“Sicilian is like English: sharp, short, the less said the better”


From Deutsche Welle:

Deutsche Welle: “There’s Nothing Wrong with Lucy” is based on the true story of a man you defended, who was accused of sexually abusing one of his daughters… I wonder if your career as a lawyer, which has always been in your second language, made it inevitable that you would write a book about one of your cases in English.

Simonetta Agnello Hornby: I couldn’t have written it in Italian. It’s not even automatic, it would have been impossible. The subject is English, the terminology is English, the tribunals are only English. I couldn’t have written it in Italian.

I feel very British when I’m here, and I feel like a Londoner. And when I’m in Palermo I feel without doubt what I am: a Sicilian. What is good to write in English is that if I write on a subject on which I’ve worked, like court cases, children, sex, family life – all that has been  primarily in English for me so that would be easier for me.

If I think I have to write about love of a mother for a baby and I think of my mother, then I will go into Italian. So I would consider Sicilian, which is my other language, as the language of affection, of sweetness, of softness, of love as child’s love or mother and child’s love. English is the language of my adult life; and Italian the language of my academic life because I got a degree in Italian and went to school in Italian.

I’m not a linguist, I don’t have the gift of going from one language to another. That’s why I have to stick to a language. And I’ve worked and lived in England so England is the country where I’ve read most and is the language I’ve spoken most.

You’ve said that re-writing the English conversations in Italian was one of your biggest challenges.

Italians speak more than the English. […] While in English you can have a conversation all with one or two words, in Italian the reader will get confused. So I had to lengthen or take away. Also, the descriptions – in Italian you have very long descriptions which fit. If you translate them into English they look awful. So the result is that I had to lengthen some of the descriptions from English into Italian.

Are there any things that you discovered about either of the languages in this process?

I think I discovered that each of them has its own beauties. And I discovered that I feel more at ease with English because it’s crisper, it’s shorter, it’s more to the point.

“Italian author in England takes roundabout path to mother tongue”, Deutsche Welle (via)