Well I’ve taken a wander with Italian proverb: ‘donna danno, sposa spesa, moglie maglio’ and its translation and an old and much-loved friend of mine, Erwin Schrödinger, finds me pondering it and suggests that in the very act of translation, I am killing his cat
‘So,’ I say, ‘you are suggesting to me that the interpretation of the proverb that I arrive at is forced by my very act of translation?’
‘Exactly,’ says Erwin. ‘An English translation does not have the same duality. The uncertainty is a function of its native language.’
Consider just that very first part; ‘donna danno’. This can be translated as ‘women damage’ but equally ‘women give’. ‘Danno’ is untranslatable here because its meaning is ambiguous. Add to this the certainty that this proverb was an oral tradition before it was ever written down, the ambiguity is even stronger. As it were.
‘All the interpretations are possible,’ says Erwin, ‘in its native tongue.’
‘Ah,’ I say, ‘so when I consider its meaning in Italian, any and all interpretations are possible and probable – one might say it has superinterpretation – but by translating it, I then impose a particular interpretation.’
‘That’s one way of looking at it,’ says Erwin. ‘I’m away this weekend, could you feed my cat?’
‘Certainly,’ I say, ‘are you going somewhere nice?’
‘In all probability,’ he replies.