“Is there Something in the Air?” A Playful Antivirus, an Amazing Tribute to Translation

March 2020: During the very first days of the COVID-19 crisis in Italy, a health care institution in Milan asked renowned children’s author Roberto Piumini to write something for youngsters that addressed the topic. This gave rise to a children’s rhyme that spoke about the Coronavirus in a gentle, lighthearted and caring manner. 

After being posted on Facebook, the poem instantly spread and quickly went viral. So viral, in fact, that Italian translators’ associations STRADE and AITI together with CEATL (Conseil Européen des Associations de Traducteurs Littéraires), and FIT (International Federation of Translators), decided to expand the project on a global scale by launching the initiative, joyfully embraced by the BCBF (Bologna Children’s Bookfair), of translating the poem into a variety of different languages. 

Over forty translators from all over the world enthusiastically volunteered to take part in the project, which formed a playful carousel of languages (English, French, Spanish, Galician, Catalan, Basque, Ladin, German, Russian, Dutch, Macedonian, Bulgarian, Romanian, Czech, Swedish, Norwegian, Greek, Danish, Lithuanian, Afrikaans, Lesotho, Tshivenda, Kalanga, Hebrew, Polish, Slovenian, Croatian, Finnish, Turkish, Chinese, Arabic, Slovak, Hungarian, Quichua, Georgian) to be read and listened to. The BCBF also published an audio or video lecture of the translations and a short biography of the translators. 

This linguistic merry-go-round is a virtuous example of best practices because of the synergy created between translators, translators’ associations from all over the world and an international children bookfair like BCBF. 

And is a good example of the healing power of words, which thanks to the author and the translators involved, entered homes during a period of social isolation that was difficult for both children and adults.

As Roberto Piumini writes: 

Words are presents, words are seeds,

they’re gifts that we have plenty of

and if they’re good they’re all we need,

when we’re apart, to grow our love.

Last but not least, the project demonstrates the delicate and enriching cultural and social function of translators in connecting different languages and different ways of living and thinking. As translator Mulalo Takalani member of SATI (South African Translators’ Institute) wrote: «I am so happy to be part of the team for the translation of “Is There Something In The Air” into my language Tshivenda, it puts Tshivenda language on the map».

Have a look at the BCBF’s Fairtales magazine.

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