Helvestisms and Translation Services

Published 30th March 2011
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Helvestisms: When we think of the Italian language, what we usually imagine is the boot-shaped peninsula in the south of Europe. However, we often forget that Italian is also one of the four official languages of Switzerland, where it is mostly spoken in the canton of Ticino, in the south of the country, and in the canton of Grisons, in the south-east.

Here are a few interesting facts about what most of the Italian-speaking Swiss call ‘ticinese’ (the language of Ticino… Italian is spoken by approximately 10% of the Swiss population, which is about 700,000 people.  Most of them live in Ticino, since the canton of Grisons is the only trilingual part of Switzerland, where French, German and Italian are all official languages. What sort of issues does this situation pose for translation services?

Italian vs Swiss Italian

The Swiss and the Italians understand each other quite well, but there are a few interesting differences.  First of all, they call some things by completely different names. So, what for us are ‘collant’ (tights) are ‘ghette’ for the Swiss, and the Italian ‘cellulare’ (mobile phone) corresponds to the Swiss ‘natel’. There are also some words that come from the German language. The Swiss word for the marks you obtain at school and in university is ‘nota’, which indeed derives from German equivalent ‘Note’, whereas in Italian we use ‘voto’ . Actually, in Italian a ‘nota’ in school is a bad remark you get written on the class journal, so the first time I heard Swiss people talking about a nota, I was a bit puzzled.

Finally, there are also some words that do not exist in Italian, as they belong to the Swiss economic, education, or legal system. An example I really like is the verb ‘essere attinente in + place’. In a few words, it means ‘being a Swiss citizen in the town of…’, whereas in Italian ‘attinente’ means ‘pertaining’ and is only referred to objects. The issue of regional differences makes it clear that only professional translation services which use the most suitable linguists can translate these aspects effectively.

More Helvestisms?

So, these are just a few helvestisms, which are variations of Italian that are typical of Switzerland. This term can also refer to German words and expression belonging to this country and not to mainstream German. Again, this highlights the importance of using specialist translation services.

How cool is that? As you discover the language, you are also plunged into a whole world of new institutions, governing bodies, habits and traditions. The only thing I can say is ‘Thanks Sara*’!

*Sara is a girl from Ticino who inspired this post, because every time we have a conversation we find more and more interesting differences in our Italian.



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