Translation Activities

1. The Anglo-Saxon Boccaccio

The stories of Day 6 illustrate how with the use of a quick retort or verbal pleasantry characters are able to avoid danger, ridicule or discomfort. They also happen to be among the shortest tales in the Decameron. Select a story to your liking and then compose an original English translation capturing, as closely as possible, the meaning and spirit of the original Italian text. Identify any passages/terms that were particularly troublesome for further class discussion.

The use of a good bilingual dictionary, such as the "Dizionario Inglese-Italiano/Italiano-Inglese" of Giuseppe Ragazzini (published by Zanichelli), is highly recommended. The multi-volume Battaglia Italian dictionary may provide clarification of older Italian terms as abundant literary examples are regularly provided. The Battaglia edition can be found in the reference section of most university libraries.

2. Examining Translation Methodologies

When translating Boccaccio's Decameron, scholars have used a variety of methodological and theoretical approaches. In most cases, they discuss their approach in their edition's preface or introduction. After closely examining the methodologies of at least three different translators, write a brief essay comparing and contrasting their different styles and techniques. Do they support a highly "literal" translation? What concessions have they made to render Boccaccio's complex prose more pleasing to the modern reader? What semantic and grammatical obstacles did they encounter?

3. Modern Translations Compared

Compare and contrast two different translations of the same Decameron tale through a close side-by-side reading. You may select the two English translations currently being used by the Decameron Web, or any English edition you find at the library. Consider how the different English versions differ in terms of their linguistic choices (variations in diction and sentence structure), word flow, and fidelity to Boccaccio's "spirit." Describe your findings using specific textual references.

4. Annual Boccaccio Translation Contest

In an effort to broaden the scope of its humanities computing efforts, the Decameron Web at Brown University would like to announce its first ever Boccaccio Translation Contest. The competition invites students, scholars, teachers, and independent researchers to translate the following phrase from the Author's Conclusion:

"a chi per tempo passar legge, niuna cosa puote esser lunga, se ella quel fa per che egli l'adopera"

Translations must be in English and the contest deadline is March 30, 2001. The winner will receive $200 and have their translation featured on the Decameron Web site as part of a new Multiuser Translation Module to be added to the site next year.

Entries may be submitted either via email to or by post: The Decameron Web, Italian Studies Department, Brown University, Box 1942, Providence, RI 02912.