Editing Internet Texts/Language and vision of the world: translation issues in Polish and Italian

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The aim of this project is to analyze the strong connection between mind-language-reality, which guides each of us to have a singular vision of the world. This aspect will be developed taking in consideration, in particular, the different conceptualization of reality for Polish and Italian speakers, showing how many factors internal and external to the language can have an impact on the way we categorize everything we see and experience, leading us to a different vision of the world and to consequent translation problems. The project will select only some specific language topics leaving space for further research and for a comparison between other languages following the same pattern of analysis.

The first section will deal with cognitive linguistics, which is fundamental to better understand the mechanisms that connect languages to the image of the world. The differences in the Polish and Italian categorization will be discussed in the second and in the third sections, observing the modifications of a language due to external and internal factors. In the final part of the thesis, the singular way in which people conceptualize and describe the world will be connected to translation issues from Polish to Italian.

This study is addressed to translators, linguists, speakers of Italian and Polish and to everyone interested in reflecting more on the language mechanisms and on the way we describe the world around us through our mother tongue. Moreover, the research could also be of some curiosity to people interested in Polish literature, since some small extracts taken from the short stories Chcę być koniem and Garby will be translated from Polish to Italian and analyzed.

The reader will be invited to observe on his own some further Italian and Polish words and he will be asked to translate them and to point out the differences that could create some issues in translation. Some other Italian and Polish language fields will be also proposed to the reader in order to be investigated and to find some dissimilarities in categorization following the same criteria of analysis.

Cognitive Linguistics and categorization of reality[edit | edit source]

Cognitive linguistics is a new approach to reality, which started to develop itself between the end of the seventies and the beginning of the eighties, gathering a big number of studies whose attention is focused on the importance of meaning and of mental processes. The expression Cognitive linguistics was coined around 1975 and it was first used in the researches of George Lakoff who was later surrounded in this study field by many other famous linguistics, such as Charles J. Fillmore, Leonard Talmy, Ronald Langacker .[1] This science is fundamental to better understand the unbreakable link between language and vision of the world. This relationship, still nowadays largely debated, was already sustained by the philosopher Wilhelm von Humboldt during the nineteenth century, according to whom languages are prisms reflecting reality. This hypothesis was again embraced in the twentieth century by Ludwig Wittgenstein, who stated in one of his famous sentences: "the boundaries of my language are the boundaries of my world".[2] The principle of language connected to the vision of the world is known in Polish as JOS, acronym used for the first time in linguistics in 1978, when it became an important field of study and was defined by Walery Pisarek in Encyklopedia wiedzy o języku polskim as:

"JOS, czyli obraz świata odbity w danym języku narodowym, nie odpowiada ściśle rzeczywistemu obrazowi, odkrywanemu przez naukę. Wskutek tego możliwe jest, że między obrazami świata odbitymi w poszczególnych językach narodowych zachodzą znaczne różnice, spowodowane m.in. różnymi warunkami bytowania danych narodów. Szczególnie wyraźnie JOS przejawia sięw systemie leksykalnym." [2]

"JOS, or the image of the world reflected in a given national language, does not correspond strictly to the objective image created by science. As a result, it is possible that there are significant differences between the images of the world reflected in the various national languages, among the others, different contexts of existence in given nations. The image of reality can be especially seen in the lexical system".

This theory, although still debated, is embraced nowadays by many scholars all over the world and it has become an important field of study also in psychology.

The importance of cognitive mechanisms[edit | edit source]

Nowadays we can count around two to seven thousand languages [1] on our planet, so the importance of language studies and of the cognitive mechanisms which guide it becomes more and more crucial. The cognitive linguistics approach wants also to highlight how interactions with other human beings and the place in which we learn and develop our language faculty are very important to analyze the way in which we describe the reality around us. In fact, our mind, while we interact with the environment, is subjected to uninterrupted incentives, which are interpreted and categorized in different ways depending on the language system possessed by the observer. It is therefore possible to affirm that the human cognitive capacity lets us conceptualize the reality in different ways and express it in a dissimilar linguistic form according to the mental construction that we created .[1] At a basic level, categorization is rather easy and it is modeled on the knowledge and experiences of each person, but at a more complicated stage, notions like species and society are to be taken into consideration and can make our division in categories much more complicated. Every language gives us many tools to make a choice in selecting what we want to categorize, creating an internal knowledge organized in cognitive structures in our memory, which represents the common set of shared information that can be used in a conversation between people having the same mother tongue language. Moreover, every mental scheme is linked to the linguistic rules of a certain language, so the conceptualization of the world changes and is expressed in different ways according to three main factors: the relativism of our choices, our language system and the extra-linguistic factors that influence our language .[3].

Examples of different conceptualizations[edit | edit source]

One example of a different categorization is visible in the Polish distinction between the verbs myć, used to talk about removing the dirty from stiff objects, and the verb prać, which occurs for example to talk about fabrics .[4] This division does not concern English or Italian, showing us a more detailed description of the action in the Polish language, which is another important aspect which will be consider in the next paragraphs. Another significant example can be seen in the Polish interpretation of our body parts as completely connected to us, expressing this link through the traditional use of dative, which is changing lately in genitive under the English influence, as we can observe in: Na widok Corsy twoje serce zabije szybciej instead of na widok Corsy serce Ci zabije szybcie .[5] Furthermore, even when we introduce ourselves, we can see how expressions like jestem Maria, or mam na imię Maria, which correspond to the English I am Maria or my name is Maria, show a certain subjectivity, which can’t be found in some languages like for example Russian, where the equivalent form shows more distance, since it is categorized as "someone called me Maria", giving much more importance to the person choosing the name .[2] Lera Boroditski, an important researcher in this field, describes us how a different shape of reality can be seen also in many other languages, for example in the space terminology which differs in Aboriginal communities where instead of using "right" and "left", "forward" and "backward", people base their life on cardinal-direction terms, which are also implied in their time progression that goes from the east to the west and not from the right to the left as for many other speakers around the world.[6] As mentioned before, our mind models the world in a different way also under the influence of some "extra-linguistic phenomena", such as social, environmental and psychological factors that can have a repercussion on our language and which will be taken in consideration in the following section.

Fields affected by extra-linguistic factors in Italian and Polish and their consequent vision of the world[edit | edit source]

Analyzing the context around a language, such as the history of a population, the environmental differences, the social factors such as religion, science evolution and the political influences, we can notice how every language lives and develops itself together with a nation, talking about language means talking about the community using that language. In fact, the bond between language and culture is always tight and mutual and the history of a society becomes also the history of the language used by that community .[7]

Language differences: political ideologies and religion[edit | edit source]

Comparing the ideologies that had a massive impact on the Polish and the Italian language it is fundamental to mention the Fascist and the Communist regimes. These manipulative forms of control over the population played a key role in the language modification and in the change of categorization for some aspects of reality. In particular, the Communist party created a real new language form, which is nowadays defined as Nowomowa on the model of the Newspeak, created by George Orwell in the novel 1984. The Nowomowa is considered a pseudo-language, and not only a style because it aims to impose a universal speech modification that can’t be contrasted. Examples of this concept can be seen in the word strajk, which was banned and substituted in this artificial reality by the term przerwy w pracy or the idea of podwyżki cen, which had to be replaced by poprawa struktura cen or zmiana poziomu i struktury cen .[8] The Italian language was less deeply affected by lexical modifications, although some toponyms like Sterzig were forced into an Italianisation becoming Vitipeno or surnames such as the Slovene Vodopivec were transformed in Bevilacqua .[2]

Another field where we can notice influences from extra-linguistic factors and observing some consequences in the way we speak is religion. Although Poland and Italy are both important catholic countries, some differences in categorization can be found in the veneration of the figure of the Virgin Mary. The Polish culture has created some expressions reflecting the greatness of the Polish Mother, which cannot find a proper translation in other languages as we can see in the definition of the mother as przenajświętsza. This adjective reflects all the greatness in its morphological form that it’s something more than a normal superlative, since it expresses a superior level with a "double-superlative" which is difficult to translate in English or Italian without losing part of the deep and huge meaning. In fact, Italian presents a normal superlative in the forms santissimo sacramento, or santissima Trinità, without conceptualizing any dimensions over this grade, as we can observe in the equivalent forms przenajświętszy sacrament and przenajświętsza Trójca.[5]. Moreover, another difference from the Italian language is the wider use of diminutives in the Polish language, which can be found also in the religious terminology to refer to the Virgin Mary. In fact, expressions like Mateczka or Najświętsza Panienka underline a more familiar and emotional tone, which can not find a proper correspondence in Italian.

Environment and cooking terminology[edit | edit source]

Our territory and our climate are also important factors that can have an impact on the way we speak, since the creation of new lexis models itself also on the necessity of describing and labeling some natural phenomena around us. Comparing the Italian and the Polish language, we can observe how the latter reveals a richer range of terms concerning for example the rain and the snow, as we can observe in the words deszcz, the colloquial kapuśniak used for drizzle, the term ulewa for the meaning of pouring cat and dogs, to arrive to the storm with the word burza. The Italian language needs to imply an adjective after the name in order to reach the same meaning, since it presents only the general term pioggia for rain and tempesta, for storm. An equal situation happens with the term neve, which means snow or in Polish śnieg, which is also used in many expressions such as zamieć śnieżna, for a snow storm, or zawieja, meaning a combination of snow and strong wind and śnieżyca used for a big quantity of snow . Moreover, also the verbs adopted to talk about raining and snowing are unique in Italian, while the Polish language to describe the action of water falling can use many verbs: padać, lać[3] for a rain falling with great intensity, zacinać[4] for raining sideways and the form siąpić, meaning a soft rain. All these specific verbs, let us see how Polish is much more specific in the description of the actions, having a huge morphological development, which is visible in many language fields.

Usually, Italian food is considered to be one of the most important aspect of the Italian culture, characterizing the population and the country. This is true, and following our previous statements, also the vocabulary and the verbs used to describe it should be many and very specific. However, even if the vocabulary and the verbs implicated to name every dishes are a huge quantity, we have to give a look to the Polish food terminology, to see how the categorization is also in this field so much more specific. Considering the fundamental verb to cook or in Italian cuocere, we can see how in Polish we have for example the forms gotować, ugotować, nagotować, niedogotować, which express small different actions, which are not categorized in the Italian language, which uses even the same form cuocere also for the forms piec, upiec, zapiec, niedopiec. Another example of this aspect is visible in the verb to pour or versare in Italian, which again is unique and does not conceptualize differences like in the actions expressed by lać, ulać, nalać, wylać, przelać, dolać, odlać, zlać, wylać. To point out a similar meaning an Italian speaker should use entire sentences, adding adjectives and adverbs to try to describe the same concept, although sometimes part of the meaning is missed because of a different way of categorizing our actions. These problems and small differences can become big troubles in translation, causing a lack of meaning that could be fundamental in the departure language.

The more specific categorization of the Polish language[edit | edit source]

When we think about the Polish and the Italian language we can imagine two different lens of a pair of glasses, one concentrating its attention on every single shadow that surrounds us, with a focalisation on details, and the other one showing us a wider part of reality, but much more general. Some different categorizations and some ambiguities have been analyzed in the previous sections from the perspective of a different personal choice in what we decide to keep in our mind observing the world, and because of a different shaping of the language due to external or cultural factors. However, we can’t avoid looking in the language system through an internal prospective, that let us discover how the grammar is also fundamental to shape our reality and to form a much more developed system in some morphological and lexical fields causing translation crisis.

The Italian and Polish verbal system[edit | edit source]

Both Polish and Italian language present a complicated verbal system, which is less linear that the English one. In fact, the Italian one uses many verb tenses, for example it presents five different types of past tenses, that can create confusion. The Polish language categorizes the verbal system in a different elaborated way, focusing on the category of aspect as a central point around which all the verbs are shaped. The aspect categorization implies that every verb is composed of a double infinitive form: the imperfective expressing an action that lasts for some time or that is repeated, while the perfective one meaning an action done, concluded. The couple of imperfective and perfective can be followed also by the creation of a new imperfective, and from this to a new perfective. This chain of verbs can already show how the Polish language is morphologically very rich and how it expresses a multitude of forms that give much more specificity to an action. Examples of double couples which are expressed in Italian and also in English by a single verb are kupować, kupić, to buy or kończyć, skończyć meaning to finish. A good example to observe even better how the verbal category is very developed and rich are the action verbs.

Action verbs[edit | edit source]

To begin with, we can consider the most common action verbs to go, or in Italian andare. This form is used for sentences like going to school, or going to school by car, or going twice a week to the swimming pool. All those actions are covered by the form andare, while the complexity of the verbal Polish system highlights distinctions between iść, pójść, the iterative form chodzić, but also between going on foot or using a means of transportation, an action which will be expressed by the forms jechać, pojechać, and jeździć. Another example can be seen with the verb portare, which means to bring or to carry something. In Polish, we can find many different specific categorizations of this action expressed by nieść and nosić or wieźć and wozić, the latter used for a means of transportation. However, forms like przynosić, meaning bringing something to someone, or przenosić, moving an object for example from one side of the room to the other, will still be expressed by the same general verb in Italian.

Numbers[edit | edit source]

The category of numbers is another grammatical section much more developed in the Polish than in the Italian language. This occurs not only because of the declination system characterizing the language, meaning a growing amount of different ending forms, but also because of a much more specific division in groups of numbers used to talk about certain categories of persons and of objects. The Polish mind is shaped by its language to think about the category of children, puppies, mixed groups of women and men and pluralia tantum in a specific way, using the forms dwoje, troje, czworo, pięcioro, sześcioro instead of dwa, trzy, cztery. Another difference that pushes even higher the possibility of expressing the same number in divergent forms is the category of rzeczowniki odliczebnikowe, which are used to talk about grades, numbers of trams and buses or number of shoes like in the sentence: jedzie ósemka, the number eight is coming.

Lexis[edit | edit source]

Slawomir Mrożek

The Polish lexis and the Italian one are largely developed, giving us the chance to express any single detail of what we observe in the reality around us. All the languages of the world can be considered rich in lexis, even if some categories of vocabulary develop themselves more than others when we have to talk about some specific topics. An example of this aspect in the Polish language is the category of animals, as we can observe through some sentences taken from the famous short story Chcę być koniem,[5] written by the Polish playwright Sławomir Mrożek .[9] In fact, considering the following sentences: "Gdybym tylko zobaczył w lustrze, że zamiast rąk i nóg mam kopyta, z tyłu ogon i autentyczną końską głowę – natychmiast udałbym się do urzędu mieszkaniowego." and "Ten ma łeb – mówiliby inni", we can observe how the Polish language possesses a more specific distinction between the words to express the head. In this case, when Mrożek refers to the head of an animal he uses the word łeb, term which never expresses a neutral connotation, since it can also refer to human beings in a derogatory tone. In this case, again we can notice a concept that does not exist in Italian, which avoids this distinction and has some difficulties to understand the irony of the author not finding a proper correspondent term expressing the same connotation to avoid the repetition testa, meaning head.

Language and vision of the world: analysis of a short story[edit | edit source]

After analyzing the internal and external factors that can influence a language and bring us to a different conceptualization of reality, more general or more developed, this paper wants to show an example of consequent translation troubles through the analysis of an extract of the short story Garby by Leszek Kołakowski. The story will concern an example of morphological issue for a translator, while many other difficulties can be also represented by different conceptualizations in lexis, or by cultural influences on the language that can create doubts in translation. However, troubles caused by lexis and culture have been analyzed here only through sentences in the previous sections, while entire texts concerning these problems will be analyzed and translated in a further development of this project.

Garby by Leszek Kołakowski[edit | edit source]

2007.10.23. -Leszek Kolakowski Foto Mariusz Kubik

Garby is a short story published by Kołakowski in 1963 in Warsaw, included in the collection 13 bajek z królestwa Lailonii dla dużych i małych. It narrates the adventures of Ajio and his hump, which becomes a human entity taking possess of the protagonist’s body after drinking a medicine that should have cured the hump problem. This evil creature convinces the rest of the population to take the medicine, bringing all the inhabitants to disappear and leaving their bodies to humps. [6]

Thanks to the observation of some sentences, taken from this comical short story we can make some observations:

Lekarze więc zebrali się i radzili nad tym, czy można uleczyć Ajio z garbu. Kiedy zebrali się razem w specjalnym gabinecie (Ajio był tam, oczywiście, nieobecny), jeden stary lekarz powiedział:
— Panowie, przyznajmy otwarcie, że medycyna jest bezsilna w tym przypadku. Sto osiem lat temu nasz wielki poprzednik, chirurg Głowabiada opisał zupełnie podobny przypadek i też nie mógł go wyleczyć. A jeśli nie wyleczono tego garbu sto osiem lat temu, to tym bardziej, rzecz jasna, my go nie możemy wyleczyć. Wtedy bowiem ludzie byli mądrzejsi
— A więc, co mamy robić? ‒ spytał młody lekarz. ‒ Musimy bowiem coś robić, inaczej będziemy uchodzić za nieuków.
— Jak to, co? ‒ zdziwił się stary lekarz. ‒ Leczyć chorego![10] .

These sentences can be translated in Italian as:

Dunque i medici si riunirono in consiglio per valutare se si potesse curare completamente Ajio dalla gobba. Quando si riunirono insieme in uno studio speciale (Ajio era in quell’occasione assente, ovviamente), un medico anziano disse:
— Signori, ammettiamo apertamente che la medicina è impotente in questo caso. Cento otto anni fa il nostro grande predecessore, il chirurgo Testaguaio descrisse interamente un caso simile e non riuscì nemmeno lui a curarlo. E se non fu curata quella gobba cento otto anni fa, ancor di più questa, per certo, noi non possiamo curarla. Allora la gente era più saggia
— E quindi cosa dobbiamo fare? ‒ domandò un giovane dottore. – Da questo momento dobbiamo fare qualcosa, o verremo considerati degli ignoranti.
— Così come? ‒ si meravigliò l’anziano medico ‒ Curiamo la malattia! .

The Italian translation of this small part of the story let us perceive some of the problems that can occur when translating from a more specific language like Polish in terms of morphology into Italian. In fact, we can notice how the different forms to express the verb to cure, which are in Polish defined in this text by leczyć, wyleczyć and uleczyć can’t find a translation able to give the same shades of meaning in Italian. The imperfective form leczyć, wants to highlight a longer action, not finished, which is in contrast with the correspondent perfective form wyleczyć. The same situation appears between the imperfective and perfective pair uleczać and uleczyć The Italian translator would in this case repeat several times in the text the verb curare, or substitute it with some synonyms, without finding a way to distinguish between an action marking a long process, that can be eventually repeated or showing an action already concluded. A distinction can only be possible in Italian adding some adverbs, such as curare completamente or riprendersi del tutto to underline the action expressed by uleczyć or by wyleczyć. As shown in the last pages, we face here again a small loss of meaning and of specificity of the action due to a different categorization, which is a big struggle and challenge in a translation.

Task for the reader[edit | edit source]

In this section I would like to invite the reader to try to translate from Italian to Polish some verbs that are able to show how specific the Polish morphological system appears to an Italian native speaker. These examples should be analyzed following the same strategy used for the verbs taken in consideration in the section "The Italian and Polish verbal system" and "Action verbs". They will show how for every general verb in Italian, there is a large number of verbal forms in the Polish language. Comprare = kupować, kupić, or accompagnare = nieść and nosić or wieźć and wozić are some of the examples to be remembered to complete the exercise.

Italian Polish
Correre .........................
Volare .........................
Accompagnare .........................
Nuotare .........................
Perdere ........................
Telefonare ........................

Moreover, I would like to suggest observing more some language categories of Polish which could differ from the Italian ones, causing some translation difficulties. In particular, as noticed in the previous analysis of religion in the Italian and Polish language, we can remark a larger use of diminutive forms in the Polish language, that are not used only in the terminology used by children, but occur also in more formal domains, giving a more familiar and intimate tone to the language. Consider the Polish names: uliczka, mleczko, oczko, samochodzik, stolik, bileciki, Kasiu.

  • In which contexts would you use these diminutive forms?
  • Build a sentence for each of these diminutive forms and then look for the translation of the same sentence in Italian. How more often are they used in the Polish language?
  • What about the business and the scientific vocabulary? Are they more formal in Polish or in Italian? Is it possible to hear some diminutive forms also in these formal languages?

See also[edit | edit source]

External Links[edit | edit source]

  1. Languages in the world
  2. Fascismo-Italianizzazione
  3. Linguistic and Cultural Issues in translation
  4. Common Challenges of Translation
  5. Chcę być koniem
  6. Garby
  7. Romualda pietkowa

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Arduini, S. & Fabbri, R. (2008). "Che cos’è la linguistica cognitiva?". Roma: Carocci, p. 7.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Piętkowa, R. (2015). Językowy obraz świata i stereotypy a nauczanie języka obcego, p.86.
  3. Tabakowska, E. (1993). "Cognitive Linguistics and poetics of translation", Tubingen: Narr. p. 29
  4. Grzegorczykowa, R. (1998). Langues et conceptualisations du monde. in: Bartol-Jarosińska, D. (1998). Langues et peuples d'Europe centrale et orientale dans la culture française. Université du Michigan: Institut d'études slaves, pp. 27-37.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Tabakowska, E. (2009). Le barriere culturali sono fatte di grammatica, in: Costantino, L. (2009). Teorie della traduzione in Polonia. Viterbo: Sette Città, p.144.
  6. Boroditsky, L. (2009). How does our language shape the way we think?. Edge, p.2.
  7. Ożóg, K. (2008). Nowy język polski po roku 1989, in: Nowe czasy – nowy język polski. (2008). Sofia: Stowarzyszenie Filozofów Krajów Słowiańskich, p. 17.
  8. Dąbrowska, A. (1998). Język Polski. Wrocław: Wydawnictwo Dolnośląskie, pp. 66-68
  9. Mrożek, S. (1974). Chcę być koniem. In: Opowiadania. Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie., p.14.
  10. Kołakowski, L. (1963). Garby. In: 13 bajek z królestwa Lailonii dla dużych i małych. Część II. Warszawa: Czytelnik., pp. 6-10.