What does “Traduttore, traditore” mean?

Published on 25/04/2022

The practice of translation is a source of suspicion. Translating involves interpretations and, consequently, can generate different reactions in terms of ethics, literary or accuracy. The Italian expression 'traduttore, traditore' can be translated as ‘translator, traitor' and refers to the implicit imprecision of the act of translating. However, although transparency and accuracy are probably unreachable goals for the translator, we cannot ignore the fact that thanks to translation, connections on a worldwide level have been established and cultural barriers have been broken. This way different ways of thinking were united and preserved in our global memory by manifestations that brought up different cultures.

Índice de contenidos

Index of contents

Index du contenu


  1. Traduttore, traditore
  2. Perfect translation: possible or not?
  3. Translation is a utopia

1. Traduttore, traditore

Traduttore, traditore the inaccuracy, the mistakes that some translators make. Although there is no such thing as a perfect translation, there are good translations and, of course, there are also bad translations. Translating means saying “the same thing” in a different language. However, this is not enough. Umberto Eco states that it’s necessary to understand that it’s not always exatctly the same, but “almost”. The flexibility or elasticity of this “almost” is very important because only a good translator knows how far and in what way he can stretch a translation.

People outside the world of translation often make the mistake to think that translating a text is limited to using a dictionary and systematically looking up the words that make up a text. In reality, translation goes beyond. Translating requires a thorough knowledge of the target language but, in addition to that, it requires a broad knowledge of its context. Historical, social and cultural circumstances determine the way of thinking in each region of the world. As a result, different cultural realities are created and those must be crossed and understood before the accurate translation.

2. Perfect translation: possible or not?

A good translator not only needs advanced and in-depth knowledge of his/her working languages. Translators also need to be aware of deeper levels of importance only than the formal construction. Mastering both denotative and connotative meanings is essential to understand the full of the original message. This is the only possibility to achieve a comparable discourse, or at least as comparable as possible.

A professional translator knows that he or she must reproduce all those meanings (both denotative and connotative) without making use f the source language. Their job is precisely to reproduce meanings in the target language. This is the most important task and the one that can make the difference between translation and betrayal.

3. Translation is a utopia

Many scholars argue that translation itself is a utopia. Translating a text with absolute fidelity is unattainable. Ortega y Gasset himself defined it as an unfeasible act and argued that in the world different mental frameworks and extremely different cultures coexist. For him, human beings were not prepared to put themselves “in the shoes of others”, and by not understanding the cultural realities of others, foreign languages also become inaccessible.

However, we cannot be so radical. An accurate translation adapted to the needs of the text and its interlocutors requires a high level of knowledge, not only linguistic, but also human, cultural and contextual. Mariana Frenk-Westheim stated that, although perfect translations do not exist, very good translations do exist. Although, in order to achieve them, the translator must develop a high level of engagement and an integral commitment to reach this goal. A very good translation requires skills to manage and master a large number of parameters, concepts and, in addition, a certain intuition.

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Virginia Pacheco's picture
Virginia Pacheco

Blog writer and Community Manager interested in multiculturality and linguistic diversity. From her native Venuzuela, she has travelled and lived for many years in France, Germany, Cameroon and Spain, passing on her passion for writing and her intercultural experiences.


Submitted by Don Lively on Thu, 08/03/2023 - 02:03
Don Lively's picture
This is a beautiful, almost poetic, presentation on this intriguing issue. Thank you so much. don

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