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I had this brought into sharp relief recently when I was reading Italo Calvino's If on a Winter's Night a Traveler (which has become one of my favorite books, coincidentally). There was a passage about how the "formal you" became an "informal you"—something that doesn't happen in English.

This passage, no matter how it was translated, would inevitably be jarring in English in a way that it wouldn't in Italian or even when translated to some other language which also makes that grammatical distinction.

Not that I'm complaining: if anything, it fit perfectly in a book as meta as If on a winter's night. It certainly made my experience deeper. But it also made it different than it would have been in other languages which makes you think...




I think, asked to make that translation, I'd have resorted to making all the characters in the play say "thee" and "thou" at appropriate moments, just so I had something to talk about.




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