You probably haven’t heard about Mattia, I didn’t know who he was until he contacted me to ask if he could use my book Echoes from the Lost Ones for his thesis. Here is the initial email:
Hello Nikki !
First of all, congratulations on your work! I’ve recently read the Song of Forgetfulness series and I enjoyed it very much. I’m a university student currently writing my bachelor’s thesis. I chose Echoes from the Lost Ones as subject because of its particular language. I initially wanted to translate a chapter or two into Italian, but then my supervisor suggested that a linguistic analysis would have been more interesting.
The general idea is that of choosing a few linguistic phenomena, counting the number of occurrences throughout the novel, analysing the syntactic context and then suggest a possible translation.
So I would like to ask you for your blessing on this project and if maybe you could answer a couple of questions if you have time. Please find attached a picture of my cat
How could I refuse, especially when I saw his gorgeous cat! I am a hopeless cat fan, by the way, so expect more photos of felines throughout this post. Oh look! There’s one!
This is Boris, my feral cat.
Mattia was featured in my post The Secrets to Translating Books – http://bit.ly/1SKf6Hn and I thought it might be a nice change to spotlight someone other than an author on my blog. Translators, or in Mattia’s case, potential translators, are a vital part of publishing and I don’t think they get enough credit for the hard work they do. Some are better than others. I believe Mattia could be one of the best, simply because of his enthusiasm and attention to details.
So, without further ado, let me officially introduce you to Mattia D’Agostino!!!
Mattia with his cat Aries
Mattia’s kitten Bruttino – which apparently means ugly. In an affectionate way
Mattia, tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m 24 years old, I live in Milan and I recently received my bachelor’s degree in Cultural Mediation from the Università degli Studi di Milano. I am very much a cat person. My girlfriend and I, we have in all, four cats, of which three were rescued.
I like drawing and films, and drawing film characters from the films I liked. My passion for foreign languages started around the age of 12, when the English teacher let the class pick a song to translate. The fact that after translating it I could understand the lyrics just blew my mind. Until that moment, I used to only care for the tune. Of course, I knew that the words meant something, but they didn’t register into my brain, as their meaning was unintelligible for me. From then my interest in all things English sparked.
However, by the time I was 18 I had not been once to any English-speaking country. It was when I went on a two-week field trip to Bristol that I fell in love with Britain. After that, I’ve only been back to Britain once. I really look forward to coming back, one day or another
Why did you decide to train as a translator?
Actually, I studied something called Cultural Mediation. Translation is just one side of it. Anyway, around the age of 14 I realised I was better than my classmates at learning English, so I decided to change schools and I went to a place where they taught you three foreign languages instead of just one. I had to repeat the year, but it was worth it if it meant doing what I liked. That was the point where I sort of erased many possible careers from my mind (I’ll never be a mathematician for instance). I would have loved to study anything in an English university, but the cost was far too prohibitive. So I chose to study Cultural Mediation because it gave me more options career-wise as opposed to just translation.
What is the most difficult book you have tried to translate?
Well, Echoes is actually the only book I tried to really, methodically translate. Aside from that, I like in my free time to read passages in the original language, translate them in my mind and compare them to the actual translation. Keeping that in mind, I’d have to say Melville’s Moby Dick. A couple of years ago I started reading it and I tried to translate lines as I read, but it was so difficult that it took all the fun away. So I settled for just reading it once, and then try the translation game later, but I gave that up too. So far Moby Dick is the only book that I gave up reading because of how difficult it was. You could say that it’s my literary white whale. I’ll have to make up for that as soon as possible.
Bruttino’s official name is Brugola.
Do you have a favourite book written in English?
I do. My favourite book is Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting.
I had seen the film before reading the book, but I decided to read it anyway because I was interested in Welsh’s transposition of the Scots accent. And I have to admit, he really does wonders with language. Not only the Scottish accent is extremely well rendered, in general, every character has his/her own specific idiolect, which makes them that much real. I actually laughed out loud at certain bits, while I found others to be very dark. There’s also a fair bit of wisdom in it.
Do you have a favourite author that you would like to translate?
I’m part of the generation that started reading because of Harry Potter. When the fifth book came out I was around eleven or twelve and I remember having the Harry Potter book hidden inside a textbook so as not to get caught reading it at school. I read it in five days. To this day, I still have a particular connection with that series, as I’m sure many other people my age do.
The Italian translations, while not being bad, are not exceptional either. The whole series has recently been retranslated, but according to reviews, not much has been fixed. Aside from the peculiar names, what the Italian translation lacks is the linguistic characterisation of the characters. The Italian Hagrid speaks as an average Italian adult would.
Also, I feel like the Harry Potter series grows with the reader. As the characters age, their feelings become more complex and the unsheltered world outside the school gets more and more into their lives. In order to describe these sort of things, Rowling’s language becomes more articulated the further you get in the series. I believe there is much to be learned as a translator from working on the Harry Potter series.
Calypso, my cat, agrees with you, Mattia.
Does a translator have a duty to faithfully interpret a book, even though that book may have language that is colloquial/slang-based to that particular country?
I do, even if I understand it’s tricky to translate a book like that. When all else fails, you could simply translate everything into the standard target language (in my case, standard Italian) and eliminate any form of slang or colloquial language. You would lose the characterisation of the individuals and many shades of meaning, but you would have something at least.
Alternatively, you could translate such a book using a dialect or your country. For example, the Scottish groundskeeper in The Simpsons has become Sardinian in the Italian dubbing. This, of course, becomes an issue when there are clear references to Scotland, which sometimes are left as they are, while other times they are Italianised.
The best course of action in such cases is to pick random regional linguistic features for the translation, coupled with archaic or even invented words. In doing so, you can preserve the feeling of otherness. Depending on the translator’s skill, such a translation may or may not do justice to the original text, while in some cases it may even enrich it.
Time for another cat photo.
Bufalo and Elvis – Mattia’s girlfriend’s cats
What are your future plans?
At this time, I intend to continue study and get my master’s degree. As of now I’m meticulously researching and classing all the available degrees the neighbouring French-speaking countries. I’ll send my applications as soon as possible and from then it’s fingers crossed I guess.
I’d really like to study linguistics, be it English, French, Italian or general. I would also love to research the countless English or French dialects, their structure and the peculiar view of the world each of them expresses. In the long run, I’d like to find an occupation doing linguistic research, maybe coupled with teaching. My girlfriend, on the other hand, is very determined to become a professional baker, so I may be looking at a future baker’s helper career.
Mattia and his girlfriend outside Prague Castle
Mattia would like this opportunity to say a huge Thank You to his college lecturer. ‘Thank you’ on my part to my supervisor, professor Heaney. His help has really been paramount, especially for what concerns the traditional language of folk songs underlying the whole thesis.’
And, thank you Mattia, for a wonderful insight into your life and work. Best of luck with your future career. (Please, please, please, let it be translator)
Finally – More Cats!!!!!
My cat Storm
This is Kimi – she is half Tasmanian Devil – I swear!
For more information about Echoes from the Lost Ones please visit the website: