Translating into or out of a dialect is no mean feat. Dialects tend to tell us a lot more about a country’s history, culture and society than its official language(s).
Dialects are also able to express infinite shades of meaning, some of which are bound to get lost in translation. As such, it is the translator’s job to retain as much nuance as possible.
Many Italian dialects are recognised as languages in their own right, and automatic translation software has been developed to mediate between the Italian language and the peninsula’s main dialects.
But what are some of the tools available to professional translators approaching the complex world of dialect translation? And does it make sense to use machine translation software for the purpose?
Translating into and out of dialects
Dialect translation uses what professionals call ‘dynamic equivalence’. In order to achieve this type of equivalence, words in both the original and translated texts must generate the same effect in their readers, even if they do not overlap perfectly on a semantic level.
This is often the only truly effective way to translate out of a dialect and generate those same unique feelings, assumptions and associations in readers.
Let’s take a look at an extremely famous (but perhaps not entirely successful) example of dynamic equivalence in action. The TV series The Simpsons features a Scottish character named Willie, who possesses the stereotypical physical and cultural attributes of a Scot (a red beard and a kilt). In the Italian adaptation of the famous series, Willie speaks Sardinian dialect. One might argue that this was a rather questionable decision as Italian viewers tend to feel somewhat alienated when hearing a red-bearded man wearing a kilt speak Sardinian dialect.
While making this decision, translators weighed up the geographical and cultural similarities between Scotland and Sardinia. Both are isolated from the rest of the country or kingdom to which they belong, and both are inhabited by straightforward, direct people who are proud of their independence and cultural roots. But despite the similarities, does the adaptation actually work? Not really, but it was the best choice available to translators at the time.
When it comes to translating into a dialect, translators often encounter a different set of problems.
Believe it or not, there are a number of free automatic dialect translators available on the web (which can generate automatic Sicilian translations, for example), and these tools are often used to translate texts for non-professional purposes.
That being said, Google Translate does not currently offer any dialect translation features as it bases its functionality on the number of potential interested users.
Online tools for translating into and out of dialects are however rather rudimentary, and are simply not able to convey the depth and nuance that is usually required.
It would be a very bad idea to rely on these tools to translate a text intended for literary or commercial use. Your best bet is to hire a professional translator with the right knowledge for the job.