Translated's Research Center

Transculturality in today’s world

Economy + Geopolitics

Imminent’s director, Luca De Biase, had the privilege of interviewing Arianna Dagnino, a researcher, translator, professor, journalist and author. Dr. Dagnino’s research focuses on cross-cultural phenomena and the impact of globalization, mobility and digital technology on society, the arts, and urban environments.

Arianna Dagnino

Arianna Dagnino

Published Author

Born in Genoa, Italy, she studied in London, Moscow, and Boston before becoming an international reporter, which led her to spend several years in Southern Africa and Australia, where she was awarded her PhD in Comparative Literature. Arianna teaches as part of the Italian Studies program at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and is the Cultural Events Coordinator for the Dante Alighieri Society of BC.​She is a member of the Writers' Union of Canada and the Literary Translators' Association of Canada. She holds Canadian, Australian, and Italian citizenship. She is the author of several books in Italian and in English, including the novel “The Afrikaner”, a penetrating story whose narrative describes the sociocultural context of post-apartheid South Africa, and “Il Quintetto di Istanbul”, a fascinating work that takes us inside the minds of five transcultural authors.

Arianna Dagnino

What emerges from Arianna’s experience in writing in different languages is that each of them opens different worldviews when writing and thinking. According to Arianna, this is “an enrichment” but it can also be problematic due to the fact that the number of ways one thinks and expresses him or herself also multiplies. Furthermore, this also creates complexity when translating, as more than often nuances of expressions in different languages are not easily transferable from one language to another. 

When discussing “The Afrikaner”, the author emphasizes how through the novel she really aimed to give a feel of what living in a multicultural society such as South African one, with 11 official languages and tribes, where different cultures and languages are constantly mixed, is like.

When Luca mentions business in South Africa, Arianna explains how “English is the Lingua Franca”  but depending on what community you are interacting with the use of local words is usually appreciated. 

Lastly, Ariannna explains how her research focuses on those writers who, like her, have crossed national and cultural boundaries, and have created a new type of literature that emerges from this increased mobility across cultures. In her work Il Quintetto di Istanbul”, she finds that even a transcultural arena is too tight for the five writers, the protagonists of the book, who are used to constantly moving and interacting with different cultures and languages.  

Interview script

Luca De Biase 

Arianna Dagnino. She is a journalist, writer. She is a professional translator and she teaches transcultural studies in Vancouver.She is transcultural in terms she was born in Genoa, she studied in Italy, of course, in London, in Moscow, Boston, then she started her professional career, she worked as journalist in Italy and everywhere else, where she also had started her family, the children and then she moved to South Africa and then she moved to Australia then she moved to Canada. And while doing this she wrote. Not in her language,in her mother language.For example, the novel “The Afrikaner” is written in English, it contains, it is full of strange words coming from all different languages from South Africa and this means that she had an experience, a double experience, writing, being a writer, being a novelist, and writing in a different language.

What happens when you are in a different language? As a writer.

Arianna Dagnino

Thank you Luca for this introduction to my biography.

I would just like to point out that I started writing in Italian, also fiction, okay, I started writing articles, as a journalist,I started writing in Italian, and then, little by little, because of my transnational experience, I started also writing in English. So for example, the novel of “the Afrikaner”, initially was written in Italian, under the title “Fossili” and published by Fazi editor in Rome, and then I self translated it into English. However, while self translating it, I also rewrote it. So there is also a component here of not only translation, but also of using another language as a creative tool. Having said that, and to answer your question, I think that having access to two different, at least two different languages, means having access to two different worldviews. And this is also what many other writers have told me. Bilingual writers. So they have confirmed this idea and also the way I experienced myself this process of bilingual education and creative writing. So it is adding access to two different worldviews, two different ways of looking at the word, what the Germans would call “Weltanschauung”, two different sensibilities, two different literary realms. So it is a kind of a multiplication of perspectives. It is an enrichment, of course, but also it costs, it can also become a hurdle. Because to a certain extent, it is as if your thought’s and speech’s processes were slowed down since you have access to more options to choose from, so you have always to take into consideration many choices and most of the times the words, idioms, even idiolects or even whole expressions and the subtle meanings attached to them are not easily transferable from one language to another. Thus, you start expressing yourself in a new jargon which is fully understandable only either to you or to those who have been through the same process of bilingual acquisition, in that particular language combination. So it is a kind of, you know, working on a new language.

Luca De Biase

It means that you are not just translating, you are comparing different words, different vision of the words and finding even new words.Is that correct?

Arianna Dagnino

Absolutely, and even when you are operating in the most common Italian-English combination, I’m not talking about, for example English – Urdu, you realize that nuances are often lost, and you feel you are only translating a fraction of what you really meant or wanted to convey. So when you are doing this, that is why you start creating like new words, new ways of expressing yourself, because you want to enrich your way of expressing yourself, to give more complexity to the way you express yourself. And it is a never ending process, you keep on going back and forth between two different languages and two different cultural systems.And if you are trilingual or even a polyglot, the whole process becomes even more complicated.

Luca De Biase 

Absolutely. And that is, of course, source of fascination.I mean, the Afrikaner is having a great success, it is becoming a movie, as I understand, and one of the fascinating things is the fact that it contains so many words that come from worlds so different. In particular, what is relational comes from local languages in South Africa. Food has always a local language and when you write one of those words, even though you can understand it, because there is a dictionary at the beginning, the real thing is that you just look at those words and just dream of other words.

Arianna Dagnino

Absolutely, yes. And I think I really wanted to give a feeling of what it means to live in a multicultural society like the South African one, where there are eleven official languages, eleven official ethnic tribes, where people always mix different words from their different languages and cultures. And food, of course, is where words never get translated, they keep their original word and meaning in all the other languages. And yes, I think that the best way to get to know and appropriate another word is to read it repeatedly in book or especially in a fiction, in a work of fiction, in a novel.

Luca De Biase

Yeah by the way, we, at imminent we are looking into South Africa and many different countries with a complicated set of languages. We have analyzed India, Nigeria… and South Africa is one of the most fascinating.The question that we are posing ourselves is: when you want to do business in South Africa, what kind of language you should choose?

Arianna Dagnino

It really depends on the community you are working with. But let’s say that English is the lingua franca, so you never make mistakes if you use English. Of course, if you are, you know, approaching the Afrikaner community the ability, for example, just to intersperse your own English with some Afrikaans words, would be greatly appreciated. And for example, because I did that also in my book, the Afrikaner community, for example, was very grateful, because it is a language that, unfortunately, is little by little disappearing, also because of political reasons for sure, it was considered the language of the oppressor during the apartheid time and during the apartheid regime so there are these historical and political reasons at play in South Africa, but with the language usually you also lose part of the culture and this is happening all over the world with a minority of the languages, unfortunately.

Luca De Biase 

That is great. In  South Africa, it seems English is still seen as a sort of modernization language, and not the colonial one, for example, in Nigeria, it seems different: some local languages are more important in terms of ideology and identity and are growing online, even in the business realm. Whilst South Africa still likes English, because it used to be the way you hoped to go out of apartheid.

Arianna Dagnino 

Absolutely but, you know, the main other languages are Zulu and Xhosa. And so again,  I also use some of these words in my book, just to give a feel of this complexity and also the richness and there are words, but as always, no translators always know, are untranslatable and are better kept in their original language.

Luca De Biase 

You use the word “wealth”, “the wealth of languages” is exactly what we hope to find. I mean it is a sort of overcoming the idea of different languages as a barrier, and to become a wealth richness of a cultural relationship. And this must be the motivation for you to look into transcultural studies. What is doing transcultural studies at present, and is it finding more barriers or more wealth?

Arianna Dagnino 

Yes, usually, with transcultural studies we tend to look for the commonalities between cultures, more than the things that keep cultures apart. So, within the, let’s say, the literary field in which I work with, I study what happens to writers who, due to increased mobility write across cultural, national boundaries and who in their lives and creative production transcend the borders of a single culture and use their culture of origin let’s say as a springboard to open up to other cultures. So I analyze a new type of literature emerging from these transcultural processes.And the more people are moving across different boundaries, different national or cultural frontiers, the more these people acquire this kind of transcultural sensibility and are looking for this kind of writing, kind of literature, whether it is fiction or non fictional, creative fiction. 

Luca De Biase 

So, looking at commonalities more than division is really something that motivates and gives hope to everybody who listens to these kind of studies. And you proceed in your research on transcultural studies in many ways.I saw one of those ways when I read your book written in Italian “Il Quintetto di Istanbul”.You, speaking to other transcultural writers in Istanbul, which is quite a peculiar place to find people and interview people that come from all over the world. Is that correct? Is “Il quintetto” part of your research?And what was the main finding with that?

Arianna Dagnino

Yes, I chose Istanbul as a kind of an imaginary or fictionalized setting. Where had this kind of literary salon in which I would interview and converse with these writers, international renowned writers, who I consider transcultural because of their literary output. And yes, I think Istanbul is the perfect kind of setting for these kind of writers, because it is at the confluence. And I like this word. Confluence between several cultures and religions, and ethnic backgrounds and cultural backgrounds. You know, at the intersection between the east and the west, between the Christian word and the Islamic word, and where also the presence of the Jewish tradition is still very strong. And so we have this city, which has historically even three names: Byzantium, Constantinople and Istanbul, which really represents this kind of cultural complexity. And the main finding of this research, that was done as part of my PhD dissertation, is that all these writers reject, to a certain extent, even a wide category like transcultural, because they are so open to the world and they are so adaptable and always shifting in their ways of looking at the world, that even a wide category as the trans-culture it is too tight for them.

Luca De Biase 

Yeah, in an age in which we always find people defending identity by defining differences, to look into this culture means hope. Because, as you say in the “Quintetto di Istanbul” and says Ilia Troiano, who you interviewed, “cultures are never pure, they are always the confluence”, as you have just said, “of different cultures, of different experiences and human experiences”. So the new culture that comes from the confluence is the future. And to us, this kind of research is the future. We will not be a set of identities, stable identities, that will stay as they were forever, we will for sure become something else. And this kind of studies: looking into translation, transcultural exchange of wealth is going to be strategic for the future of human beings. I thank you very much Arianna Dagnino for this interview. I hope she will stay with us, with Imminent for a long time, sharing her findings and maybe doing some research with us also.Thank you Arianna. Thank you very much.

Arianna Dagnino 

Thank you Luca.Thank you for giving me this opportunity to share my research with you all.

Luca De Biase 

Thank you.