne non volersi rassegnare.
Mia mamma dice che ha solo 26 anni
a me sembra molto vecchia
ma mia mamma dice che è giovane
prova ad immaginare, dice, di essere
nella Lista delle Dieci Persone Più Ricercate d’America a 26 anni!
14.10 Non ci riesco.
Angela Davies è l’unica persona di sesso femminile
che ho visto (tranne un’ infermiera in tv)
che mi assomiglia. Ha un cespuglio di capelli come il mio
che si allarga attorno alla testa invece che crescere in lunghezza.
14.15 Mia mamma dice che si chiama Afro.
Se potessi essere coraggiosa quanto lei da grande
sarei felice.
La scorsa notte le ho dato di nuovo il bacio della buonanotte
e mi sono chiesta se riuscisse a sentire i baci
14-20 in prigione fin dalla Scozia.
Angela Davies è un’attivista del movimento afroamericano statunitense. Il 7 agosto 1970 un gruppo di attivisti delle
Pantere Nere, un’organizzazione rivoluzionaria afroamericana, rapisce il giudice Harold Haley durante il processo contro tre
detenuti neri appartenenti alla medesima organizzazione. Il sequestrò finisce in tragedia, poiché nella fuga vengono tutti uccisi dai
colpi di pistola esplosi dai poliziotti. Alcune delle armi utilizzate nel sequestro sono intestate alla donna e viene così accusata di
rapimento, costrizione e omicidio. Dopo un breve periodo di latitanza viene catturata e rinchiusa in carcere con la condanna alla
camera a gas; al processo, tenutosi circa tre mesi dopo l’arresto, viene assolta con formula piena (Davis 1975).
The last two stanzas of the seventh chapter are devoted to Angela Davis. She is an
American political activist, who was a leader of the Communist Party in the 1960s and
who was involved in the Civil Rights Movement. The adoptive parents belong to the same
political group and embrace her cause: in 1970 she was unjustly charged of conspiracy in
the attack of a Californian courtroom, in which four people were killed and she was
arrested. Angela Davis became the daughter’s heroine because of her story and because
she is the first female person she has seen who looks like her: she is a black woman. Since
this personality is of great importance for the daughter, I considered essential to put a
footnote with some information about her life. I opted for this solution also because the
Italian readership may not be familiar with the story of the politician, being part of
American history.
Anche la sua pelle è la stessa come sapete.
Vedo che la mia pelle è di quel colore
ma il più delle volte lo dimentico,
così talvolta quando mi guardo allo specchio
14.25 mi viene un colpo
e mi dico Sei davvero così?
come se fossi qualcun altro. Mi chiedo se anche lei lo faccia.
Non credo che abbia ucciso qualcuno.
È solo un mucchio di false bugie.
Mio padre dice che è stata incastrata.
Gli ho chiesto se dovrà andare sulla sedia elettrica
come quei Roseberry di cui mi parlava.
No dice che il mondo è dalla sua parte.
Beh e com’è che è finita lì allora penso.
Ho paura che la manderanno alla sedia.
Ho paura che abbia paura della sedia.
15.10 Mio papà dice che si farà coraggio.
Mi ha portato a casa una spilla che ho indossato
E tutti i miei compagni dicono ‘Chi è? ’
In line twenty one the daughter addresses the reader (“Her skin is the same too you know”)
and, as in the previous case, I opted to give to the personal pronoun you the plural form,
as if she is speaking to the whole readership: anche la sua pelle è la stessa come saprete.
In the second line of the last stanza (“It is all a load of phoney lies”, stanza 5) the adjective
phoney is used to strengthen the concept of lie, since lies are inherently untrue; in my
translation I gave the term phoney the meaning of false: è solo un mucchio di false bugie.
In the following line (“Ma dad says it’s a set up”) I made a shift in word class, from noun
to verb, and I changed subject: instead of translating the noun set up with imbroglio, I
used its corresponding verb incastrare and therefore the subject turned from it into she
(“Mio padre dice che è stata incastrata”).
A few lines below (10) we find the idiomatic expression to put on a brave face, which
means acting confident in a difficult situation without showing other people your real
feelings. In my translation I rendered it with the Italian expression farsi coraggio: my dad
says she’ll be putting on a brave face became mio papà dice che si farà coraggio.
Parte tre: 1980-1990 Capitolo 8: Generazioni
Il sole si spense all’improvviso
quasi come se non ci fosse mai stato,
ora è difficile immaginare come scese
sui rami più alti, sui tetti di paglia, sui volti delle persone.
Tutto d’un tratto gli alberi persero le forze
e il prato percorse il vento
filo d’erba dopo filo d’erba, veloce come i pettegolezzi
Anni dopo, le voci si fanno ancora sentire
soprattutto nei sogni, non sono echi distanti
forti – un martello pneumatico- più profonde ancora.
Ho vissuto la vergogna, l’ho indossata con disinvoltura
come un vestito estivo, come dei sandali alla schiava.
Tutto tranne il bisbiglio più delicato:
ha perso un’ incredibile quantità di peso.
Part Three – Chapter 8
Part three describes the events that happened between 1980 and 1990. It consists of three
chapters and the first (Chapter 8) is entitled Generations (Generazioni). The voices belong
to the daughter and the biological mother, while the adoptive mother never appears, not
even indirectly, in the narration. The daughter is in her twenties and reflects on her origins
and identity; she would like to meet her birth mother, even only for one time, just to know
what she looks like, how she speaks, moves and to discover something about her relatives
and their lives. The young woman cannot understand why people give so much
importance to lineage, since she states that the only blood that matters is the one which
flows through the body. Many years later the biological mother is still stricken with
remorse and she believes that somewhere her daughter thinks of her often, but that she
has formed a wrong idea about who her real mother is.
In the third line of the first stanza (“hard to imagine now the way it fell”) I made a shift
of lexical category, as I changed the noun way into the Italian adverb come, which
corresponds to the English how: ora è difficile immaginare come scese.
Two lines below (5) we find the idiomatic expression to lose one’s nerves (“Suddenly the
trees lost their nerves”), which means to lose courage, to became timid or frightened.
Moreover, the idiom is used to create a personification since trees are not human and
cannot feel emotions; trees lose courage in the sense that they lose their strength because
the sun sets. In my translation I did not use an equivalent idiomatic expression, but I
maintained the personification, even if I expressed the original image in a more direct
way with ordinary language: tutto d’un tratto gli alberi persero le forze.
In the second stanza we find the word scandal (line 4), which can refer both to a shocking
event, as can be the birth of a black child from an unmarried white woman in the ‘60s,
and to the feeling of disgrace that derives from a such situation because of people’s
judgement. I chose to translate the term into vergogna (disgrace), since I preferred to
stress the feelings of the biological mother instead of the event in itself: ho vissuto la
vergogna, l’ho indossata con disinvoltura (“I lived the scandal, wore it casual”).
Ora il mio segreto è il silenzio di pesanti tende tirate.
Temo le calligrafie sconosciute
qualche volta sobbalzo quando squilla il telefono,
ormai ha diciannove anni ed è legalmente capace.
La notte sto distesa ad esercitarmi con le mie scuse
ma ‘scusa’ non sembra mai abbastanza
e nemmeno ‘ Non posso vederti, sì, ti manderò una fotografia’.
Sono stata estratta con il forcipe
mi ha lasciato una ferita sulla guancia sinistra
quattro mesi in incubatrice
lei venne fedele da Glasgow a Edimburgo
e mi fissava attraverso il vetro
lei non avrebbe scelto un altro bambino.
Non so quali malattie
derivino dalla mia discendenza;
quando il dentista e i dottori mi fanno
le solite vecchie domande sulla parentela
io dico loro: non ho naso o bocca o occhi
da confrontare, nessun ritratto sputato né certezze assolute,
il mio volto sì riflette sullo specchio.
In the second line of the third stanza (“I dread strange handwriting”) the adjective strange
does not mean unusual but unfamiliar. The birth mother is afraid of being contacted by
her daughter now that she is grown-up; she dreads receiving a phone call from an
unknown number or finding a letter written in unknown handwriting. I rendered strange
with sconosciuto: temo le calligrafie sonosciute.
The following stanza (4) is almost identical to the second stanza of the introductory page.
Instead of being part of the following line, here the conjunction but in itself forms a line,
which seems to divide the negative images from the positive ones. The daughter says that
she was pulled out with forceps and that she stayed inside a glass cot for four months, but
her adoptive mother went faithfully and hopefully to visit her and this gave her the
strength to survive.
In the last line of the fifth stanza we find the noun glass, which in this context can stand
for mirror; the daughter does not have any face to match with her own, but she is just
what she can see in the mirror watching herself. My face watches itself in the glass became
il mio volto si riflette sullo specchio.
I miei genitori non sono del mio stesso albero
e voi continuate a dargli importanza,
il sangue, il legame, le trasmissioni
Abbiamo tutti le nostre contraddizioni,
quelli con il naso della madre e gli occhi del padre
ce le hanno;
il sangue non pone ordine alla confusione,
eppure confesso la mia contraddizione
io voglio conoscere il mio sangue.
Io conosco il mio sangue.
È rubino rosso scuro e arriva
regolare e uso gli O.B.
Conosco il mio sangue quando mi taglio un dito.
So com’è il mio sangue.
È la fonte, il grembo, quel seme del cazzo.
Qui, sono molto lontana dall’immaginare –
come erano i loro visi
chi erano le mie nonne
com’erano i giorni
trascorsi in Scozia
il paese da cui vengo
la terra del mio sangue.
The line I have my parents who are not of the same tree (stanza 6, line 1) is composed by
a main clause and a relative clause; “a relative clause is a special kind of subordinate
clause whose primary function is as modifier to a noun or nominal” (Huddleston, Pullum
2005: 183). The relative clause here is introduced by the relative pronoun who, whose
interpretation is provided by its antecedent parents. “The relation between a pronoun and
is antecedent is called anaphora and it is a crucial property of relative clause that they
always contain an element – actually present or understood – that is anaphorically related
to an antecedent from which it derives its interpretation” (Huddleston, Pullum 2005: 183).
In the translation I made a shift, transforming the original relative clause and its main
clause into a simple sentence, since the literal translation is grammatically possible, but
it may not correspond to the natural usage of Italian (Newmark, 1988: 85): I miei genitori
non sono del mio stesso albero.
In the second line, the personal pronoun you may refer to the dentist and the doctors
mentioned in the previous stanza, so I did not give the pronoun the singular form, but I
translated it into voi. The personal pronoun can also be used to address those readers who
attach too much importance to parentage.
In the following stanza (7) we find the name of an English brand which produces feminine
hygiene products, among which tampons: Lillets. For the translation I found an equivalent
Italian brand, that is O.B.
In the first line of the eighth stanza (“It is the well, the womb, the fucking seed”) the
adjective fucking is an example of swear word, which in this context stands for damned.
The daughter is fed up with people who cares about blood relationships and pours out her
feelings and thoughts. The equivalent Italian words for fucking are fottuto and del cazzo;
in my version (è la fonte, il grembo, il fottuto seme) I chose to translate it into del cazzo,
since this equivalent seems to express at best the vulgarity of the expression used by the
daughter: she is really at the end of her tether with those kind of people and their ideas.
Mettiamola così:
so che mi pensa spesso
quando il giorno si fa vivo
o il buio si nasconde dietro le colline,
lei mi fa apparire o compaio e basta
quando mi entra in testa, le mie pantofole
sono silenziose e vago da un stanza all’altra.
Lei è distesa a letto; la sveglio
un pizzicotto sulla guancia è sufficiente,
poi la faccio pensare a me per ore.
La miglior cosa che riesco a rubare è il sonno.
Mi metto proprio sotto al piumone e sussurro
Non conoscerai mai davvero tua madre.
So chi pensa che io sia – si sbagliata.
È senza volto
Non ha un naso
È alta un metro e settantadue
La cosa che preferisce è l’hockey
Oggi ha ventisei anni
Era una cameriera
I miei capelli sono grigi
Non indossa un vestito particolare
La pelle attorno al mio collo è rugosa
11.10 Mi immagina così?
In the ninth stanza the lines when the light shows its face / or the dark skulls behind hills
(lines 3,4) represent two examples of personification; this figure of speech is very
frequent in literature – especially in poetry – and it is used to attribute human qualities or
abilities to inanimate elements (Cuddon 1982: 501). In the translation I turned the light
into the day, since in this context they can be considered synonyms, but I maintained the
original personification of both lines: quando il giorno si fa vivo / o il buio si nasconde
dietro le colline.
Two lines below (6) I translated when I take the notion into quando mi entra in testa.
When the biological mother starts to imagine that her daughter is thinking of her, she
cannot get this thought out of her head and cannot sleep: quando mi entra in testa, le mie
pantofole / sono silenziose e vago da una stanza all’altra (“When I take the notion, my
slippers / are silent and I walk through doors”).
The eleventh stanza is where the thoughts of the daughter and the biological mother
alternate at random. In the third line we find another example of Imperial units, which I
converted into International system units. Feet are transformed into metres and inches
into centimetres: she is five foot eight inches tall became è alta un metro e settantaquattro,
since 1 foot corresponds to 0.308 meters and 1 inch is equivalent to 2.54 centimetres.
Lines five, seven, nine and ten (birth mother’s voice) are identical to the final lines of the
introductory page, except for the question mark that follows the question does she
imagine me this way, which previously was lacking in punctuation.
Da poco disegno suoi ritratti
Eppure riesco a vedere
È alta e magra
le sue mani minute, Sì
11.15 I suoi capelli sono riccioli sciolti
un opale sul suo dito medio
Stendo le braccia per afferrarla
Si sente molto il suo accento di Glasgow?
Ma non ha importanza quanto veloce
11.20 Forse si sono trasferiti anni fa
La inseguo
È senza volto, non piange
mai. Non ha né occhi né
zigomi definiti
Una volta potrebbe bastare,
soltanto per ascoltare la sua voce
guardare il modo in cui muove le mani
quando parla.
In line twelve I made a shift of word class, transforming the noun smallness into an
adjective, since the corresponding Italian noun minutezza is very rarely used. I employed
the adjective minute (minute) to describe the biological mother’s hands, so the lines But
I can see the smallness/ of her hands became Eppure riesco a vedere/ le sue mani minute.
In the first line of the last stanza (12) I translated the adverb enough into the verb bastare
instead of using the corresponding Italian adjective sufficiente; in this way I made a shift
in word class and the line once would be enough became una volta potrebbe bastare.
In the following line (“just to listen to her voice”, line 2) the adverb just means merely;
the daughter would like to meet her mother and she says that one time could be enough,
since the only wish she has is to have the opportunity to meet her: soltanto per ascoltare
la sua voce.
Capitolo 9: La Telefonata
Ho il numero delle Highland di mia nonna
da quattro mesi nella mia agenda pronto all’uso.
Qualcosa questa mattina mi dà il coraggio
di chiudere la porta e comporre il numero.
La voce di mia nonna suona molto più giovane
‘Anni fa lavoravo con sua figlia
Elizabeth, ha il suo indirizzo attuale?’
Mi dispiace, dice. No, ma una delle mie figlie
ce lo avrà. Mi dà un altro numero delle Highland
augurandomi buona fortuna. Come hai detto che ti chiami?
Trenta minuti più tardi la sorella di mia madre
mi riempie di domande – Dove lavoravi?
Quanti anni fa? Quanti anni hai?
Quaranta mento. Per un attimo ho pensato..
Ma se hai quarant’ anni non puoi essere tu.
So che lo sa. Il gioco è finito.
Chapter 9
The second chapter of Part three (chapter 9) is entitled The Phone Call (La telefonata)
and consists of eleven couplets attributed to the daughter and a longer single stanza that
expresses the adoptive mother’s voice. The first part reproduces the phone conversations
between the daughter and the birth mother’s mother and sister: even if the daughter hides
her identity, the grandmother understands who is speaking and gives the daughter the
phone number of her aunt, who asks her many questions and finally leads her to reveal
herself. The woman does not give the daughter her mother’s address but she says that the
mother will contact her at the appropriate time. The adoptive mother is afraid of being
abandoned now that her daughter has got in touch with her biological mother and she
bursts into tears in a fit of depression.
In the first couplet the daughter states that she had her grandmother’s number for four
months in her agenda and that it is waiting to be used; this image is conveyed by the
number burning a hole in the daughter’s filofax. Usually the expression burn a hole is
combined with the word pocket in have something burning a hole in one’s pocket,
meaning that someone wants to spend his/her money as soon as possible when he/she has
any. I turned I have had my grandmother’s Highland number / for four months now
burning a hole in my filofax into Ho avuto il numero delle Highlands di mia nonna / da
quatto mesi nella mia agenda pronto all’uso.
In the second line of the fourth stanza (“Sorry, she says, No, but one of the girls / will
have it.”) I translated sorry into mi dispiace and not into scusa, since in this context it
does not express an excuse but regret; mi dispiace dice, no, ma una delle ragazze / ce lo
In the eighth stanza we find an example of Scottish slang, that is The game’s a bogey,
meaning that the game is up. I translated it with the corresponding Italian idiom Il gioco
è finito; the daughter hides her real identity from her mother’s sister, but the woman
understands who she is and so she can not pretend anymore, she has to come clear.
In realtà ne ho 26. Lo avevo immaginato tesoro.
Avevo immaginato che fossi tu. Anche mamma lo sapeva.
Mi aveva appena telefonato per dirmi che avresti chiamato.
Come stai? Com’è la tua vita?
Le darò io il tuo. Ti scriverà.
Sono sicura che capisci. È così. È così.
Ora lei se ne è andata. Ricevo chiamate con regolarità.
Non è che penso di rimetterci ma
ciò nonostante mi sono sorpresa;
devo smetterla di dire ‘riaggancia,
ne soffrirai’. Mi preoccupo
certo che lo faccio, ma sono io che soffro.
Questa sera ho pianto guardando quel dannato Adam
Carrington scoprire di non essere più un Carrington.
Stupida. Sto andando nel pallone.
In both lines of the ninth stanza we find the past simple of the verb think: I thought so
love. / I thought it was you. Mam knew too. In this context think stands for
imagine/suppose, so in the translation I used the Italian verb immaginare: lo avevo
immaginato tesoro. Avevo immaginato che fossi tu. Anche la mamma lo sapeva. I
maintained the repetition of the term instead of using two synonymic verbs, since as
Osimo (1998: 46) states, “Non importa se il purista si irrita per le ripetizioni di parole:
volute o non volute, erano nell’originale”.
In the following stanza (“She just rang to warn me you’d ring”, stanza 10) the adverb just
stands for a short time before; the mother’s sister tells the daughter that the grandmother
called a few minutes earlier to warn her about the call she would receive (“mi aveva
appena telefonato per dirmi che avresti chiamato”).
In the last stanza (12) there are various aspects to point out. In the second line (“It’s not
that I’m losing out”) the phrasal verb to lose out means to suffer a disadvantage. The
adoptive mother tries to convince herself that she is not scared of being replaced by the
biological mother, now that her daughter has discovered her origins: Non è che penso di
rimetterci ma. In the following line (“I’ve surprised myself just the same”, line 3) the
adverbial expression just the same stands for nevertheless, which corresponds to the
Italian adverbial phrase ciò nonostante: ciò nonostante mi sono sorpresa.
A few lines below (7) the adoptive mother mentions Adam Carrington, who is a fictional
character on the American TV series Dynasty; since the series was also well known in
Italy and the names of the characters were the same, I did not put a footnote to give
additional information. Furthermore, knowing the character of Adam Carrington is not
essential, since the only important detail is given by the mother in her outburst: questa
sera ho pianto guardando quel dannato Adam / Carrington scoprire di non essere più un
Carrington (“Tonight I cried watching bloody Adam / Carrington discover he’s not a
Carrington / any more”).
In the final line (9) we find the English idiomatic expression to get into a tizzy, which
means to get in a state of confusion: Daft. Getting myself into a tizzy. In Italian, a possible
idiom to use when someone gets in a confused condition and cannot think straight is
andare nel pallone (to freak out): Stupida. Sto andando nel pallone.
Capitolo 10: Il Sogno dell’Incontro
Se me lo immagino così fa meno male
Siamo entrambe timide
nonostante i nostri occhi non lo siano,
trapassano la pelle.
Non siamo come avevamo immaginato:
io sono più bassa, grassa, scura
Io sono più alta, più magra
e avevo sempre immaginato i suoi capelli castano scuro
non grigi. Vedo il mio mento nel suo
è tutto, ma non ci sono dubbi
dirà mia mamma, guardando la foto,
è la tua sosia lo è davvero
Non c’è sentimento in questo salotto,
un semplice tavolo in legno e qualche libro.
Non ci abbracciamo né ci stringiamo la mano
ma all’improvviso sorridiamo come un fuoco ardente
che poi si spegne.
Le sue mani giocano con la fede,
ho ricominciato a fumare.
Non ci facciamo grandi domande nemmeno dopo alla spiaggia.
Camminiamo lentamente, esitanti come granchi
No, così che hai fatto negli ultimi 26 anni.
Solo a cosa stai lavorando, cose del genere.
Chapter 10
The final chapter of the poetic sequence (chapter 10) is entitled The Meeting Dream (Il
Sogno dell’Incontro) and here we find the last thoughts of the three female characters.
The daughter tells of her dreams about her biological mother: they are both different from
what they imagined and there are no emotions during their meetings. She dreamt of the
woman so many times that now she has too many images of her mother. Every time the
woman appears different from the previous dream, so the daughter is not able to think of
her as if she was a real person. After the call with her aunt, every day that goes by the
daughter looks at the letterbox, hoping to receive a letter from her mother, which never
arrives. The birth mother throws the picture of her baby down an old well near her home;
it seems that she wants to cut ties with her past, which still bothers her after so many
years. The adoptive mother tries to reassure herself about her relationship with her
daughter, affirming that the reason which drove the girl to get in touch with her origins is
simple curiosity and that another close mother-daughter couple like theirs is impossible
to find, since they are inseparable.
In the eleventh line of the first stanza (“my mum will say, when she looks at the photo”)
I turned the explicit temporal clause introduced by the adverb when into an implicit
temporal clause using the gerund: dirà mia mamma, guardando la foto.
In the ninth line of the second stanza (“We walk slow, tentative as crabs”) we find a simile
that compares the way of walking of the daughter and the biological mother to the
movement of crabs on sand; they are insecure and their uncertainty reflects on their
movement. Since this is an original simile which represents well the frame of mind of the
two characters, I maintained it in the translation: camminiamo lentamente, esitanti come
Secoli dopo raccolgo un sasso
e la getto nel mare,
è così che te lo eri immaginato?
Non lo avevo mai immaginato.
Oh. Sento il tonfo smorzato.
Immaginare mi avrebbe fatto impazzire,
26 anni sono lunghi.
Dentro casa ancora una volta sorseggio del tè caldo
noto una foto in una cornice di legno.
L’aria è antica come il mare.
Fisso il suo mento fino a quando non mi costringe ad abbassare lo sguardo.
Le sue mani sono goffe come rocce.
I miei occhi sono pietre indifferenti.
Se me lo immagino così fa meno male
Un sogno eviscera l’altro come un pesce sezionato
niente è quello che era;
è troppe fantasie per essere di carne e ossa.
Non resta altro da dire.
Nessuna delle due accenna a rivedersi.
In the fourth stanza we find two rhetorical figures, a simile and a metaphor. In the fifth
line the daughter compares her mother’s hands to rocks through a simile (“Her hands are
awkward as rocks”): the woman is embarrassed and her mood can be felt in the way she
moves her hands. I translated the adjective awkward into goffe (clumsy), maintaining the
simile: le sue mani sono goffe come rocce.
In the following line (6) there is a metaphor, through which the daughter compares her
eyes to stones (“My eyes are stones washed over and over”): wash over is a phrasal verb
that can have a figurative sense, meaning to leave someone insensitive to something. In
the second stanza the daughter describes the meetings with her mother as lacking in
sentiment, so I imagined her watching the woman with emotionless eyes: I miei occhi
sono pietre indifferenti.
The sixth stanza opens with another figure of speech, a simile: one dream cuts another
open like a gutted fish. The daughter dreams of her biological mother very often, but each
time she appears different and so every dream annuls the image created by the previous
one. This simile gives a picture of the confusion the daughter has in her head and I
translated it faithfully: ogni sogno eviscera l’altro come un pesce sezionato.
Two lines below (3) we find the English idiom to be flesh and blood, meaning to bea
living human body; the daughter has too many images of her mother for her to be real.
The corresponding Italian idiomatic expression makes reference to flesh and bones
instead of flesh and blood: è troppe fantasie per essere di carne ed ossa (“she is too many
imaginings to be flesh and blood”).
Quando sono da sola guardo la tv
è sorprendente quanto spesso salti
fuori; che lui o lei non ne sapevano nulla
e ora chi è lui o lei davvero
amano chi pensavano di amare
eccetera. Avete capito la situazione.
Lei sapeva. Non appena possibile
ho iniziato a ripeterglielo di continuo, se mai vorrai,
non mi dispiacerò. Non stavo cercando di farmi forza
– se fosse toccato a me, lo avrei fatto.
Curiosità. È naturale. Origini.
Quel tipo di cose. Guardate me e lei
non ci sono madre e figlia che si assomigliano di più
Siamo sulla stessa lunghezza d’onda, ecco come siamo.
Io so subito se lei è triste.
E vice versa. Più intime del sangue.
Più profonde dell’oceano. Mia figlia ed io.
In the first line of the seventh stanza (“When I’m by myself watching the box”) the word
box is an example of an English colloquial term for television. In Italian there is not a
colloquial term for television, but the most common way to call it is TV, which is an
abbreviation used in many languages, including English: quando sono da sola guardo la
In lines four and five we find two questions which lack question marks: and now who is
he or she really / do they love who they thought they loved. As I wrote before, the lack of
punctuation is a typical feature of stream of consciousness, and this stanza represents a
clear example of “flow of inner experiences” (Cuddon 1982: 661). The adoptive mother
depicts her thoughts as they occur in her mind and I reported them as they are in the
original text: e ora chi è lui o lei davvero / amano chi pensavano di amare.
In the following line (6) the idiomatic expression to get the picture means having
understood the situation; the adoptive mother is describing what happens to people who
discover that they are adopted late in life and she asserts that the reader should have
understood the situation she is speaking about: et cetera. You’ve got the picture. The
equivalent Italian idiom is avere il quadro della situazione, but in the translation I
preferred to use a more direct language: eccetera. Avete capito la situazione.
In the last two lines (16,17) of the stanza we find two metaphors which describe the
relationship between the adoptive mother and the daughter: Closer than blood. / Thicker
than water. In the previous lines the mother states that they are very similar and that they
always understand each other in the twinkling of an eye. As far as the first line is
concerned I gave the meaning of intimate to the adjective close, translating into più intime
del sangue. The second metaphor is more difficult to interpret and I translated it, giving
my personal idea about its meaning. I compared the deepness of their relationship to the
depth of the ocean, transforming the hyperonym water into its hyponym ocean: più
profonde dell’oceano. The two metaphors recall the English idiomatic expression blood
is thicker than water, which means that family ties are always more important and strong
than any other kind of tie; I made reference to it for the interpretation and translation of
figurative devices.
Mi sono coperta per bene e sono uscita prima
Che gli uccelli iniziassero le loro ciance rituali
L’ho avvolta in carta da regalo viola
E l’ho gettata nel vecchio pozzo qui vicino.
Non ci fu alcun rumore, non è più
Utilizzato – anni – lei è stata nel mio cassetto
Ora è sbiadita, non è più una bambina
Ancora buio pesto. Non importava.
Conosco ogni curva. Non ho più il terrore.
Tornando a casa, la luce si infiltrava come acqua.
Sua sorella mi disse che mi avrebbe scritto una lettera.
Il mattino mi sveglio con gli uccelli
aspetto il rumore della cassetta delle lettere
seguito dal soffice tonfo delle parole sullo zerbino.
Sto distesa lì, il piumone attorno alle spalle
fantastico sul colore della carta
mi chiedo se sottolineerà Raccomandata 1
oppure se la sua ‘o’ sarà un ampio cerchio.
In the third line of the tenth stanza there is a simile, through which the biological mother
compares the way in which the light of the sun breaks the day to the movement of water
on the ground: Going home, the light spilled like water. Since water seeps into the ground,
I gave to the verb spill the meaning of infiltrate, translating the simile into tornando a
casa, la luce si infiltrava come acqua.
In the fourth line of the last stanza (“Then the soft thud of words on the matt”, stanza 11)
instead of translating the adverb then into the corresponding Italian adverb poi, I turned
it into the past participle of the verb to follow (in Italian seguire): seguito dal soffice tonfo
delle parole sullo zerbino. The daughter waits a letter from her biological mother and so
every day she hopes to hear the crash of the letterbox followed by the thud of the letter
on the doormat.
In the seventh line the daughter mentions the First Class Mail, which is a quick and
affordable way to send letters and lightweight packages across the United Kingdom
fastest system of delivery in Italy is called Raccomandata 1, so in the translation I used
the cultural equivalent: mi chiedo se sottolineerà Raccomndata 1 (“whether she’ll
underline First Class”). The following line makes reference to the previous one, since the
daughter wonders if the ‘i of First Class will have a large dot over it. In my translation
there is not any ‘i to refers to, as instead of First Class we have Raccomandata 1, so I had
to adapt the line and I changed the ‘i into a ‘o, maintaining the reference to the “large
circle”: oppure se la sua ‘o sarà ad ampio cerchio.
As Cuddon states in his book entitled A Dictionary of Literary Terms a metaphor is “a
figure of speech in which one thing is described in terms of another”. In the same text he
defines a simile as “a figure of speech in which one thing is linked to another, in such a
way as to clarify and enhance an image. It is an explicit comparison (as opposed to the
metaphor where the comparison is implicit) recognizable by the use of the words ‘like’
or ‘as” (Cuddon 1980: 391; 629). These two figurative devices are very common in verse
and in fact there are several examples in the poetic sequence The Adoption Papers.
Usually literary authors make use of figurative devices to catch the attention of the reader
and to create evocative images. As Newmark (1988) asserts metaphors have two
purposes, the first is referential while the second is pragmatic:
Its referential purpose is to describe a mental process or state, a concept, a person, an object, a
quality or an action more comprehensively and concisely than is possible in literal or physical
language; its pragmatic purpose, which is simultaneous, is to appeal to the senses, to interest, to
clarify ‘graphically’, to please, to delight, to surprise. The first purpose is cognitive, the second
aesthetic. In a good metaphor, the two purposes fuse like (and are parallel with) content and form;
(Newmark 1988: 104).
The aim of the translator is that of reproducing the effect of the original figure of speech,
which, as we mentioned above, derives from the combination of content and form. As a
result of this, both elements - message and stylistic element – need to be recreated in the
TL. In the approach to metaphors and similes, the translator suffers a double difficulty;
first of all, he/she has to understand the figurative meaning in the language in which the
metaphor appears, secondly he/she has to find out an equivalent meaning and a similar
function of the expression in the TL.
The representation of the metaphorical expression has to be as efficient as the original
one, but in order to achieve this result, some changes would necessarily be introduced in
the translation. This is the reason why Faini (2009:85) defines the metaphor as an
‘element at risk’.
According to a preliminary classification, there are two types of metaphors and similes:
lexicalized and original. The meaning of the first is relatively clearly fixed and this allows
it to be subjected to dictionary definitions, while those of the second kind are created by
the author, they are authentic and therefore unique.
Chesterman (2002: 66) summarizes the translating-strategies for metaphors and similes,
making a classification based on and adapted from Newmark’s work (1988). He pointed
out seven standard solutions:
Reproducing the same image
Using a different image
Using a different rhetorical device (i.e. a simile instead of a metaphor)
Using a different rhetorical device plus a paraphrase to give the sense (i.e. a simile
instead of a metaphor)
Using a paraphrase alone, with no rhetorical device
Deletion: omit the whole bit
Literal translation plus a gloss
The choice of the appropriate solution depends on several factors, for example on the kind
of metaphor/simile, on the nature of the text and on the global translation strategy adopted
by the translator.
The autobiographic nature of the poetic sequence has influenced the translation strategy
I adopted, defining the loyalty of the translated version to the original text. The metaphors
and similes found in The Adoption Papers are original and as such, in the majority of
cases, I translated them literally, since my aim was to preserve the writer’s personal
In the following tables are some examples of translation-solutions I opted for:
Table 1 Metaphors
And saw the ground move E vidi la terra muoversi e I did not sacrifice the
and swell / the promise of a sperare / in un raccolto
crop (Ch.4)
simplified it
My eyes are stones washed I miei occhi sono pietre I kept part of the original
over and over (Ch.10)
metaphor, comparing the
(pietre) and I gave the
phrasal verb to wash over
figurative sense instead of
literal meaning. Stones are
not covered by water but
/ Più intime del sangue. Più I maintained the figurative
water. profonde dell’oceano.
meaning of words I made
reference to the context
(family relationships) and
to the English idiomatic
expression blood is thicker
expression is Il sangue non
è acqua), which they recall.
Table 2 Similes
I want my waters to break / Voglio che mi si rompano I maintained the simile, but
like Noah’s flood (Ch.1)
le acque / come il diluvio I substituted the biblical
character with the most
common Italian expression
used to refer to the Flood
(“il diluvio universale”)
as I suoi occhi magnetici
whirlwind (Ch.1)
I transformed the simile
into a metaphor, avoiding
the explicit comparison;
charming, the biological
mother cannot stop looking
at them, so I compared
them to a magnet
Land moves like driven La terra si muove come una I kept the simile, making its
cattle (Ch.4)
mandria ordinata
sense more explicit. The
movement of the land seen
from a train is compared to
stockman: both movements
when driven, moves in an
orderly way, I expressed
ordinate (orderly)
She comes in swift / as Arriva dal nulla / come il I reproduced the same
wind in a storm (Ch.5)
vento in una bufera
using the
simile. The swift way in
mother arrives is compared
to the wind in a storm: they
both arrive unexpectedly
But suddenly I’m pounding Ma
mi I
the stairs / like thunder ritrovo a salire le scale / paraphrase alone, with no
con impeto
literal translation would be
ritrovo a salire le scale /
come un tuono
In most cases I used the strategy of reproducing the original figurative devices trying to
evoke in the TL readership the same response as the SL text does in its readers (Nida in
Al-Hashawi 2007). Almost all metaphors and similes can be considered original and this
is the main reason for trying to keep them as they appear in the starting text. Original
metaphors and similes express the writer’s personality and her creative writing as well as
her worldview. Moreover, the translation of the poetic sequence, and therefore of its
figures of speech, deserve loyalty for its autobiographic nature, since in her work the
poetess recounts her personal experience and her feelings.
In order to reproduce the original meaning of the metaphorical expressions, sometimes I
had to renounce to linguistic loyalty, since a mere linguistic transference from one
language to another is deemed to result in a bad product (Al-Hassnawi 2007).
In literature many writers show interest in dialect, producing different kinds of literary
works in the language of their origins. Several important names of both Italian and
English literature could be mentioned, for example on one hand Carlo Goldoni, Luigi
Pirandello and Andrea Zanzotto, and on the other William Barnes, Robert Burns and
Edwin Muir. Bonaffini (1997) affirms that there can be psychological motivations that
account for the choice to write in dialect, since through language the writer represents
his/her identity. He also observes that through dialect poets represent not only the places
and events of their memory, but also a conception of the world closer to their own
personal experience.
Replacing dialect in the SL with a dialect of the TL is an awkward task, especially because
the translation must reflect in some way the uniqueness and diversity of the original
In The Adoption Papers there are only a few Scottish dialectal forms; the author has used
them to foreground her cultural identity (Wallace 1998: 257) and to further underline the
colloquial register of the poetic sequence. The content of the work determines the kind of
language used by the three characters; they create empathy in the reader, not only telling
their personal experiences and feelings, but also conveying them with the use of a
colloquial and informal language. The use of some dialect expressions helps the writer to
lend realism to her piece of literature and it represents the research for a more intimate
expressive vehicle (Sabatini 1998: 21-23).
In the translation I did not make a geographical transposition, choosing a roughly
equivalent region in the TL and picking one of its dialects, but I preferred to replace nonstandard forms with standard forms of neutral language. Translating the Scottish
expressions into any of the Italian dialects would be nonsensical, since the poetic
sequence is set in Scotland both in the original and in the Italian version and the three
characters are Scottish.
Dealing with dialect translation, the translator has to make a choice between
neutralization and transposition: he/she has to choose which SL dialect words may be
replaced with TL neutral language, and which of them have to be rendered with a TL
dialect. The first strategy is adapted because of the widely agreed prospective of
untranslatability of specific linguistic and cultural contents of dialects, since
translatability may be possible only where non-standard SL expressions do not find
similar terms in TL non-standard varieties (Berezowski 1997: 28); specific SL
connotations are inaccessible to the readers of the TL text. Levý (1957: 127) states that
non-standard regional dialects bear too close connotations of a particular place to be
appropriate for a substitution. The solution is that of reducing the SL dialect markers,
making a neutral TL work. In this way the linguistic peculiarity of the original text is lost,
but the TL version is comprehensible to all its readers.
Those who support the substitution of SL dialect with similar dialect in TL translation
base their strategy on universal objective factors (geographical, social and cultural) that
are common to all countries (Catford 1965). For similar dialect they mean a dialect which
represents an equivalent region in the target culture (e.g. north or south) and the same
social and/or economic class. They believe that ignoring dialect is an easy solution but
that dismissing the choice of the author is not respectful of his/her work. At the same time
the technique of substitution may be considered disturbing since it may create wrong
connotation within the TL readers.
Newmark (1988: 194) has defined another point in the development of dialect translating
strategies: according to him, the translator should be completely at home in a dialect when
using it in a substitution of a SL dialect. The linguist identifies three main functions of
dialect in literature: to show a slang use of language; to stress social class contrasts; to
indicate local cultural features. These functions should be taken into consideration before
dealing with dialect translation, since only in this way is it possible to recreate the effects
of the original use of language.
In the table below I transcribed the Scottish terms, their standard English equivalents and
the Italian translation.
Table 3 Dialect terms
That there wasnie wan / was not one
Di non aver lasciato /
giveaway sign left (Ch.3)
alcuna traccia
And foolish pray she willnea will not
E stupidamente prego /
/ ask its origins (Ch.3)
che non me ne chiederà
Ma mammy bot me oot a bought, out
La mia mamma mi ha
shop (Ch.6)
comprata al negozio
I wiz the best (Ch.6)
Ero la migliore
After mammy telt me she told, was not
Dopo che la mamma mi
wisnae my real mammy
disse che non era la mia
vera mamma
Or mibbe disappear in the may be
dead / of night (Ch.6)
scomparisse nel cuore /
della notte
The dialectal words of the text are not idiomatic expressions or words with particular
meanings, and this is the reason why I followed the norm for translating dialect, which
tends to be that of adopting the “homogenizing convention” (Sternberg 1981).
Catford (1965: 76) was the first scholar to use the expression translation shifts, defining
them as “departures from formal correspondence in the process of going from the SL to
the TL”. Translation shifts are carried out to get the natural equivalent of the source text
message into the target text; as we construct the translation, the textual strategies alter the
various linguistic aspects of the original text. Shifts or transpositions can be obligatory
when there is no correspondence between the two language systems (grammar imposes
them) or they can be the result of the translator’s discretion.
Newmark (1988: 85) defines four main types of “obligatory” shift. The first type concerns
the change from singular to plural, e.g. from cutlery to posate, and the change in the
position of the adjective, e.g. the white house corresponds to la casa bianca. A second
type of transposition is needed when a SL grammatical structure does not exist in the TL,
e.g. the English gerund can be translated by verb-noun, by a subordinate clause or by an
infinitive. The third kind of shift may occur when literal translation is grammatically
possible but may not correspond to the natural usage of the target language, e.g. for SL
adjective, TL verb, for SL verb, TL noun or for SL complex sentence, TL simple sentence.
The last kind of strategy is the replacement of a virtual lexical gap by a grammatical
structure, e.g. the Italian expression sbarrare con una diga corresponds to the English
verb to dam.
Here we find some examples of shifts I had to adopt while translating.
Table 4 Transpositions
grey i miei capelli sono grigi
(introductory page)
From singular to plural (1st
I’ll suffocate her with a La
feather pillow (Ch.2)
un Change in the position of
cuscino di piuma
the adjective (1st type)
bury her under a weeping la seppellirò sotto ad un Change in the position of
willow (Ch.2)
telling the world
salice piangente
the adjective (1st type)
your svelare al mondo il tuo English gerund translated
secret failure (introductory intimo fallimento
by an infinitive (2nd type)
he is a rat running (Ch.7)
è un ratto che corre
English gerund translated
by a relative clause (2nd
I have my parents who are i miei genitori non sono del SL complex sentence TL
not of the same tree (Ch.8)
mio stesso albero
simple sentence (3rd type)
once would be enough una volta potrebbe bastare
SL adjective TL verb (3rd
the tearing searing pain il dolore intenso che fa Lexical
we weren’t high enough Non
earners (Ch.3)
guadagnavamo Lexical gap replaced by a
verb(4th type)
Vinay and Darbelnet (1950) defined two different kind of translation, direct and oblique.
Direct or literal translation “is the direct transfer of a SL text into a grammatically and
idiomatically appropriate TL text in which the translator’s task is limited to observing the
adherence to the linguistic servitudes of the TL” (Venuti 1995: 86). When direct
translation is impossible, the translator has to resort to oblique translation; its techniques
are used when the elements of the SL cannot be directly translated without altering the
meaning and upsetting the grammatical and stylistic elements of the TL. As a result of
the divergence between language systems, transposition is one of the first steps towards
oblique translation, since it allows the translator to alter words without semantic change.
In the text I used all the four kinds of shift strategies defined by Newmark; in particular I
had to make many changes in the position of adjectives and in the translation of gerunds.
The changes I produced did not only concern shifts of word class (one word at a particular
linguistic level has an equivalent at a different level) but also various and more
considerable parts of the text, like sentences, clauses or group of words. My attempt was
to write a faithful and at the same time grammatically correct Italian translation.
Newmark (1988: 94) defines culture as “the way of life and its manifestation that are
peculiar to a community that uses a particular language as its means of expression”.
Culture is essential to understanding all the aspects of the literary translation; this means
that the translator should be familiar with the manifestations of the source culture in order
to translate them appropriately in the target culture.
In translation, different terms are used to refer to these manifestations of culture: Vlahov
and Florin (in Osimo 1998: 63) define them as realia, Newmark (1988: 94) speaks of
cultural words and Baker (1992: 21) of culture-specific items, Nord (1997: 34) refers to
culturemes and Katan (in Munday 2009: 79) to culture-bound terms. Culturally specific
aspects are words that are grounded in one culture and that most of the time do not have
a direct equivalent in the terms of another, causing cross-cultural translation problems.
They cover a wide range of semantic fields: from food, clothes, geography and ecology
to institutions, habits and traditions.
As far as cultural terms are concerned, Venuti (1995) identifies two main opposite
translation procedures: domestication and foreignization. Domestication (also called
naturalization or adaptation) is the technique by which the translator adopts the cultural
words to the target context and eliminates the original foreign element; foreignization
(also called exoticization or estrangement) is the opposite procedure, whereby such words
are kept, and thus introduced to the target readers, reminding them that they are dealing
with a translation.
According to Shleiermacher (1838):
Either the translator leaves the author in peace, as much as possible, and moves the reader towards
him; or he leaves the reader in peace, as much as possible, and moves the author towards him.
(in Venuti 1995: 19)
Another theory about the translation of cultural words can be found in Katan’s essay (in
Munday 2009: 80), who summarizes the strategies elaborated by Kwjeciński (2001) into
four groups. “Exoticising procedures” bring the foreign term into the target language
(foreignization), “rich explicatory procedures” consist in using explanatory brackets or in
adjectivizing the source text, “recognized exoticism” concerns well-known geographical
and personal names and titles that have accepted translations in different languages and
“assimilative procedures” find out equivalent target terms (domestication).
In the poetic sequence there are some culturally specific aspects linked with the British
context. In translating culture specific terms in Italian, I used different techniques
according to their nature and to their role in the text, but the main strategy I opted for is
that of replacing the items with terms that are likely to have a similar impact on the target
readership. Baker (1992: 20) suggests to give the readers a concept with which they can
identify something familiar and in my translation I followed this strategy. In this way I
supported the domestication method in place of the foreignization one.
Table 5 shows some examples of culture-bounds terms and I briefly explained how I
translated them for the Italian readers.
Table 5 Cultural specific terms
airing cupboard (Ch.3) In Italian houses there is not the airing cupboard, but usually
there is the boiler room (caldaia) where it is also possible to
dry clothes; I adapted the term, using the nearest local
equivalent caldaia.
tweed (Ch.5)
Even if tweed is a typical Scottish woollen fabric, it is well
known worldwide and so I maintained it in the translation.
The term has been brought into the target language.
digestive (Ch.5)
Here I opted for the removal of the cultural reference and I
replaced it with its superordinate biscuit (biscotto).
primary 7 (Ch.7)
The last year (7) of primary school in Scotland corresponds to
the last year (5) of elementary school in Italy. I used the local
equivalent quinta elementare.
Lillets (Ch.8)
Lillets is the name of an English brand which nowadays
produces all kinds of feminine hygiene products, but in the
70s its only product was the tampon without applicator. I
found an equivalent Italian brand which is specialized in the
production of that kind of product: O.b.
First Class (Ch.10)
First Class Mail is a quick way to send letters and lightweight
packages across the United Kingdom and I rendered it with
the corresponding Italian fastest system of delivery
Raccomandata 1.
In the text we find some units of measure of the so-called Imperial system, which I
converted to the corresponding units of the International System (IS). Even if the
readership of the poem is adult, it is improbable that everyone knows the precise
equivalences, and this is the reason why I preferred to transform the units. For example,
in chapter two I converted eight pounds into three and a half kilograms (tre chili e mezzo),
since 1 pound corresponds to 0.454 kg, while in chapter five I used kilometres instead of
miles, translating forty miles into sixty-five kilometres (sessantacinque chilometri), since
1 mile is equivalent to 1.609 kilometres.
As far as cities are concerned, I used the names with which they are known in Italy:
Glasgow remains unchanged in Italian, while Edinburgh’s accepted translation is
Edimburgo. In chapter four the name of a Scottish river appears, that is the Clyde; in the
translation I added the classifier river (fiume) to the hydronym, giving an additional
geographical information which states what the Clyde is.
In A Textbook of Translation Newmark (1988: 91) states that the additional information
a translator adds to his/her version is usually cultural, technical or linguistic. Furthermore,
the additions depend on the requirements of the target readership, as opposed to the
original one. In my translation I put five footnotes and all of them concerns additional
cultural information. In chapter three I made a note about the Daily Worker, explaining
that it was a newspaper founded by the Communist Party of Great Britain since this is the
significant information. In the same chapter I wrote a few words on Paul Robeson’s story
in order to explain why on his poster it states “Give him his passport”. I found it important
to give some pieces of information about the newspaper and Robeson, since they
contribute to understanding the political orientation of the character. In chapter four I
wrote a footnote on the Scottish song Ya banks and braes, where I explained who wrote
it, when and what it is about. In my version I maintained the original title even if the
Italian translators of Burns translated it with Le rive del Doon, since the great majority of
the readers would not know it. The last two footnotes belong to chapter seven; the first
illustrates the meaning and connotation of the racist term Sambo, which came into the
English language in colonial times. The second explains who Angela Davis is and why
she was imprisoned; Italian people may not be familiar with Davis’s life, being an
American politician.
Another side of cultural matters is represented by idioms or idiomatic expressions;
Cuddon (1982: 321) defines them as “a form of expression, construction or phrase
peculiar to a language and often possessing a meaning other than its grammatical or
logical one”. Idioms are frozen patterns of language which allow little or no variation in
form and which has to be taken as one unit to be understood. The main problem that a
translator may encounter while dealing with these parts of speech are related to their
interpretation, and to the difficulties involved in the research for an equivalent expression
in the target language (Baker 1992: 63). This explains why in machine translation the
translation of idioms is considered a problematic area.
Translating idiomatic expressions without any sort of adaptation, translators risk
producing grammatically correct statements, which improperly convey the meaning of
the original idiom; sometimes the target expression may result even incomprehensible. In
these cases linguistic inaccuracy allows cultural accuracy (Eco in Nergaard1995: 123).
In the poetic sequence we find several examples of English idioms and in the translation
I employed equivalent TL units which express the ST meaning as closely as possible. In
table 6 I reported some original idioms, their literal translation and the possible equivalent
units which are naturally present in the TL.
Table 6 Idiomatic expressions
Original idioms
Literal translation
This baby is going to my Questo
head (Ch.3)
Possible equivalent unit
sta Questo bambino mi sta
andando alla mia testa.
I’m on the home run (Ch.3) Sono fuoricampo
But just as we get to the last Ma
post (Ch.3)
dando alla testa
É fatta
quando Ma
arriviamo al silenzio
The game’s a bogey (Ch.9) Il gioco è uno spauracchio
Il gioco è finito
Getting myself into a tizzy Sto entrando in agitazione
Sto andando nel pallone
To be flash and blood Per essere carne e sangue
Per essere di carne ed ossa
The poetic sequence makes use of the modern technique of stream of consciousness, socalled because it tries to reproduce the continuous flow of human thought. The three
characters present themselves without the guiding presence of an author or narrator, but
“it seems that the reader can enter directly into their thoughts without any external point
of view” (Maglioni et al., 2010: 317). The direct interior monologue attempts to simulate
the workings of the consciousness in several ways and this influences the ordinary use of
language; for example in the text we can find incomplete sentences (ellipsis), sudden
changes of tense and sentences which often lack punctuation.
Ellipsis enables the writer to reduce the structure of clauses; it is a device of simplification
that can be defined as “the omission of elements which are recoverable from the linguistic
context or the situation” (Biber et al., 2002: 230). The meaning of a clause is condensed
into a smaller number of words and the addition of ellipted elements would not bring any
change in terms of meaning and grammatical structure.
In the poetic sequence we find a few examples of ellipsis. In the line left a gash down my
left cheeks (introductory page, stanza 2, line 2) the subject is omitted, but from the context
the reader understands that the verb left refers to the last word of the previous line forceps
(“I was pulled out with forceps”). In the translation (“mi ha lasciato una ferita sulla
guancia sinistra”) I made the reference to the instrument clear, since Italian verbs inflects
for person and number, but the clause remains devoid of subject. In the line my own body
a witness (chapter 2, stanza 7, line 1) the missing word is the third person singular of the
verb to be (is), which can easily be supplied by the context. In the translation I maintained
the ellipsis: il mio corpo un testimone. In the line sometimes jump when the phone rings
(chapter 8, stanza 3, line 3) there is another ellipsis which concerns the subject and the
missing word can be found in the preceding line I dread strange handwritings. In this
case the ellipses “is a means of avoiding unnecessary repetition” (Biber et al., 2003: 230).
In my version qualche volta sobbalzo quando squilla il telefono I omitted the subject,
keeping the ellipsis. In Italian the subject can be either explicit or implicit, since person,
number and gender are expressed by the verb and so the presence of the subject could be
redundant; this is the reason why the ellipsis of the subject is very frequent in Italian
written language.
Punctuation supplies the instructions for the interpretation of the text (Faini 2009: 66);
this is the reason why the translator should consider the function of the punctuation marks
in the source text and avoid changes in the translation. Newmark (1988: 163) asserts that
after the word, the second unit of meaning in poetry is the line and that the integrity of
both of them can be preserved with an accurate translation of metaphors and a
corresponding punctuation, since it reproduces the tone of the original text.
Poetic use of language differs from ordinary use of language and this non-ordinariness
concerns also punctuation. In our text, punctuation does not often follow standard rules,
nevertheless, in the translation I kept it as in the original, as it was not my intention to
distort the tone created by the writer. The clearest example of non-ordinary punctuation
is given by direct speech, since the author does not follow the various punctuation
conventions that are used to separate the quoted words from the rest of the text. Words
are enclosed in inverted commas just once in the whole poetic sequence (chapter 6, stanza
12, line 1 and 2: Now when people say ‘ah but / it’s not like having your own child though
is it’), while in the other cases they are part of the rest of the text or sometimes they are
identify by the use of the italics. Furthermore, the poetess almost never uses the comma
which is duly put after the verb of speaking, if the speech comes after it, or before it, if it
comes before.
Another consideration concerns the omission of the question mark at the end of a certain
number of questions even if they are direct. The author got rid of them especially in the
direct interior monologue, while the questions of the reported dialogues are almost always
complete. In my translation I respected the choice of the writer, omitting the punctuation
marks and maintaining the direct questions, except in one situation. The last line of the
introductory page does she imagine me this way expresses an uncertainty of the biological
mother, who states that her hair is grey and her skin wrinkling and tries to imagine if her
daughter could imagine her with those features. The literal translation mi immagina così
without the question mark can also express an affirmation, deviating the reader; I
preferred to convert a direct question into an indirect question using the adverb chissà,
which modifies the verb indicating lack of certainty.
Finally, the text is characterized by sudden changes of tense; when verbs are switched
from one tense to another within a sentence or paragraph without a valid reason we can
speak of tense shift (Cuddon 1982: 702). Generally, writers maintain one tense for the
main discourse and change it in order to help readers to understand the relationship among
various narrated events, but it can also happen that they use sudden or inconsistent tense
shifts for stylistic purposes. In the poetic sequence the tense shift is determined by the
technique of stream of consciousness; the three characters alternate the description of
memories to the expression of feelings and thoughts and this causes the random passage
from present to past and vice versa. For example, in the first chapter the biological mother
tells of her pregnancy using the simple past (I never thought it would be quicker / than
walking down the mainstreet; it only took a split second / not a minute or more), then she
uses the simple present to describe her feelings (Now these slow weeks on / I can’t stop
going over and over) and finally she goes back to simple past to speak about her lover (I
missed him, silly things /his sudden high laugh). In chapter three the adoptive mother is
waiting for the social worker to come and she describes what she did in order to make her
house a perfect home for the baby using the simple past (All the copies of the Daily
Worker / I shoved under the sofa / the dove of peace I took down from the loo), but then
she depicts her meeting with the woman shifting to present tense (She comes at 11.30
exactly. / I pour her coffee / from my Hungarian set). Same thing happens at the beginning
of chapter six, where she describes when she reveals to her daughter that she is adopted;
she uses the simple past (I could hear the upset in her voice), then all of a sudden the tense
shifts to present (I says I’m not your real mother) and again to past (all my planned speech
/ went out the window). The sudden shift from past to present in the middle of the
narration is a technique commonly used among modern writers; this way they make a
particular action or feeling more vivid; thus, this technique, reproducing the way the
human mind works, contributes to emphasise the realism of the poetic sequence.
In the translation I kept all the shifts of tense, since they are intentional and therefore
peculiar to the text and to the author’s style.
Before dealing with the translation of The Adoption Papers, I analysed the text under all
points of view, as this is the first step towards a satisfactory result. Careful reading
allowed me to understand the meaning of the long autobiographic poem, focusing on both
linguistic features and content.
The low redundancy level of the poem and the figurative use of language might determine
a wide range of interpretations and I tried to convey my own interpretation putting into
words the effect the original text had on myself. Because of the autobiographic nature of
the poem, I tried to remain as faithful as possible to its sense and spirit, attenuating the
distance between Kay and me by taking up her perspective and developing the necessary
empathy to appropriate her experience.
The double moral responsibility of the translator led me to consider also the readership’s
needs. In order to render the poem accessible to the new readers, not wanting to impose
a totally unknown system of values on them, in some cases I had to adapt or explain
culturally specific aspects, but always in the attempt to preserve as much of the original
as possible. I supported my work with an explanatory comment of my choices, since the
analysis of the decision-process is necessary to make understand how I reached this
specific translation. Finally, I developed a section where I analysed the main problematic
features I met throughout the text and I illustrated the solutions I opted for in order to
solve difficulties.
The poem is rich in metaphors and similes and their translation sometimes made me suffer
a double difficulty: first of all I had to understand the figurative meaning and secondly I
had to find out an equivalent meaning and a similar function of the expression in the TL.
In the majority of cases, the figures of speech of the poem are original (unique), so I
preferred to translate them literally, preserving the writer’s personal message; in this way
I tried to evoke in the TL reader the same response as the SL text does in its readership.
As far as dialect is concerned, in the poem there are a few Scottish dialectal forms used
by Kay to foreground her cultural identity and to further underline the colloquial register
of the poetic sequence, lending realism to it. In the translation I did not make a
geographical transposition, choosing a roughly TL equivalent region and picking one of
its dialects, but I opted for replacing non-standard forms with standard forms of neutral
language, since also in the Italian text, the setting is Scotland and characters are Scottish.
In The Adoption Papers there are some culturally specific aspects linked with the British
context; in translating these items the main strategy I used is that of replacing them with
familiar terms that are likely to have a similar impact on the new readers (domestication
Also idiomatic expressions represent an aspect of cultural matters. Since the idiom is
peculiar to a language and possesses a meaning other than its logical one, translating it
literally without any sort of adaptation may convey an improper meaning. In the
translation I employed equivalent TL units which express the SL meaning as closely as
possible, supporting cultural accuracy rather than linguistic preciseness.
I dedicated a chapter to translation theory, holding in due consideration the approaches to
translation of poetry and autobiographic works, two very personal genres which require
a high level of loyalty to the author.
I realized that a translation theory with standard rules does not exist, since the translator
has to consider different approaches according to the type of text he/she is dealing with.
Translation theory supplies principles and strategies useful to approach problems, but it
is the translator himself/herself that runs the game thanks to his/her competences and
I can affirm that the work I carried out let me reach my initial aims, that is understand
how to deal with an autobiographic poem and conclude the translation of a text that gives
the chance to reflect on the literary production of contemporary Britain, besides than on
Translation is not a merely mechanical linguistic process, or a simple formal exercise, but
it is an “existential experience” (Steiner 1978), which involves the translator completely.
Working on this text, I have widen and improved my language knowledge, both in
English and in Italian, and developed my translation skills, but I have also reflected on
my personal experience through a long journey of self-discovery.
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In The Adoption Papers sequence, the voices of the three speakers are distinguished
Daughter: Palatino typeface
Adoptive mother: Gill typeface
Natural mother: Bodoni typeface
I always wanted to give birth
do that incredible natural thing
that women do — I nearly broke down
when l heard we couldn’t,
and then my man said
well there’s always adoption
(we didn't have test tubes and the rest then)
even in the early sixties there was
something scandalous about adopting,
telling the world your secret failure
bringing up an alien child,
who knew what it would turn out to be
I was pulled out with forceps
left a gash down my left cheek
four months inside a glass cot
but she came faithful
from Glasgow to Edinburgh
and peered through the glass
I must have felt somebody willing me to survive;
she would not pick another baby
I still have the baby photograph
I keep it in my bottom drawer
She is twenty-six today
my hair is grey
The skin around my neck is wrinkling
does she imagine me this way
PART ONE: 1961-1962
Chapter 1: The Seed
I never thought it would be quicker
than walking down the mainstreet
I want to stand in front of the mirror
swollen bellied so swollen bellied
The time, the exact time
for that particular seed to be singled out
I want to lie on my back at night
I want to pee all the time
amongst all others
like choosing a dancing partner
I crave discomfort like some women
crave chocolate or earth or liver
Now these slow weeks on
I can`t stop going over and over
I can`t believe I’ve tried for five years
for something that could take five minutes
It only took a split second
not a minute or more.
l want the pain
the tearing searing pain
I want my waters to break
like Noah’s flood
I want to push and push
and scream and scream.
When I was sure I wrote a short note
six weeks later — a short letter
He was sorry; we should have known better
He couldn’t leave Nigeria.
I missed him, silly things
his sudden high laugh,
His eyes intense as whirlwind
the music he played me
Chapter 2: The Original Birth Certificate
I say to the man at the desk
I'd like my original birth certificate
Do you have any idea what your name was?
Close, close he laughs. Well what was it?
So slow as torture he discloses bit by bit
my mother’s name, my original name
the hospital I was born in, the time I came.
Outside Edinburgh is soaked in sunshine
I talk to myself walking past the castle. D
So, so, so, I was a midnight baby after all.
I am nineteen
my whole life is changing
On the first night
I see her shuttered eyes in my dreams
I cannot pretend she’s never been
my stitches pull and threaten to snap
my own body a witness
leaking blood to sheets, milk to shirts
On the second night
I’ll suffocate her with a feather pillow
Bury her under a weeping willow
Or take her far out to sea
and watch her tiny eight—pound body
sink to shells and reshape herself.
So much the better than her body
encased in glass like a museum piece
On the third night
I toss I did not go through these months
for you to die on me now
on the third night I lie
willing life into her
breathing air all the way down the corridor
to the glass cot
I push my nipples through
Chapter 3: The Waiting Lists
The first agency we went to
didn’t want us on their lists.
we didn’t live close enough to a church
nor were we church-goers
(though we kept quiet about being communists).
The second told us
we weren’t high enough earners.
The third liked us
but they had a five-year waiting list.
I spent six months trying not to look
at swings nor the front of supermarket trolleys,
not to think this kid I’ve wanted could be five.
The fourth agency was full up.
The fifth said yes but again no babies.
Just as we were going out the door
I said oh you know we don’t mind the colour.
Just like that, the waiting was over.
This morning a slim manilla envelope arrives
postmarked Edinburgh: one piece of paper
I have now been able to look up your microfiche
(as this is all the records kept nowadays).
From your mother's letters, the following information:
Your mother was nineteen when she had you.
You weighed eight pounds four ounces.
She liked hockey. She worked in Aberdeen
as a waitress. She was five foot eight inches.
I thought I’d hid everything
that there wasnie wan
giveaway sign left
I put Marx Engels Lenin (no Trotsky)
in the airing cupboard — she’ll no be
checking out the towels surely
All the copies of the Daily Worker
l shoved under the sofa
the dove of peace I took down from the loo
A poster of Paul Robeson
saying give him his passport
I took down from the kitchen
I left a bust of Burns
my detective stories
and the Complete Works of Shelley
She comes at 11.3O exactly.
l pour her coffee
from my new Hungarian set
And foolishly pray she willnae
ask its origins — honestly
this baby is going to my head.
She crosses her legs on the sofa
I fancy l hear the Daily Workers
rustle underneath her
Well she says, you have an interesting home
She sees my eyebrows rise.
It`s different she qualifies.
Hell and I`ve spent all morning
trying to look ordinary
— a lovely home for the baby.
She buttons her coat all smiles
I’m thinking
I’m on the home run
But just as we get to the last post
her eye catches at the same times as mine
a red ribbon with twenty world peace badges
Clear as a hammer and sickle
on the wall.
Oh, she says are you against nuclear weapons?
To Hell with this. Baby or no baby.
Yes I says. Yes yes yes.
I'd like this baby to live in a nuclear free world.
Oh. Her eyes light up.
l’m all for peace myself she says,
and sits down for another cup of coffee.
Chapter 4: Baby Lazarus
Land moves like driven cattle
My eyes snatch pieces of news
headlines strung out on a line:
The social worker phoned,
our baby is a girl but not healthy
she won`t pass the doctor’s test
until she`s well. The adoption papers
can`t be signed. I put the phone down.
I felt all hot. Don`t get overwrought.
What does she expect? I’m not a mother
until I’ve signed that piece of paper.
The rhythm of the train carries me
Over the frigid earth
The constant chug a comforter
A rocking cradle.
Maybe the words lie
across my forehead
headline in thin ink
We drove through to Edinburgh,
I was that excited the forty miles
seemed a lifetime. What do you think she’lI
look like? I don’t know my man says. I could tell
he was as nervous as me. On the way back his face
was one long smile even although
he didn’t get inside. Only me.
I wore a mask but she didn’t seem to mind
I told her any day now my darling any day.
Nobody would ever guess.
I had no other choice
Anyway it`s best for her,
My name signed on a dotted line.
Our baby has passed.
We can pick her up in two days.
Two days for Christ’s sake,
could they not have given us a bit more notice?
Land moves like driven cattle
I must stop it. Put it out my mind.
There is no use going over and over.
I’m glad she’s got a home to go to.
This sandwich is plastic.
I forgot to put sugar in the flask.
The man across the table keeps staring.
I should have brought another book —
all this character does is kiss and say sorry
go and come back,
we are all foolish with trust.
I used to like winter
the empty spaces, the fresh air.
When I got home
I went out into the garden —
the frost bit my old brown boots —
and dug a hole the size of my baby
12.5 and buried the clothes I’d bought anyway.
A week later I stood at my window
and saw the gro11nd move and swell
the promise of a crop,
that’s when she started crying.
12.10 I gave her a service then, sang
Ye banks and braes, planted
a bush of roses, read the Book of Job,
cursed myself digging a pit for my baby
sprinkling ash from the grate.
12.15 Late that same night
she came in by the window,
my baby Lazarus
and suckled at my breast
Chapter 5: The Tweed Hat Dream
Today I ring the counselling agency in Edinburgh.
Can you start to trace through marriage certificates?
It will take three weeks what do you expect from it.
If she wants to meet me that's fine if she doesn't
that is also fine
This morning the counselling woman rings
she’s found someone who might be her
she’s not sure; do I know my grandmother’s name?
Pity. She’ll be in touch, not sure when.
Her mother just turns up at the door
with a tweed hat on. I thinks
she doesn't suit tweed, she’s too young.
In all these months I’ve never put a face to her PI
that looks like my daughter — so picture me
when I see those lips. She looks a dead spit
except of course she’s white; lightning white.
She says in her soft Highland voice
con you let me see her? Con you?
What could I do? She comes in swift
as wind in a storm, rushes up the stairs
as if she knows the house already,
picks up my baby and strokes her cheeks endlessly
till I get tired and say, I’ll be downstairs.
I put the kettle on, maybe
hot tea will redden those white cheeks,
arrange a plate of biscuits which keep
sliding onto the floor.
She’s been up there helluva long.
I don’t know where the thought comes from
but suddenly I’m pounding the stairs
like thunder: Her tweed hat
is in the cot. That is all.
That night I turn it through till dawn
a few genes, blood, a birth.
All this bother, certificates, papers.
It is all so long ago. Does it matter?
Now I come from her,
the mother who stole my milk teeth
ate the digestive left for Santa
I PART TWO: 1967-1971
Chapter 6: The Telling Part
Ma mammy bot me oot a shop
Ma mammy says I was a luvly baby
Ma mammy picked me (I wiz the best)
your mammy had to take you (she’d no choice)
Ma mammy says she’s no really ma mammy
(just kid on)
It‘s a bit like a part you’ve rehearsed so well
you can’t play it on the opening night
She says my real mammy is away far away
Mammy why aren’t you and me the same colour
But I love my mammy whether she’s real or no
My heart started rat tat tat like a tin drum
all the words took off to another planet
But I love ma mammy whether she’s real or no
I could hear the upset in her voice
I says I’m not your real mother
though Christ knows why I said that,
If I’m not who is, but all my planned speech
went out the window
She took me when I’d nowhere to go
my mammy is the best mammy in the world OK.
After mammy telt me she wisnae my real mammy
I was scared to death she was gonnie melt
or something or mibbe disappear in the dead
of night and somebody would say she wis a fairy
godmother. So the next morning I felt her skin
to check it was flesh, but mibbe it was just
a good imitation, How could I tell if my mammy
was a dummy with a voice spoken by someone else?
So I searches the whole house for clues
but I never found nothing. Anyhow a day after
I got my guinea pig and forgot all about it.
I always believed in the telling anyhow.
You can’t keep something like that secret
l wanted her to think of her other mother
out there, thinking that child I had will be
seven today eight today all the way up to
god knows when. l told my daughter —
I bet your mother’s never missed your birthday.
how could she?
Mammy’s face is cherries.
She is stirring the big pot of mutton soup
I singing I gave my love a cherry
it had no stone.
I am up to her apron.
I am up onto her feet and grab her legs
like a huge pair of trousers,
she walks round the kitchen lifting me up.
Suddenly I fall off her feet.
And mammy falls to the floor.
She won’t stop the song
I gave my love a chicken it had no bone.
I run next door for help,
When me and Uncle Alec come back
Mammy's skin is toffee stuck to the floor.
And her bones are all scattered like toys.
Now when people say 'ah but
it's not like having your own child though is it',
I say of course it is, what else is it?
she's my child, l have told her stories
wept at her losses, laughed at her pleasures,
she is mine.
I was always the first to hear her in the night
all this umbilical knot business is nonsense
-the men can afford deeper sleeps that’s all.
I listened to hear her talk,
and when she did I heard my voice under hers
and now some of her mannerisms crack me up
Me and my best pal
don’t have Donny Osmond or David Cassidy
on our walls and we don't wear Starsky and Hutch
jumpers either. Round at her house we put on
the old record player and mime to Pearl Bailey
Tired of the life I lead, tired of the blues I breed
and Bessie Smith I can’t do without my kitchen man.
Then we practise ballroom dancing giggling,
everyone thinks we’re dead old—fashioned.
Chapter 7: Black Bottom
Maybe that’s why I don’t like
all this talk about her being black,
I brought her up as my own
as I would any other child
colour matters to the nutters;
but she says my daughter says
it matters to her
I suppose there would have been things
I couldn’t understand with any child,
we knew she was coloured.
They told us they had no babies at first
and I chanced it didn’t matter what colour it was
and they said oh well are you sure
in that case we have a baby for you —
to think she wasn't even thought of as a baby,
my baby, my baby
I chase his Sambo Sambo all the way from the school gate.
A fistful of anorak — What did you call me? Say that again.
Sam-bo. He plays the word like a bouncing ball
but his eyes move fast as ping pong.
I shove him up against the wall,
say that again you wee shite. Sambo, sambo, he’s crying now
I knee him in the balls. What was that?
My fist is steel; I punch and punch his gut.
Sorry I didn’t hear you? His tears drip like wax.
Nothing he heaves I didn't say nothing.
I let him go. He is a rat running. He turns
and shouts Dirty Darkie I chase him again.
Blonde hairs in my hand. Excuse me!
This teacher from primary 7 stops us.
Names? I'll report you to the headmaster tomorrow.
But Miss. Save it for Mr Thompson she says
My teacher's face cracks into a thin smile
Her long nails scratch the note well well
I see you were fighting yesterday, again.
In a few years time you’ll be a juvenile delinquent.
Do you know what that is? Look it up in the dictionary
She spells each letter with slow pleasure.
Read it out to the class.
Thug. Vandal. Hooligan. Speak up. Have you lost your tongue?
To be honest I hardly ever think about it
except if something happens, you know
daft talk about darkies. Racialism.
Mothers ringing my bell with their kids
crying You tell. You tell. You tell.
—No. You tell your little girl to stop calling
my little girl names and I'll tell my little girl
to stop giving your little girl a doing.
We’re practising for the school show
I’m trying to do the Cha Cha and the Black Bottom
but I can’t get the steps right
my right foot’s left and my left foot’s right
my teacher shouts from the bottom
of the class Come on, show
us what you can do I thought
you people had it in your blood.
My skin is hot as burning coal
like that time she said Darkies are like coal
in front of the whole class — my blood
what does she mean? I thought
she’d stopped all that after the last time
my dad talked to her on parents’ night
the other kids are all right till she starts;
my feet step out of time, my heart starts
to miss beats like when I can’t sleep at night —
What Is In My Blood? The bell rings, it is time.
Sometimes it is hard to know what to say
that will comfort. Us two in the armchair;
me holding her breath, 'they're ignorant
let’s have some tea and cake, forget them'.
Maybe it’s really Bette Davis I want
to be the good twin or even better the bad
one or a nanny who drowns a baby in a bath.
I'm not sure maybe I'd prefer Katharine
Hepburn tossing my red hair, having a hot
temper. I says to my teacher Can’t I be
Elizabeth Taylor, drunk and fat and she
just laughed, not much chance of that.
I went for an audition for The Prime
11.10 of Miss Jean Brodie. I didn’t get a part
even thought I've been acting longer
than Beverley Innes. So I have. Honest.
Olubayo was the colour of peat
when we walked out heads turned
like horses, folk stood like trees
their eyes fixed on us — it made me
burn, that hot glare; my hand
would sweat down to his bone.
Finally, alone, we’d melt
nothing, nothing would matter
He never saw her. I looked for him in her;
for a second it was as if he was there
in that glass cot looking back through her.
On my bedroom wall is a big poster
of Angela Davis who is in prison
right now for nothing at all
except she wouldn't put up with stuff.
My mum says she is only 26
which seems really old to me
but my mum says it is young
just imagine, she says, being on
America’s Ten Most Wanted People's List at 26!
14.10 I can’t.
Angela Davis is the only female person
I've seen (except for a nurse on TV)
who looks like me. She had big hair like mine
that grows out instead of down.
14.15 My mum says it’s called an Afro.
If I could be as brave as her when I get older
I’ll be OK.
Last night I kissed her goodnight again
and wondered if she could feel the kisses
14.20 in prison all the way from Scotland.
Her skin is the same too you know.
I can see my skin is that colour
but most of the time I forget,
so sometimes when I look in the mirror
14.25 I give myself a bit of a shock
and say to myself Do you really look like this?
as if I'm somebody else. I wonder if she does that.
I don't believe she killed anybody.
It is all a load of phoney lies.
My dad says it's a set up.
I asked him if she'll get the electric chair
like them Roseberries he was telling me about.
No he says the world is on her side.
Well how come she's in there then I thinks.
I worry she's going to get the chair.
I worry she's worrying about the chair.
15.10 My dad says she’ll be putting on a brave face,
He brought me a badge home which I wore
to school. It says FREE ANGELA DAVIS.
And all my pals says 'Who's she?'
PART THREE: 1980-1990
Chapter 8: Generations
The sun went out just like that
almost as if it had never been,
hard to imagine now the way it fell
on treetops, thatched roofs, people's faces.
Suddenly the trees lost their nerves
and the grass passed the wind on
blade to blade, fast as gossip
Years later, the voices still come close
especially in dreams, not distant echoes
loud — a pneumatic drill — deeper and deeper still.
I lived the scandal, wore it casual
as a summer's dress, Jesus sandals.
All but the softest whisper:
she is lost an awful lot of weight.
Now my secret is the hush of heavy curtains drawn.
I dread strange handwriting
sometimes jump when the phone rings,
she is all of nineteen and legally able.
At night I lie practising my lines
but 'sorry' never seems large enough
nor 'I can't see you, yes, I'll send a photograph.'
I was pulled out with forceps
left a gash down my left cheek
four months inside a glass cot
she came faithful from Glasgow to Edinburgh
and peered through the glass
she would not pick another baby.
I don't know what diseases
come down my line;
when dentist and doctors ask
the old blood questions about family runnings
I tell them: I have no nose or mouth or eyes
to match, no spitting image or dead cert,
my face watches itself in the glass.
I have my parents who are not of the same tree
and you keep trying to make it matter,
the blood, the tie, the passing down
We all have our contradictions,
the ones with the mother’s nose and father’s eyes
have them;
the blood does not bind confusion,
yet I confess to my contradiction
I want to know my blood.
I know my blood.
It is dark ruby red and comes
regular and I use Lillets.
I know my blood when I cut my finger.
I know what my blood looks like.
It is the well, the womb, the fucking seed.
Here, I am far enough away to wonder —
what were their faces like
who were my grandmothers
what were the days like
passed in Scotland
the land I come from
the soil in my blood.
Put it this way:
I know she thinks of me often
when the light shows its face
or the dark skulks behind hills,
she conjures me up or I just appear
when I take the notion, my slippers
are silent and I walk through doors.
She's lying in bed; I wake her up
a pinch on her cheek is enough,
then I make her think of me for hours.
The best thing I can steal is sleep.
I get right under the duvet and murmur
you'll never really know your mother.
I know who she thinks I am — she's made a blunder.
She is faceless
She has no nose
She is five foot eight inches tall
She likes hockey best
She is twenty-six today
She was a waitress
My hair is grey
She wears no particular dress
The skin around my neck is wrinkling
11.10 Does she imagine me this way?
Lately I make pictures of her
But I can see the smallness
She is tall and slim
of her hands, Yes
11.15 Her hair is loose curls
an opal stone on her middle finger
I reach out to catch her
Does she talk broad Glasgow?
But no matter how fast
11.20 Maybe they moved years ago
I run after
She is faceless, she never
weeps. She has neither eyes nor
fine boned cheeks
Once would be enough,
just to listen to her voice
watch the way she moves her hands
when she talks.
Chapter 9: The Phone Call
I have had my grandmothers Highland number
for four months now burning a hole in my filofax.
Something this morning gives me courage
to close the kitchen door and dial.
My grandmother's voice sounds much younger
'I used to work ages ago with your daughter
Elizabeth, do you have her present address?’
Sorry, she says, No, but one of the girls
will have it. She gives me another Highland number
wishing me luck. What did you say your name was?
Thirty minutes later my mother's sister
asks lots of questions — Where did you work?
How long ago was that? What age are you?
Forty I lie. For a minute I thought.
But if you're forty, you can't be.
I know she knows. The game's a bogey.
Actually I’m 26. I thought so love.
I thought it was you. Mam knew too.
She just rang to warn me you'd ring.
How are you? How's your life been?
I'll give her yours. She'll write.
I'm sure you understand. I do. I do.
Now She's gone. I get phone calls regularly
It's not that I think I'm losing out but
I've surprised myself just the same,
I've had to stop myself saying, 'drop
it,you'll get hurt'. I do worry
of course I do, but it's me that's hurt.
Tonight I cried watching bloody Adam
Carrington discover he’s not a Carrington
any more. Daft. Getting myself into a tizzy.
Chapter 10: The Meeting Dream
If I picture it like this it hurts less
We are both shy
though our eyes are not,
they pierce below skin.
We are not as we imagined:
I am smaller, fatter, darker
I am taller, thinner
and I'd always imagined her hair dark brown
not grey I can see my chin in hers
that is all, though no doubt
my mum will say when she looks at the photo,
she's your double she really is.
There is no sentiment in this living—room,
a plain wood table and a few books.
We don’t cuddle or even shake hands
though we smile sudden as a fire blazing
then die down,
Her hands play with her wedding—ring,
I've started smoking again.
We don't ask big questions even later by the shore.
We walk slow, tentative as crabs
No, so what have you been doing the past 26 years.
Just what are you working at, stuff like that.
Ages later I pick up a speckled stone
and hurl it into the sea,
is this how you imagined it to be?
I never imagined it.
Oh. I hear the muffled splash.
It would have driven me mad imagining,
26 years is a long time.
Inside once more I sip hot tea
notice one wood—framed photo.
The air is as old as the sea.
I stare at her chin till she makes me look down.
Her hands are awkward as rocks.
My eyes are stones washed over and over.
If I picture it like this it hurts less
One dream cuts another open like a gutted fish
nothing is what it was;
she is too many imaginings to be flesh and blood.
There is nothing left to say.
Neither of us mentions meeting again.
When I'm by myself watching the box
it's surprising how often it crops
up; that he or she didn’t know anything about it
and now who is he or she really
do they love who they thought they loved
et cetera. You've got the picture.
Mine knew. As soon as possible
I always told her, if you ever want to,
I won't mind. I wasn't trying to be big
about it - if that was me, that's how I’d be.
Curiosity. lt’s natural. Origins.
That kind of thing. See me and her
there is no mother and daughter more similar
We're on the wavelength so we are.
Right away I know if she's upset.
And vice versa. Closer than blood.
Thicker than water Me and my daughter.
I wrapped up well and went out before
The birds began their ritual blether
I wrapped her up in purple wrapping paper
And threw her down the old well near here.
There was no sound, its no longer
in use —years— she’s been in my drawer
Faded now, she's not a baby any more
Still pitch dark. It didn't matter.
I know every bend. I've no more terror.
Going home, the light spilled like water.
Her sister said she’d write me a letter.
In the morning I'm awake with the birds
waiting for the crash of the letter box
then the soft thud of words on the matt.
I lie there, duvet round my shoulders
fantasising the colour of her paper
whether she'll underline First Class
Or have a large circle over her 'i's.
Il seguente elaborato vuole essere una proposta di traduzione della poesia autobiografica
intitolata The Adoption Papers composta nel 1991 dalla scrittrice scozzese Jackie Kay.
Il mio interesse per le sue opere è nato durante il corso di Letterature Contemporanee in
Lingua Inglese, in occasione del quale ci è stata proposta la lettura di un altro testo della
scrittrice, The Lamplighter, che vede come protagoniste delle donne vittime della tratta
atlantica degli schiavi. La sensibilità con cui viene affrontato questo argomento molto
delicato mi ha colpito e ha suscitato in me grande curiosità nei confronti della scrittura di
Determinata a rifuggire una categorizzazione come scrittrice, Kay ha scritto opere di vario
genere, come collezioni di racconti e di poesie, opere per il teatro, la televisione e la radio,
romanzi e letteratura per bambini. Ciò che caratterizza la maggior parte dei suoi testi è la
capacità di partire da esperienze realmente vissute per far riflettere il lettore sulla propria
esistenza. Il suo obiettivo è quello di rendere le sue opere accessibili a tutti esplorando la
condizione umana a partire dal tema dell’identità.
L’esperienza personale ha determinato il soggetto di scrittura fin dall’inizio della sua
carriera letteraria. Kay è nata dalla breve storia d’amore tra uno studente nigeriano e una
infermiera scozzese, la quale è stata obbligata dalla famiglia a darla in adozione; a pochi
mesi dalla nascita una coppia scozzese è diventata la sua famiglia. Fin da bambina ha
dovuto lottare per scoprire la sua vera natura, riflettendo in particolar modo
sull’importanza dei legami di sangue. Nonostante il profondo legame con la famiglia
adottiva, crescendo ha iniziato a sentire il bisogno di conoscere i genitori biologici per
ricostruire una parte della sua storia. A complicare ulteriormente questo già complesso
background si aggiunge la sua omosessualità, fonte anch’essa di riflessione sulla propria
identità. I testi di Kay spesso rappresentano un viaggio alla scoperta di sé, nei quali
dipinge l’identità come un processo fluido, le cui sfaccettature coesistono senza oscurarsi
le une con le altre: lei si definisce una donna scozzese con radici africane, una madre
lesbica e una scrittrice che fa la docente universitaria.
Kay ha iniziato ad ottenere dei riconoscimenti dalla critica proprio con The Adoption
Papers, la sua prima collezione di poesie del 1991, grazie alla quale ha ricevuto il Scottish
Arts Council Book Award, il Saltire First Book of the Year Award e il Forward Prize. Il
nome della collezione è il medesimo della poesia principale, i cui versi autobiografici
raccontano la storia dell’adozione attraverso tre voci narrative, madre biologica, madre
adottiva e figlia, che si susseguono senza un ordine preciso.
La poesia è suddivisa in tre parti e ognuna di esse riflette momenti diversi dell’esperienza
adottiva, descrivendone non solo i principali eventi ma anche i sentimenti e le sensazioni
dei soggetti coinvolti. Da un lato leggiamo la storia di una donna che considera la sua
infertilità un fallimento personale e che nel momento in cui diventa madre è terrificata
dall’idea che la figlia possa preferirle la madre biologica, dall’altro lato conosciamo il
dolore di un’altra donna che viene costretta ad abbandonare la sua bambina e che vive
tutta la vita con il rimorso per averlo fatto. Nel mezzo troviamo la figlia, la cui vita è stata
determinata dalle loro scelte e che deve fare quotidianamente i conti con la propria
complicata identità.
Il testo è caratterizzato dal verso libero, l’autrice infatti non segue né uno schema di rime
(non ve ne è alcuna) né un metro preciso, il numero di sillabe infatti è casuale. La struttura
non è lineare e a volte appare poco chiara: la narrazione descrive gli eventi che avvengono
nell’arco di trent’anni, ma la fabula e l’intreccio non coincidono poiché spesso viene fatto
ricorso all’analessi e alla prolessi. Il flusso di coscienza riveste un ruolo fondamentale
all’interno del poema narrativo; questa tecnica permette di descrivere pensieri e
sentimenti senza filtri, conferendo realismo al testo. Il senso di realismo è impartito anche
dal tipo di linguaggio utilizzato, colloquiale ed informale. Questo non significa che la
scrittrice abbia fatto uso di un vocabolario banale, ma semplicemente che è ricorsa al
linguaggio più adatto per trasmettere riflessioni personali e descrivere la quotidianità. I
temi affrontati e il modo in cui vengono presentati permettono a Kay di creare una forte
empatia nei lettori, coinvolgendoli nella propria storia e condividendo con loro parte di
L’ammirazione per la scrittrice scozzese e il mio personale coinvolgimento nella sua
storia mi hanno spinta ad analizzare e tradurre questo testo emotivamente potente. Mi
sono così messa doppiamente alla prova dovendo affrontare un testo al contempo poetico
e autobiografico.
La traduzione della poesia è da sempre stata considerata più ardua rispetto alla traduzione
di altri generi letterari; questo perché nella poesia la parola ha più importanza che in
qualunque altro tipo di testo e inoltre viene fatto un uso non ordinario della lingua e della
grammatica. Spesso il poeta non organizza le informazioni in modo trasparente, ma
sembra evadere le regole intenzionalmente. Il basso livello di ridondanza della poesia e
l’uso insolito della lingua possono determinare un’ampia gamma di interpretazioni e ciò
potrebbe compromettere la fedeltà al messaggio originale. Nella traduzione ho cercato di
trasmettere la mia interpretazione della poesia, trasformando in parole l’effetto che il testo
originale aveva prodotto in me.
Lefevere (1975) crede che non esista una lista esaustiva di regole, ma definisce una serie
di competenze che il traduttore dovrebbe possedere per ottenere una traduzione
soddisfacente di una poesia. Innanzitutto dovrebbe avere la capacità di comprendere il
testo nella sua totalità, senza focalizzarsi su un unico aspetto; oltre alle competenza
linguistiche, il traduttore dovrebbe anche avere un buon bagaglio di conoscenze culturali,
letterarie e sociali della lingua di partenza. La seconda abilità riguarda la capacità di
comprendere il valore comunicativo del testo e di riproporlo il più fedelmente possibile.
Il traduttore dovrebbe anche essere in grado di identificare quegli elementi del testo che
necessitano di essere adattati o spiegati in base alle necessità dei nuovi lettori. Infine
troviamo l’abilità di selezionare, all’interno della propria tradizione letteraria, un tipo di
testo che rispecchi il più possibile quello del testo di partenza; le due opere devono
occupare la stessa posizione nelle rispettive letterature.
Spesso la traduzione poetica fallisce perché il traduttore si focalizza esclusivamente su
un aspetto del testo originale invece di dedicarsi alla trasmissione del suo significato
globale; l’obiettivo numero uno deve essere dunque quello di preservare il valore
comunicativo di partenza.
Per quanto riguarda invece le traduzione di opere autobiografiche, l’aspetto su cui vale la
pena soffermarsi è il rapporto tra narratore ed esperienza. Mentre il narratore originale ha
accesso diretto all’esperienza, poiché è la sua medesima, nella traduzione la connessione
tra narratore e fonte di scrittura è interrotta; il traduttore narra l’esperienza dell’autore e
dunque il suo accesso alle informazioni è indiretto. La distanza tra traduttore e autore
potrebbe essere attenuata dall’attuazione di un processo di identificazione del primo con
il secondo, basata sull’empatia. Vivere l’esperienza dell’autore come se fosse propria,
permette al traduttore di accedere in modo più diretto alle informazioni,
appropriandosene. Secondo alcuni teorici della traduzione, l’empatia deve essere un
prerequisito del traduttore; Newmark (1981) afferma che una traduzione di successo
probabilmente dipende più dall’empatia del traduttore verso l’autore che da una
particolare affinità con la lingua o la cultura di partenza.
L’autobiografismo è un ambito delicato della traduzione, poiché il suo scopo non è
l’intrattenimento, ma la rappresentazione di sé; la scrittura diviene un mezzo attraverso
cui l’autore, mettendosi a nudo di fronte al pubblico, prende consapevolezza di sé e riesce
così a definirsi in modo autentico.
Seguendo la classificazione dei metodi traduttivi elaborata da Newmark (1988), posso
dire che la traduzione di The Adoption Papers presenta delle caratteristiche che
appartengono a due tipi di approccio: semantico e comunicativo. L’approccio semantico
permette al traduttore di restare fedele al senso e allo spirito del testo di partenza; nelle
opere autobiografiche questo è importante in quanto il messaggio dell’autore deve restare
inalterato. Nella traduzione ho cercato di rispettare l’autorità di Kay, poiché la storia che
ho tradotto è la sua vicenda personale, rappresenta il suo passato e trasmette le sue
Il traduttore ha però una doppia responsabilità morale: se da un lato deve preservare il
senso originale, dall’altro deve tenere in considerazione le necessità del lettore.
L’approccio comunicativo non opera perciò sul livello linguistico dell’autore, ma sul
livello linguistico del lettore, nel tentativo di ottenere lo stesso effetto del testo originale.
Essendo un testo autobiografico, il mio scopo è stato quello di preservare più tratti
originali possibili, ma senza imporre al lettore un sistema di valori completamente
sconosciuto; a volte ho dovuto perciò adattare o spiegare qualche termine del testo.
Nella poesia ci sono degli aspetti culturo-specifici riguardanti il contesto Britannico; nel
tradurre queste voci la principale strategia da me adottata è stata quella di sostituirli, dove
necessario, con termini familiari che potessero avere lo stesso impatto sul nuovo lettore.
Così ad esempio, le unità di misura del sistema imperiale sono state convertite in unità di
misura del sistema internazionale, mentre il tessuto scozzese tweed, conosciuto in tutto il
mondo, è rimasto invariato.
Anche le espressioni idiomatiche rappresentano un aspetto della questione culturale.
Poiché gli idiomi sono peculiare ad una lingua e il loro significato è altro da quello
puramente logico o grammaticale, tradurli letteralmente senza alcun tipo di adattamento
porterebbe a deviarne il significato. Nella traduzione ho privilegiato la fedeltà culturale
piuttosto che l’accuratezza linguistica, impiegando unità linguistiche che esprimessero il
significato originale il più fedelmente possibile. Ad esempio, ho tradotto l’espressione
inglese to get oneself into a tizzy (Ch. 9) con la corrispondente espressione italiana andare
nel pallone.
Un’altra caratteristica del testo originale è la presenza di un elevato numero di metafore
e similitudini, le quali mi hanno speso messa in difficoltà; prima di tutto ho dovuto capire
il significato figurato e in secondo luogo ho dovuto trovare significati e funzioni
equivalenti dell’espressione nella lingua di arrivo. Nella maggio parte dei casi, le figure
retoriche incontrate sono originali, ossia nascono dall’autore stesso e dunque sono uniche
nel loro genere; per questo motivo ho preferito tradurle letteralmente, preservando il
messaggio personale della scrittrice.
Nella poesia inoltre sono presenti alcuni termini dialettali scozzesi utilizzati da Kay per
enfatizzare la propria identità culturale e per sottolineare il registro colloquiale del testo,
conferendogli realismo. Nella traduzione non ho optato per una trasposizione geografica,
considerando una regione grossomodo equivalente e scegliendo in modo casuale uno dei
suoi dialetti, ma ho preferito sostituire le forme dialettali con l’italiano standard.
Convertire il dialetto dell’originale in uno dei dialetti italiani non avrebbe avuto seno
poiché anche il testo tradotto è ambientata in Scozia e i suoi protagonisti sono scozzesi.
Prima di procedere con la traduzione ho letto il testo accuratamente diverse volte,
individuandone il significato generale, analizzandone il registro linguistico e
identificandone i tratti distintivi e le principali difficoltà. Dopo una prima stesura, ho
ripreso in mano il testo e, strofa dopo strofa, ho cercato di migliorare i versi sia sul piano
del contenuto che su quello della forma.
La lettura del romanzo autobiografico di Kay, Red Dust Road (2010), nel quale la
scrittrice racconta l’incontro con i genitori biologici e il rapporto che si viene ad instaurare
tra loro, è stato molto utile, poiché alcuni passaggi della poesia sono raccontati in modo
molto più dettagliato nell’opera successiva.
La revisione finale della traduzione richiede obiettività e per cercare di ottenere un buon
livello di distacco tra me e il mio prodotto ho utilizzato le tecniche descritte da Osimo
(1998): lettura del testo a video, lettura del testo stampato su carta, lettura del testo
stampato ad alta voce in solitudine e ad un'altra persona e infine ascolto del testo letto ad
alta voce da un’altra persona. Infine ho chiesto a due madrelingua italiani di leggere la
traduzione e i loro feedback sull’uso naturale dell’Italiano mi hanno permesso di fare gli
ultimi accorgimenti e d concludere così il processo traduttivo.
La mia traduzione è accompagnata da una commento poiché lo ritengo fondamentale per
spiegare le mie scelte al fine di rendere comprensibile come ho raggiunto il prodotto
Ho realizzato che una teoria della traduzione con regole standard non esiste, poiché il
traduttore deve considerare approcci diversi a seconda del tipo di testo su cui si trova a
lavorare. La teoria traduttiva fornisce principi e strategie utili per affrontare i problemi,
ma è il traduttore che conduce il gioco grazie alle sue competenze e alla sua esperienza.
Questa esperienza come traduttrice mi ha dato la possibilità di ampliare e migliorare le
mie conoscenze linguistiche, sia dell’inglese che dell’italiano, così come ha permesso di
sviluppare le mie competenze traduttive. Inoltre le riflessioni di Kay sull’identità e sui
legami familiari mi hanno dato l’opportunità di meditare sulla mia esperienza personale
di esplorare zone del mio io che altrimenti – forse non avrei mai conosciuto (Caproni in
Buffoni 2004: 33).
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