My life has taken an odd turn. Everything used to have so much meaning, when I was much younger. I felt everything with such forceful passion. Then I became deflated, and then I had to leave what I thought was my home, the UK. What are my stances, my passions now? I’m not sure. The same as always I think: be excellent to each another (cit. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure)
After that, I contemplated what it meant to be Italian, as I was now no longer a future UK citizen, I was back to being an Italian, but do I feel Italian? Did I feel anything, ever? I’m not sure I did, ever.
Like me, there are many people out there who have lived so much elsewhere they no longer feel from anywhere. Or they feel from a mixture of places, like me. Or they feel from no place, like me.
I know this is tedious.
If anyone should read this who has read this before they will say “my god, will you ever stop writing about national identity, meaning of life and all that?”
Well, the answer I think, is no. I am nearly 50, so I now claim the right to talk about whatever I like.
My most recent epiphany was that, whereas for a lifetime I was trilingual, or bilingual when I lost my Spanish, then English native speaker when I realised my Italian had faded enormously, and then nothing, neither, I realised actually, I am native speaker of nothing. They are all foreign languages to me.
If I were to try and find a traditional publisher for my novel, who would I contact? I have written a book set in Norway (I still think that was an incredibly stupid idea, of all the places in the world I’ve been, and I’ve been to many, why did I pick a country I know NOTHING about? Mah. Then again, most of the decisions in my life have no rational basis), it’s a fantasy/fiction/dream involving characters from all over the world, but whom am I? How would a publisher advertise me?
“New Italian author….” stop right there. I don’t really identify with most Italian culture, there is very little about Italian culture in my novel, if any, and, plus, it’s… written, not translated into, English. Ah well that’s easy, then, you’d say, contact an English, no Irish!, ahm no, an American/Australian/New Zealand….. which? Which is my English from? What culture do I derive from?
It’s my own.
So, liberatingly, it’s whatever I choose it to be, a bit like the language I choose to use, such as “liberatingly” because nobody can say I am not speaking my native language properly.
Thus I will once again (because I can) slightly shift the focus of this blog, and say I am a published author, I am writing a new book, and I will speak about that. Yes I will be amongst the millions and millions trying to be known as authors, but the bonus for me is I don’t care to make money out of these. I do want them out there, even though it terrifies me that they are associated with my name. The book is almost certainly crap as nobody who has read it has wanted to write a review of it anywhere (there are people who have read it, if you are reading me now, please leave a review/any public comment!), but, that is the freedom of being an anomaly: there is no set standard of behaviour to adhere to.
The book is on sale here, if you’re curious, but I will be posting excerpts here of both this one and the one I am writing. The House of Blue is definitely a product of Nanowrimo, in that it was written over 30 days, started off with the idea of a cool 15-year-old speaker, then I realised I couldn’t possibly mimic that voice – I was already way too cerebral at 15 for that tone. So it got shifted and then it was daring and then I curtailed it, and then it became a stream of consciousness and then I realised it was more therapy than a novel, and then I badly wanted it to be a novel so I rearranged it, I kept changing the names… but the end result, in all its imperfection, I was left satisfied with. It conveyed the mood, the magical realism of the place, and the motifs. It got some stuff out of my system so that by the end of it, a lot of it wasn’t even relevant to my feelings at the moment. It was a half-fantasy, half-fear of how I would live my elder years.
My new book is the story of my life. Once that it also out of the way, I can go back to writing complete fiction, which I used to be good at. I just had to get my own life out of the way first. So if anybody wants to try and having a go at reading my published novel, keep in mind that a lot that’s in there is true, true feelings, true intentions, true thoughts.
This below is the original drawing my husband did for the cover in all its beauty.
This is just an experiment, for a place where I also write, Mastodon
Up to recently, whenever you were writing for a European website, you would use UK English. In fact, seeing a European website written with the American spelling (color … ughhh) was almost disturbing.
It made sense for English UK to be used as the official language for the English version of a European website, because the UK was part of Europe and English originated there.
Time has passed for England: they are no longer at the head of an Empire, they are now the smallest of all English speaking countries (except perhaps for Malta), and American English is still predominant in countless manifestations of the written, even spoken English.
Feeling has a lot to do with language. After the war in Italy, it was the Americans most people remembered as the liberators, not the English. American was the language used in films, in popular TV shows, which people who wanted to learn English watched. American English was just as requested as UK English in Italian language schools.
In the translations world, there may have been a little more discrimination, it was up to whatever market the website was intended for. But generally speaking, it made sense to use UK English for anything that wasn’t specifically aimed at the US market, even if it wasn’t specifically aimed at the UK market.
Now, not so much.
Especially when it comes to the English language, whom a dear friend used to define “A bitch”. The English language has known and become so many different forms, accents, vocabulary, that, in the words of a BBC Radio 4 show producer, “There is no such thing as a correct way to pronounce an English word”.
And yet, we all liked the idea of a sort of homeland for the English language. As Europeans, especially, we laughed along with the humorous teasing of the Northern American English as being “not the proper English”. Remember this letter to the US revoking their independence? It’s still funny.
Matters are quite different now. Whether or not you are a lover of the ideals behind the European Union, it is a fact that the UK has chosen to get out. If it doesn’t really make sense to use this flag for an English version of a European websites
does it really still make sense to use this one?
Perhaps we should start using the pretty Irish flag (sorry Malta, you’re too little!)
When speaking out of a European context, would it be fair to say that speaking English the way any of the above countries do, if it differs from UK English, is “incorrect”? For the first time in many years, I finally feel that any English, even a mixture of origins such as my Spanish is (my Spanish combines Spanish from Andalucia and Madrid (from my studies and life experience – as well as from Peru and Venezuela), is just fine, even if we do continue to use the UK flag.
A few days ago my daughter proudly came back from school stating how she did a spelling test that was meant for Year 6s (she is a Year 5) and got 24/24. The very best the other pupils (Years 5 and 6) got was 9/24. My daughter practices her English at school, like everyone else, and at home, with ME.
Now, I am a complicated case, when asked what my native language is. Many, many people, even people who know me and my history very well, are extremely lazy, look at my Italian passport (born in Rome, Italy), while others who do not know me look at my Italian name, and happily declare that of course, my native language is Italian.
(Lovely) photo from https://www.flickr.com/photos/migliosa/3435613770
I used to be proud of hearing that: having learnt Italian when I was 12, at an Italo-American school in Caracas, Venezuela, and having perfected it enough during my teens to want to start a club to promote properly spoken Italian at my Italian University, I was very proud of my achievement of being able to call myself a native Italian speaker.
When we look at what linguists use to define being native in a language, you will hear a general tendency towards saying that “nobody is truly bilingual”.
Some, bigger and more important agencies, are a little more enlightened. The snippet below came to me after my own enquiry, in reference to a spoken language task. I had to ask because from my professional point of view, what they were actually seeking mattered. Were they seeking for their engine to recognise, say, a tight Yorkshire accent? In that case, I couldn’t help them. Were they seeking a NATURAL English speaker? Well, that would be me!
We are going to have Italian, English GB and English New Zealand projects. Native accent in some of these projects might be very important.
I suggest you to register for the language(s) you are native speakers of.
Where have you studied? Elementary school, high school, university?
I believe you might register for all your languages but the voice recording tasks could be done only for the “really” native language(s)
From birth (my family went from Australia, where they lived, to Rome where I was born, then moved back to New Zealand with me as an infant) to secondary school I was in New Zealand, so English was the first language I spoke. I pick up that accent whenever I am surrounded by kiwis or my sister. I didn’t speak any Italian.
I learnt Italian at school in South America, so I had an accentless Italian when I moved to Italy, at age 12, but my preferred spoken language at that point had become South American Spanish.
My English lost its NZ accent and gained an American one when I moved to the Philippines, at age 15, where I studied as a teenager. Then I returned to Italy and gained a slightly northern Italian accent as I lived in the north of Italy.
The school I attended in Italy after that was a British school in Milan, and I studied for my A Levels (Italian, English and French) in English. I went to an Italian University for 1 year studying English, Spanish and Italian, and then moved to London for 5 years and completed a degree there, in English and Spanish, and acquired a slight London accent.
After that I moved between Spain and Italy and finally landed in England in 2006, where I’ve been living since.
So, my accent in any language varies depending on who I’ve been speaking to recently and even what I’m reading or watching.
That is why I brought it up when it comes to spoken language jobs.
Lately, as we’ve decided to move Italy, I’ve been noticing a warmer Mediterranean accent I don’t believe I ever had, I believe it reflects the desire to go to Italy.
When I speak Spanish, I also acquire a Spanish or Latin American cadence depending on whom I’m speaking to.
So, there you go, it’s complicated, but as far as I’m concerned, my speech is natural in all three! All three of my children were brought up with me speaking English to them, because that is what felt most natural. My Italian, however, is also perfect, though also varying in accent.
So, what do you make of me?
My daughter, born in Leeds, raised in England, never thinking herself different from her classmates in any way, after the Brexit referendum became “Italian”. Which is funny, as she never lived there, and we speak English to her, not Italian. She has no idea of what it’s like to live in Italy, or even how Italians are, as we are not really your typical Italians. We may, out of preference, tell her occasionally that such and such a habit or behaviour (colour matching and dress sense, for instance) is more Italian than English, but that is that. Now, however, she is “Italian”. She has an Italian passport. An Italian name. And yet, she trumps all her classmates (except for one, who is nearly as good as her in English, a “Turkish” girl in her exact situation) in English spelling, reading and writing.
So, what do you make of her?
When it comes to speaking, depending on what you need that speech for, a native Derbyshire accent might be better than my variable, nuanced and sometimes way too “posh” or “Dutch” (a favourite) or Mediterranean accent. When it comes to writing, my English is better and more correct than most newspaper articles I read.
So, as a humble translator, I ask you to consider very seriously before your agency assures you their translators are “native” speakers. What you want, is an ability to read, write and think naturally in that language, combined with experience and studies to consolidate that knowledge. ONLY being native (unless you want your iphone app to understand a pronunciation of bus or plate that most would not understand) may well be useless, if not counterproductive, a lot of the time.
Incidentally, should you want to comprehend what a lack of borders feels like, please refer to yesterday’s post.