More than just ‘short, sharp and to-the-point’.

It is a familiar saying among translators, one attributed to the French philosopher Gilles Ménage (1613-92): “Women are like translations: The beautiful ones are not faithful, and the faithful ones are not beautiful.” However politically incorrect that sentiment may be, the qualified translator Anna Maria Rossi, who has over 20 years of experience working for international companies, can only concur, especially for texts translated from German into Italian.

German – Italian: A literal translation is not enough

After all: Whether it is in the tourism industry where there is plenty of translation work for Italian and German or in the many more formal texts produced for the industrial and engineering sectors: An entirely literal translation will not be enough, says Rossi. In most cases it will be necessary to add typical Italian phrases and adjectives to the German source text, to lengthen the sentences to make the document readable. The translation specialist explains: “German is highly structured and precise: Short, sharp and to-the-point. We tend to use more subordinate clauses in Italian ; we make it sound positive and appealing by adding a more descriptive flair.”

“German is highly structured and precise: Short, sharp and to-the-point. We tend to use more subordinate clauses in Italian ; we make it sound positive and appealing by adding a more descriptive flair.”
Anna Maria Rossi

27 words instead of 16

One example: A German e-mail with the following content is brief and concise: “Sehr geehrte Kunden, vielen Dank für Ihr Interesse. Bitte beachten Sie nachstehende Mindestmengen für den Versand.” 16 words. That’s not enough in Italian to convey precisely the same information politely. Italians need 27: “Gentile cliente, La ringraziamo per l’interesse dimostrato nei confronti della nostra azienda. Le ricordiamo che per l’invio dei prodotti in vendita sono previste le seguenti quantità minime.” The specialist is adamant that a literal translation would not work: “It sounds quite brutal, and could be perceived as cold and impolite.” So Rossi says: “You need to take the sentences apart and put them back together in an entirely different, Italian style.”

A verb becomes a verb plus adverb

It’s soon obvious: Italian needs more space than German. “On average, Italian sentences are 25 percent longer”, the translator says. And it’s not all down to the tendency to choose longer, more flowery sentences, as seen above. An additional factor is that many compound German verbs require a verb plus adverb when translated into Italian. ‘Durchlesen’ becomes ‘leggere attentamente’, while ‘(sich etwas) anlesen’ is ‘leggere di sfuggita’.

There is no word for ‘Feierabend’ in Italian

The translation professionals also need a deft touch for language, cultural knowledge and a large vocabulary in German and Italian when confronted with words that simply have no equivalent in the other language. Italian, for instance, does not have any words that would convey the precise meaning of German terms like ‘Vorfreude’ (pleasant anticipation), ‘Feierabend’ (literally: to celebrate the end of work) or ‘Fremdschämen’ (to be made ashamed by the behavior of others). In contrast, Italian has reams of options for the German term ‘gemütlich’ (comfy, snug): If it is used to describe a cozy room, the correct translation would be ‘accogliente’ or ‘confertevole’ , while a relaxed mood would be ‘gradevole’ or ‘rilassato’; when used in connection with a time of the day like a ‘cozy evening’ it is more likely to be ‘piacevole’ or ‘tranquillo’.

Even the word ‘Konzept’ won’t rattle true professionals

The word ‘Konzept’ (concept) is another example that requires profound knowledge of the language. Understandably, says the translator Rossi, the word ‘concetto’ is used frequently for ‘Konzept’, although the term has more in common with the German words ‘Auffassung’ (notion) or ‘Auffassung’ (perception). On the other hand, the Italian word ‘strategia’ has far greater similarity with the idea of a ‘Konzept’, especially if it describes a plan or a company’s concept. But if ‘Konzept’ actually means a kind of ‘blueprint’, the correct translation would be ‘malacopia’.

Italian is not always the same

Language professionals need a sensitive touch for language, in every sense – and they must always know which kind of Italian speakers are likely to read the translations. After all, Italian is not always the same. In the Swiss Canton of Ticino, for instance, where Italian is the official language, the price tags in supermarkets proudly declare: ‘Pomodori in azione!’ We would say: ‘Special offer on tomatoes.’ An Italian encountering this statement in a supermarket is likely to be taken aback. He would take it to mean: ‘Tomatoes on the move!’

Anna Maria Rossi

Professional Translator

Anna Maria Rossi completed a German qualification to become a state-certified translator after graduating in German and English literature. Besides working as a translator, she has many years of experience in the services of German and Italian firms. She has translated from German, English and French into Italian – her mother tongue – for 20 years now.

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