Language, identity and coexistence

As everyone knows, the times in which we live are marked by a strong recovery of the inter-ethnic conflict caused, on the one hand, by the strong pressures that the populations of other civilizations exert in various forms (especially migration and insecurity) on Western societies, and by other, from the reaction to this phenomenon in local contexts through the affirmation of ethnocentric values. The breeding ground of these values ​​is composed of two main ingredients that influence each other: the fear of the other and the lack of interest in knowing the reality of others. Given that only through the knowledge of the other it is possible to act in such a way as to mitigate this growing greed for identity conflict, the role of the translator becomes more and more important, who can, and perhaps must, go even beyond the specific task that is attributed to it by society, which is that of translating oral and written narrations, to stand on a wider ground which is that of cultural as well as linguistic mediation. Scrolling through the web pages of the copious offer oflinguistic mediators available on the net one realizes that this need just described is in fact already pursued by many operators, even if this often happens more for market reasons than for cultural purposes. However, it should be further encouraged, since from the knowledge of languages, when it succeeds in expanding to the way in which the respective semantic systems are lived, it is easier for more bridges than fences to be built between the various linguistic groups.

Before moving on to examine some concrete cases, it will be worth returning to the concept of identity, which in other pages of this blog has already had due attention. The less young people may remember that, in the 80s of the century that precedes us, there was a sort of explosion of theoretical writings on the subject in Italian sociological essay [1], when the experts of this discipline suddenly realized that, despite its detectable importance in everyday narratives (it was the period in which identity movements emerged in Europe), the topic tended not to allow itself to sociological analysis, precisely because its conceptual tools (such as class, role , interest and others) proved unsuitable to reveal the countless faces that this phenomenon could take on in reality [2]. Although it is difficult to summarize the conclusions of that debate in a few words, it is still possible to make some interpretative hypotheses: that debate ran aground both in the face of the observation of the plurality and superposition of the “vital worlds” from which collective identities originated, both in front of the multiplicity of faces that this phenomenon presented to the analyst (identity for himself and in himself, identity from where and towards where, individual and collective identity, identity commuting). It is no coincidence that an authoritative figure in Italian sociology then wrote that “the concept of identity is in the most unstable area of ​​sociological work.

This difficulty forces us to make a choice, in order to ensure consistency with the modest analysis that follows in this note. The choice falls on the concept of identity “towards where”, for the simple reason that ours is an era that overflows with identities mostly strong, greedy and combative that appear only partially determined by their past (the “from where” ), as they often and vigorously show indications of solutions to be pursued (therefore “towards where”), of which our society, it must be said, given the asphyxial nature of the policy that guides it, is increasingly deficient. The “where” identity immediately connects to the idea of ​​coexistence that needs to be addressed, however things go in the real world (and therefore regardless of the degree of success that a rejection policy may have), especially regarding interethnic coexistence. This, it is clear, belongs to a condition that is not easy to achieve, for the simple reason that identities are conflicting “in themselves”, even regardless of the orientation that the various groups express in their discursive practices on the problem of reception or refoulement , since only the fact of understanding and above all understanding “the other”, that is “the different”, represents for us a more or less large cost, however an unavoidable cost that falls mostly on the individual rather than on the community or the community.

This is probably the main reason why cultural differences are used to sanction the supremacy of one identity group over another, or to create racial prejudices and discrimination, which favor the emergence of forms of psychological victimization and self-compassion. . The “other identities” are not admired for their diversity, but discriminated against as they are considered bearers of defined inferior narratives because they respond to different canons from ours. Group closure is often combined with the phenomenon called “ethnocentrism”, that is, distrust of strangers, and when this feeling reaches the extreme conditions of hating the other because it is not as we would like it, or because it can represent or fact represents a threat, “xenophobia” occurs. In both cases, the conviction that cultures must be ordered according to a hierarchical scale that goes from the minor to the higher ones, among which we naturally find ours, is created in the context of stronger or majority identities. All of this, we repeat, in order not to pay for the above, that is the “tribute to coexistence”.

The idea on which this note is based, instead, starts from the assumption that the work of linguistic mediation can, at least in part, favor the tendencies towards coexistence, to the extent that it makes us understand that there is no hierarchy between cultures and that, especially if we look at the variety of languages, each of them presents, if compared with the others, pros and cons: there is no language that can be considered absolutely superior to another. If anything, the challenge is to understand what other discursive forms, which are not granted to us, are capable of others and try to imagine what the consequences produced by these differences may be on the individual vital worlds.

All this being said, let’s now consider an aspect well known to those who translate, for example, from Latin to Slavic languages, or in my case from Italian to Slovenian and vice versa. For the Slovenian part it has always been a source of pride to know that, when comparing two texts with identical contents, both the one source and the other destination or the reverse, or they are even both destinations of the same source, the Slovenian text it will inevitably be shorter, and not a little. In fact, if we take for example a text of which there are more than authoritative versions such as the European Constitution, we can easily find that the Slovenian text is 16% shorter than the Italian one. The question that arises at this point – assuming that the data just described is really such,linguistic superiority on the Slovenian side compared to Italian . The writer is convinced that in the past such attitudes have occurred, perhaps even in an attempt to give a clumsy response to those dismissive who came from the other side: such as not recognizing the Slovenian nation confusing it with the linguistic groups of the Slavs or Yugoslavs, or to associate the term “Slavic” rather than its endogenous origin (slovo = word) with the expression dating back to the times of medieval Latinists (sclavus).

In order to better understand the reasons for this disparity in the length of texts in the two languages, since we do not have more appropriate sources, we try to use recent research that tries to clarify the problem as regards translations from English into Slovenian. From this study [1] it is clear that the greater brevity of the Slovenian text is not attributable to omission or condensation of the text, but to the different characters of the two languages. Of the eight reasons raised by the authors, we take those that best suit our case, namely the translation from Italian: (1) the absence of articles in Slovenian; (2) the prevailing greater conciseness of the diminutive adjectives, true specificity of Slovenian speech, as they are used more widely than in other languages ​​(e.g. coffee, egg or even Deuccio, the God of children …); (3) a certain overabundance in Italian of lexical units composed of the verb and its complement (shake your head, take a step, be careful, foam, catch fire, lose your temper …) than in Slovenian, as in others Slavic languages, are expressed through the addition of prefixes or suffixes to the root of a verb that can also be easily translated into a noun form; (4) finally, and perhaps this is the most obvious reason, the existence in Slovenian (as in other Slavic languages) of a richer range of verbal forms of expectation (especially perfective and imperfective), also in this case formed by prefixes, which help to reduce the length of the sentences: “Yes take a step, be careful, foam, catch fire, lose your temper …) which in Slovenian, as well as in other Slavic languages, are expressed by adding prefixes or suffixes to the root of a verb that can also be easily translated in noun form; (4) finally, and perhaps this is the most obvious reason, the existence in Slovenian (as in other Slavic languages) of a richer range of verbal forms of expectation (especially perfective and imperfective), also in this case formed by prefixes, which help to reduce the length of the sentences: “Yes take a step, be careful, foam, catch fire, lose your temper …) which in Slovenian, as well as in other Slavic languages, are expressed by adding prefixes or suffixes to the root of a verb that can also be easily translated in noun form; (4) finally, and perhaps this is the most obvious reason, the existence in Slovenian (as in other Slavic languages) of a richer range of verbal forms of expectation (especially perfective and imperfective), also in this case formed by prefixes, which help to reduce the length of the sentences: “Yesbit jedel? ”asks the Slovenian mother to her son, to whom he left dinner on the kitchen table. To ask the same question, the Italian mother will have to say “did you eat everything?” or even “are you done eating?”, therefore 9 characters in Slovenian versus 16 or even 19 characters in Italian. And this thanks to a simple prefix “po” which has the power (as in other Slavic languages) to explain that the action described in the verb prefixed in that way is an action that ended, the dinner was “consumed” by the son.

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