April 12, 2015

Activism and Sobriety in Rome

Next month I will mark three years in Rome. That's half of my assignment, at least as it stands right now on paper. And after these almost three years, I think I may have arrived at my first fully-formed criticism of 'Rome.'

This past week I spent a couple of days interpreting between Italian and English for a small international meeting. The brothers were about preparing a working document for a larger international meeting on the way. Of course the document is written in Italian, and will then have to be translated into the other languages of the participants.

There was a little tension in the meeting regarding the translation of the document from Italian to English. For example, it was said, probably rightly, that the Italian terms attivismo and sobriet√† cannot be correctly rendered into English by their obvious cognates, activism and sobriety, respectively, but rather other words that approximate the Italian meanings must be chosen. Approximate. Every translation is a betrayal, of course. Omnis traductor traditor and all that.

All of which got me thinking. If every translation is a betrayal to one degree or another, as indeed they are, and it is just such misunderstandings and failures in communication that lead people to reject documents that come from 'Rome,' why would a Roman institution (like the General Curia of the Friars Minor Capuchin, for example) insist on using as its base language a language that is very small in terms of general international use and increasingly small in the international use of the Church, namely Italian, and thereby multiply such opportunities for misunderstanding and miscommunication in translation? In other words, according to Wikipedia for example, Italian is the twenty-fifth most spoken language in the world. Is it thus the best choice for the base language of documents for an international organization?

In this I see what must have been the powerful utility of Latin. Why not make Latin the base, working language again? Why shouldn't the international working language be a challenge that unites instead of a small property that insists upon the pitfalls of translation? Yes, translation would still have to be made back at home. But at least the document in the 'typical edition' would be in a language that was nobody's property in particular.

I remember one eminent friar saying that back when international meetings themselves were conducted in Latin, they took much less time, because friars only said what they really needed to say. Everyone likes shorter meetings. And they're cheaper too.

And if Latin is too radical a proposition, sending religious and priests as it does into anaphylaxis, why not make English the base, working language, as many other international organizations have done? At least then the 'typical edition' of documents would be in the single largest language group with regard to the constituency.

All of this is why, when I'm General Minister (may God forbid it!), the working language of the General Curia will be English and the liturgical language will be Latin, which is after all the ordinary language of the liturgy anyway (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 36.1) That way, respectively, the inevitable misunderstandings in communication are minimized, and the language of the liturgy becomes nobody's property, but a challenge that can be shared by all.

1 comment:

Rev. Daren J. Zehnle, K.H.S. said...

I've often wondered the same about the Italian language.