Nominalization in Italian Translation

Contrastive linguistics has drawn our attention to nominalization as one of the aspects in which the Italian language differs from the English language. Nominalization refers to the process by which a verb or an adjective has been converted into a noun, for example, replacing ‘move’ with ‘movement’, ‘discover’ with discovery’ and so on. The Italian language has a marked predilection for nominalization. An Italian text will display nominal expressions very frequently, but if an Italian translator attempts to convert all the Italian nominalizations into English nominalizations, he or she will produce a rather unidiomatic and unnatural target text.

This is so because it is not customary to use nominal expressions in the English language, and an over-use would disrupt the natural flow and rhythm of the language. Unless motivated by the specific aim of communicating the exotic nature of the source text to the target reader, the translator would do well in avoiding an excess of nominalization in the English target text. The aspect of nominalization in an Italian translation cannot be dismissed so summarily though, because its presence or absence has unavoidable effects on the style, register and genre of the texts.

One way of reducing the number of nominalizations in Italian translation would be converting some of them into the verbs or adjectives from which they derive, or into semantically similar ones. The conversion of nouns into verbs is always accompanied by particularizing an Italian translation, that is, details that hover in the background of the source text will be explicitly put forth in the target text. The details may take the form of names of or references to persons, mentions of time and places and so on. An Italian translator may gain access to the details by referring to the context itself, or may even have to explore other sources. Apart from attaching a subject to the verb, particularization can also change the tense of the target language verb from its source language use. Sometimes particularizing translation may be replaced by partially overlapping translation. The process of eliminating nominalizations in an Italian translation by replacing them with verbs or adjectives will confront the Italian translator with a wide variety of choices; his or her selection will be shaped by the context, knowledge of the subject matter and the nature and degree of translation loss.

An Italian translator must keep in mind that all nouns, and especially abstract nouns, are generic in nature. In other words, nouns usually are extended to cover a wide range of ideas or objects, thus randomly expanding the options available to be included in the particularization. The options can be limited only by contextual and extra textual factors. An Italian translator must also remember that the generic nature is complemented by the static nature of all nouns, that is, they are free of intentions and results. They are concepts that exist outside time. For example, the statement ‘it was a wrong decision’ does not refer to any subject or object beyond it, while ‘I decided wrongly’ refers to at least the person who has taken the decision. Therefore, whenever a translator chooses or dismisses a nominalization in Italian translation, he or she also chooses to suggest some things about the genre, the style, the register and the idioms of the text.

Converting the Nominalization

The appropriate way would be converting the nominalization into its semantically equivalent verb or adjective forms. This article will explore some other ways to carry out nominalization in Italian translation. One of the forms of nominalization in Italian translation combines in itself a noun and an adverb in order to create an adverbial phrase. Such a noun-based adverbial phrase from the source Italian text can be safely translated into a conjunction-based adverbial phrase in the target English language.

Another common form of nominalization in Italian translation combines in itself a noun and a preposition. This form can be found in the English language, but for purposes of fluency; it is customary to replace the combination of noun and preposition with a simple adverb while translating from Italian to English. Such adverbs are an indispensable feature of the English language, and in using them, an Italian translator replaces the abstractness and the formality of nominalizations with clarity and precision.

Nominalized sentences are difficult to follow because the agents or subjects are generally left out, and the reader has to refer to the context to interpret the sentence. They also seem removed and detached from the events being described. Nominalizations feature regularly in academic and bureaucratic writing. Adverbs, on the contrary, provide for simplicity and are easy to follow; they also endow the writing with dynamism by making it seem alive. Using ‘kindly’ instead of ‘with kindness’, ‘uninhibitedly’ instead of ‘without inhibitions’ shows suitable examples of this kind of replacement. While making these choices in Italian translation an Italian translator should not ignore considerations of register and semantics. The meaning of the adverbial replacement used in the target language should not clash with the meaning of the nominalization used in the source language.

A third and popular form of nominalization in Italian translation combines in itself a preposition, a noun and an adjective. This form, too, can be found in the English language, but, once again, to ensure idiomaticity, it is possible to replace the Italian combination with an English combination of an adverb and an adjective. For example, the verbose expression ‘it is of crucial importance’ finds a more efficient replacement in ‘crucially important’. What is affected is not only the register, but also the tone of the target text: in the former expression the tone is academic, pedantic and indifferent while in the latter the tone is more immediate, involved and informal. There are plenty of options available in English compared to Italian, and the translator’s choice in an Italian translation must be definitely guided by genre and context.

Other Forms of Nominalization

In this section the other forms of nominalization in Italian translation are highlighted, wherein an Italian translator, instead of retaining the nominalization in the English source text, can replace it with two adverbs placed next to each other, where one adverb performs the function of modifying and describing the other. This usage is customary in the English language, but rare in Italian. So while the English can very correctly say ‘he drove the car amazingly slowly’, the Italians cannot juxtapose adverbs ending in ‘mente’ in a similar fashion.

The translator, instead of retaining the nominalization in the English source text, may also replace it with a prepositional or phrasal verb. A prepositional verb combines a verb with a preposition, as in, ‘refer to’, ‘apply for’, and ‘call on’. A phrasal verb combines a verb with an adverbial particle, as in, ‘turn down’, ‘call up’ and so on. The use of prepositional or phrasal verbs is a very common feature of the English language, but their use is restricted in Italian.

If an Italian translator chooses to retain the nominalization structure of the source language in the English target text he or she will not be erring on the side of grammar because such expressions are grammatically possible in English, but he or she will be placing a formal and pompous note on the register of the target text. This note might be unwarranted and might be at odds with the stylistic register of the source text. Structural changes, on the other hand, might lead the translator to introduce details in or remove details from the target text irrespective of whether the details are absent from or present in the source text.

Replacing nouns with verbs, adverbs and adjectives may change the pace of the text, making the target text more dynamic than the source text. It can also make the target text more impassioned and more alive than the source text. Some discrepancy between source and target texts, therefore, seems inevitable, and an Italian translator must be judicious while privileging one option over the other. He or she must be attentive to such factors as genre and purpose of the source and target texts while making such decisions in Italian translation.

Nominalization in Italian translation is, therefore, not an easy or mechanical task. There are many factors that affect and control the process of nominalization in Italian translation. While it is advisable that the Italian translator begins by trying to provide nominal equivalents in the target language, he or she should not force or stretch the point. Instead, the translator should allow the flow of the language to dictate his or her choice. The flow of language can then be governed by such textual factors as subject matter, style, register, intent, target audience and genre.

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