Lost in Perception


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Lost in Perception

  1. 1. Lost In PerceptionThis article was originally published on the Acclaro blog.Category: "Spot" on Language, Translators Corner One of my favorite Italian columnists, Michele Serra, writing about the qualities of a certain South American poet, remarked “It has to be said, to be fair to all other poets, that he starts with an advantage: Spanish is to poetry what cello is to music: everything sounds better.” I’m an Italian, just like Michele Serra and to me, Spanish is indeed a refined, erudite language with just a touch of exoticism. It sounds elegant but slightly harsher than Italian, more serious and structured, but with some strange sounds (the unpronounceable “j” for example) and a better defined rhythm. Yes it indeed sounds great, like the cello — beautiful, soothing and warm while at the same time, deep and slightly threatening.When you’re a linguist and when you live abroad, you hear a lot about the qualities oflanguages: beautiful, hard, musical, poetic, harmonious, harsh. And while recognizing that theremight be some science behind what makes a language pleasant to the ear, I cannot help butthinking that none of these qualitative remarks have any truth behind them.You see, Italian, people tell me, is a very “musical language”. They describe it as elegant,sophisticated, and many other adjectives that I have never attributed to my own language. Itmust have to do with a good combination of vowels and consonants. However, I doubt thatearly 20th century Italian emigrants, unloading from overcrowded ships and trains, were everconsidered speakers of elegant and sophisticated words in their new homelands.Yes, those were other times: “Eat, Pray, Love” hadn’t been written yet, nobody really caredabout the wonders of olive oil, and growing your own tomatoes was not an activity that peopleassociated with words like “sustainable” or “earth friendly”.It seems like the perception of a language is really the perception people have of its speakersand that it follows more closely the highs and lows of a country over time, than the nature of itssounds.Page 1: Lost In Perception Copyright © Acclaro 2012
  2. 2. And so now that we, the Italians, have become an economic leader and a cultural pioneer, ourlanguage sounds “musical” to the wealthy, “industrialized” world. The stronger the country, itseems, the more admired and dominant the language becomes on the world stage.Now the tables have turned and I wonder what Italians think of the hundreds of Nigerians,Romanians and Albanians who come to Italy every day in search of a decent life. Are thelanguages spoken by these new immigrants considered harmonious or harsh, cheerful or dull?And will the perceptions change once time has elapsed, and once cultural perceptions andeconomic circumstances have shifted? Let’s hope that if not now, then later, these newly arrivedlanguages are perceived as music to our Italian ears.photo attribution: fenanovAbout Acclaro: Acclarois an international translation and localization company thathelps the world’s leading brands succeed across cultures. We specialize inwebsitetranslation, marketing campaigns, documents and software localization to give clientsan authentic voice in key language markets. North America: 1-866-468-5106 Worldwide: +1-914-468-0222 www.acclaro.comsales@acclaro.comPage 2: Lost In Perception Copyright © Acclaro 2012