Italian translations, like translation involving any other language, always occurs on two levels: the literal level and the cultural level. On the literal level, Italian translation is easy to understand: one takes the words in the source language and converts them into similar words in the target language, thus making the source text understandable to the reader. On the cultural level, however, Italian translation becomes a more effective force, with an aim that goes beyond simple comprehension: to create an impact, an immediate effect on the reader with the purpose of drawing him or her into the text.
When executing professional translations, Italian translators adopt the tool known as cultural transposition in order to achieve this effect, and remove any barrier that might prevent it. Cultural transposition does not preserve the cultural background of the source language, which includes historical and socio-political aspects of the source culture. On the contrary, it suppresses the foreign at the cost of promoting the native elements of the target culture. The linguistic gist is conveyed, the meaning is preserved, but the context is changed: this, in a nutshell is what cultural transposition in Italian translation is about.
Exoticism & Cultural Transplantation
Cultural transposition in Italian translations works in various ways. At opposite ends of this spectrum of cultural transposition stand two trends: exoticism and cultural transplantation. Sometimes, an Italian translator feels the urge to keep the foreign cultural background of the text alive and intact. The technical terminology for such an urge is exoticism, and such a choice is usually dictated by the nature of the text itself. For example, the cultural backgrounds of epics and folk tales are, generally, immaculately maintained, and the purpose behind such exoticism is to reinforce the impression of the different and the unusual, the mysterious and the exciting. It is as if the text is boasting of its foreign origin.
Exoticism often takes the form of calques, cases in which a translator will keep the source language version of a word or phrase exactly as it was within the target document being translated. Calques borrow words, syntax and idiom from the source language, especially proper names. Calques are sometimes not as effective as they could be. Bad calques reflect expressions from the source language to the extent of completely ignoring the grammatical rules of the target language; good calques try to attain a compromise between the content of the one and the` grammar of the other.
When using cultural transplantation, the other extreme form of cultural transposition in Italian translation, the translator does not care either for the language, style or culture of the source language. He lifts up the plot or the story-line and places it in a new setting, usually an entirely different one, completely disconnected from the original. Such transplanted texts often serve the function of drawing attention to topical and contemporary problems.