Lost in Translation: perdite culturali nel passaggio dall’arabo all’italiano

  • Naglaa Waly University of Turin


This article investigates the Italian language rendering of some colloquial expressions, idioms and proverbs in the Egyptian vernacular that have been cited in literary works. The aim is to verify any cultural losses due to the difficulty of translating social and anthropological realia of Egypt. This article does not pass judgments on the strategies adopted by the various translators or on the correctness of the translation. Its aim is rather to find equivalents of expressions closely related to local Egyptian referents. In proposing the various solutions, the anthropological sources of the said and or of the term will be analyzed. This research could start an inventory of the losses deriving from the lack of cultural equivalence in literary translation, through a comparative method between the Arabic, Italian and possibly English versions of the text. The corpus is a list of idiomatic expressions and cultural elements from two stories by the Egyptian writer Yūsuf Idrīs: Arḫaṣ layālī (“The Cheapest Nights”), a short story published in 1954 in a collection that bears the same title and the second story Bayt mīn laḥm (“House of Flesh”), published in the collection that bears the same title in 1971. Both stories were originally translated into Italian by Luisa Orelli and published in the collection Alla fine del mondo in 1993.


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Author Biography

Naglaa Waly, University of Turin

Naglaa Waly received a BA degree in Italian Language and Literature in 1992 at Ain Shams University, Cairo. She later received a Master degree in Translation Techniques (Ain Shams University, 1996), and in 2012 a PhD in Linguistic Studies and Translation at Ain Shams University. In 2016 she further received a Master’s degree in Afroasiatic Languages and Literatures at the University of Naples “L’Orientale”. She presently works as a literary translator with several publishing houses and literary journals. She is “Cultrice della Materia” for Arabic Language and Literature at the University of Naples “L’Orientale” and Lecturer in Arabic at the University of Turin. Naglaa Waly has published many translations of literary Italian works into Arabic and viceversa. She won the “Lifetime Achievement Award for Translation” from the Italian Ministry of Culture in 2017 and the 6th Edition of the Cultural Prize from the “Foundation for the Mediterranean Prize,” Catania, in 2016. She can be reached at: naglaawaly@yahoo.it