Translating Istinto di morte e conoscenza in Chinese


Translating from one language to another is always possible. This activity can, however, present problems related to different orders of factors. The wider the geographical distance between languages, the greater the difficulties that translators will encounter. The greater the need to bridge this gap by looking for words and expressions in the target language, which can mean what is expressed in the source language.

With regards to Istinto, we have excellent results from the translators of the German, English, and French editions. To translate each of these texts, considerable effort was required to “adapt” the original text to the target language, in terms of its lexicon and syntactic implementation. Languages do not have exact and precise correspondences between words, and the various syntactic uses prevent the recreation of the same sentences in similar and typologically similar languages. The more languages share the same cultural history, the more correspondence can be found, especially at the lexical level; however, the syntax of relatively close languages, such as Italian and French, tends to present greater distances. What are the extents to which the translator can modify the linguistic uses of the target language based on the source language? In other words, what syntax can we “betray”, that of the source language which is not fully accepted in the target language; or instead, is it allowed to force the target syntax to make room for linguistic uses of the source language? Suppose, however, that the languages you want to translate are not only far away in space, but also and above all in cultural traditions and even in graphic uses, such as Italian and Chinese? What is the limit of the process of approaching and distancing from one or the other of the two languages? Similarly, how does a translator interpret the sound, the musicality of a language?

We intend to propose here a contribution addressing certain issues relating to the translation of Istinto in general, taking as a specific case the attempt – still in progress – for a complete translation into Chinese.

As with other languages, in Chinese, the first challenge was choosing the translation of some key words, starting with the title. It is true that each word, in any language, fulfills its vital and significant function, as it is connected to the existence of other words; essentially, every word lives alone, but is realized in its relationship with others. Consider, for example, the first word of title of Istinto.

This word, in French, English, Spanish or Portuguese, easily found a common root in Italian; in Chinese the term běnnéng 本能 was used, etymologically “original capacity”; word glossed in the Chinese dictionary as “the ability that humans or animals have without having learned it, as for infants the ability to cry or suck milk” (XDHYCD, p. 61). Or even xiāoshī de huànxiǎng 消失 的 幻想, where xiāoshī is the physical disappearance of an object or a person and huànxiǎng is the fantasy understood as “a thought that can be realized or not”, while there are other terms to indicate what we do not indicate as reverie “that is, the thought of something that cannot be realized”. Let us take again the couple now known and used also in common language, which is identified for the first time in Istinto, “needs (bisogni)” and “requirements (esigenze)”, which have been rendered in Chinese as xūyào 需要 “need” and xūqiú 需求 “requirement”; it can be easily seen that the first morpheme of both words is identical:  需 and is precisely “need”, in fact in the dictionary this morpheme is glossed as xūyào 需要 “need”, while the gloss of xūqiú 需求 is “a request fruit of the (satisfaction) of a need “. This definition does not differ much from that present in De Mauro’s GRADIT, where we read for need: “tendenza, impulso verso la ricerca di nuove soluzioni che migliorino lo stato di fatto e che meglio rispondano ai bisogni della situazione presente” (p. 346).

In this work, the authors intend to show how the senses of this work can be rendered “perfectly” even in a language so remote from his own, such as Chinese. All this simply requires an effort on the part of the translators who must find the most suitable terms also in Chinese, adapt the source language to the uses of the target language, helping to demonstrate – once again, if needed – that the contents of this work, as well as all of Massimo Fagioli’s scientific heritage, which is based on the study of the deepest human reality, can and must be translated into any human language.


Bibliographic reference

  • Fagioli, M. (2022). Istinto di morte e conoscenza. Roma: L’Asino d’oro (1972).
  • Xiandai Hanyu cidian 现代汉语词典 (Dizionario della lingua cinese moderna). (2012), Beijing: Shangwu yinshuguan, 6 edizione (1960).
  • De Mauro, T. (1999-2000), GRADIT, Grande dizionario italiano dell’uso, Torino: Utet.