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Proper names translation

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Proper names translation


«Ahora que voy a parar y a no contar más durante algún tiempo, me acuerdo de lo que dije hace mucho»1.

"I'm going to stop now and say no more for a while; I remember what I said long ago"2.


Another aspect that gives a text a characteristic location consists in proper names it contains, referring both to people and to objects. Apparently, personal proper name translation is not a problem because, at first glance, you would say that it is a phenomenon belonging to the past, when, for example, all the writers' names were adapted to the receiving language and culture: for example, in Italian, Carlo Dickens, Leone Tolstoi, Gustavo Flaubert, Volfango Amedeo Mozart ecc.

Actually, such a practice is still partially in use. For example, the writer Tolstoy is known, in English American culture, as "Leo", which is not the translation of the original "Lev", meaning "lion", but it is its onomastic version, i.e. it is the English proper noun deriving from the same Latin root of leo leonis.

An analogous phenomenon is noticed in the Western spelling of some names originally belonging to non-Latin alphabets. The Russian name "Dmitrij" is sometimes translated as "Demeter", sometimes it is adapted to the regional pronunciation, becoming, for example, Dmitri or Dmitry in English (for an English speaker it is difficult to pronounce two vowel sounds like "ij"). Similarly, the name "Vasilij" is easily pronounced, both in English and in Italian and in French, with an unwilling doubling of the "s", such doubling reflecting itself even in the spelling often adopted especially in non-scientific editions: Vassily or Vassili. From this point of view, the attitude is towards adaptation, comfort, despite of philological correctness.

A similar description can be made as to transliteration or transcription of Hebrew. Many common words in a non-Jewish context too have, in Latin characters, double consonants that in Hebrew do not exist. Here are some examples from an English dictionary:

current spelling spelling without consonant doubling
azzimo azimo
cabbala cabala
hanukkà hanukà
harosset haroset
hassid hasid
kippur kipur
pessah pesah
sadduceo saduceo
shabbat shabat
talled taled
yiddish yidish

But in this general pronounciation-friendly attitude, to the disadvantage of philology, there is consistency. Because in other cases there is an exaggerated philological insistence if compared to other feeble points. For example, we all know the novel Anna Karenina, but maybe not all know that the heroine's surname, in any Western language, would be "Karenin", i.e. the same as her husband's. In French, German, Italian, Spanish, English, where surnames are not declined by gender, the novel's title, if inspired to the same acceptability - and not adequacy - criteria could easily be Anna Karenin.

Although it is a descriptive, not prescriptive, science, translation science dictates, however, inner consistency in translation choices throughout a text (or in a series of texts). It would, therefore, be desirable to stick to one or another trend.


Let us examine proper object nouns. This category is often actualized in:

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