Localizing your content into Italian can be quite tricky. Let me tell you why.
First of all, let’s see what localization is and why is it so important for you to localize your content. In addition to ‘simply’ translating a text, a website or an app, you often need to adapt a translation in order to meet some specific cultural, social, and linguistic requirements. Depending on the language you are translating into, you’ll have to rely on highly qualified professionals who not only convey the right message in the right way but will also strike the right chord with your audience. A good translation may be easy to achieve, but a great translation can have extraordinary effects and will help your business grow.
Just like any other Romance language, such as Spanish or French, Italian is a gendered language. In fact, we assign a specific gender to everything, be it an animate or an inanimate object. In practice, this means that sedia (chair) is a feminine noun, tastiera (keyboard) is also feminine, but quaderno (notebook) is a masculine noun. And there’s more. The same object, used for different purposes, can change its gender. The word table, for instance, can be translated as tavolo (masculine) or tavola (feminine), depending on the meaning of the sentence. The masculine noun is usually the most generic one, so it refers to a piece of furniture we can easily find in our kitchens. However, when we want to ‘lay the table’, we’ll say apparecchiare la tavola, using the feminine noun even if we are referring to the same object as above!
In the last few years, many Italian linguists have been trying to write in a neutral language when addressing their audience. Unlike English or other gender-neutral languages, this goal is harder to achieve in Italian, since it often requires the use of circumlocutions or words and phrases which can be referred to either female, male or nonbinary people. When localizing a video game, there are some typical sentences that, until a few years ago, were translated only referring to a male audience, probably because video games were thought to be an all-boy hobby.
But times are changing, more and more women play video games and these sentences need to be localized in a different way. The most famous example is, ‘Are you sure you want to quit?’, a message used to ask players if they are sure they want to exit the game and perhaps lose the progress made up to that point. In the 90’s, this message was usually translated as Sei sicuro di voler uscire dal gioco?, thus referring only to a male audience. The Italian adjective sicuro, in fact, is masculine, and it automatically excludes nonbinary and female players.
Nowadays, good translators are aware that this sentence should be localize as Vuoi davvero uscire dal gioco?, so that also girls, women, and nonbinary people feel involved.
Not to mention that Italian sentences are usually longer than English sentences! To convey a message in Italian, we often need to write sentences which exceed the length of the source text. This can have a major impact on the audiovisual field, where rules are particularly strict.
When localizing a video game or app, clients often ask translators not to exceed a specific character limit; while this may be easy to achieve in some language pairs, it forces Italian translators, as well as translators speaking other Romance languages, to find shorter solutions to convey the required message. Picture this. You are an Italian translator localizing the Christmas event of an app you’ve been translating for some time now. The client sets a strict character limit, but the source text is full of proper nouns which cannot be shortened and you are also trying to use neutral language in order to reach a wider audience. Absurd as it may seem, you’ll probably spend one hour to translate 50 words!
Last but not least, to localize content into Italian you’ll need to figure out which words to use and which not to use. A common misconception about the Italian language, and it is something I like to stress quite often, is that we don't say ciao. Actually, we say ciao to greet friends, relatives or someone we are very close to, but we would never say ciao in a formal situation. It is a very informal and familiar greeting, and you can't use it whenever you like. Italy is one of the most-visited countries in the world, so it is likely to hear tourists say ciao when greeting staff in a restaurant or hotel. An Italian native speaker would say buongiorno or buonasera when entering a restaurant and arrivederci when leaving.
This happens because the Italian language has many degrees of formality, so you can’t address people in the same way. We have an informal you, tu in Italian, used to address our families and friends. Then we have a formal you, lei in Italian, used when talking to people we respect, e.g. our professors, but also to older people and strangers in general. There would also be a third way of addressing people, namely an even more formal you, voi in Italian, although it survives only in Southern Italy and in some other specific usage. For example, in the comics magazine Topolino – Mickey Mouse – the characters use voi instead of lei when addressing someone formally.
As we have seen, localizing content into Italian is complex, because you have to take into account many cultural elements as well as linguistic ones. Is there a magic formula to translate perfectly into Italian? No, but there is something you can do to achieve the best results, that is, relying only on native and trained professionals. Alconost and its experienced freelancers are here to help you: not only your content will be immediately understandable by the Italian audience, but it will sound natural and catchy as you would expect from an excellent translation.
Le mie riflessioni sul mondo della traduzione e non solo.