Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Leno Prestini Files #5: A Letter For Translation & Photos For Identification

The Leno Prestini Files #5:
A Letter Looking For a Translator
Photos Looking For Identification


Wally Lee Parker

(all rights to this material retained by author)

            The line of blood descent from Luigi and Caterina Prestini ended with their sons, Battista and Leno.  But current supposition has it that there are at least a few other Prestini relatives in America, and a large contingent of Prestini related bloodlines back in the old country.  There’s also some material supporting the possibility that other families from Besano, Italy, immigrated to America during the same approximate period as the families of Luigi (Luis or Lewis) Prestini and his brother Ferdinando (Fred), and that these Besano families may have remained in at least causal contact with each other for some time after dispersing across the country.  All three of the local historical groups pursuing the history of Leno Prestini are very interested in stitching together whatever knowledge we can of the extended Prestini clan, and through that stitching make some sense of the various here-to-fore unidentified assortments of letters, postcards, and photos left in the archives of the three groups  the Loon Lake Historical Society, the Stevens County Historical Society, and the Clayton/Deer Park Historical Society.
            In pursuit of that common goal, the librarian for the Stevens County group, Glendine Leonard, has forwarded images of two letters and an assortment of photos for posting on the Bogwen Report in the hope that a translation might be obtained for the Italian language letter, and some details regarding the individuals named in that and the second letter, the English language letter, might be obtained.
            Both of these missives appear to be from a gentleman living in Italy.  The original envelopes are not currently available, but we believe the sender, signed as “Cousin Mario,” may have been Mario Andreoletti of Turin (Torino), Italy.
            Both letters are typewritten.  We assume these are the original letters as opposed to transcriptions done after the letters arrived in America because we simply have no reason to believe they are otherwise.
            The earlier letter, dated December 9, 1982, is in Italian.  The greeting is to both Battista Prestini and Mae Mae we believe being an informal name for Battista’s wife, Mary.

Image courtesy Stevens County Historical Society used by permission

            Using Google’s translation program produced this interpretation.

Turin, December 9, 1982

Dear and beloved Baptist (Battista) and Mae,

            I hope these few lines will have to find you in good health, something we all wish for you from my heart.
            We are all well, even my dad Joseph turn 90 next year, and a good age and brings them very well, always lively and sprightly and full of good will, and often speaks of you with little time in the past several years Besano ago, and which still photographs made there, and have, he says, that sometimes you can find even more.  Here in Turin when he feels a bit indoors, and wait impatiently for the summer arrivals to return to Besano to maintain the garden and raise some chickens, and that his favorite pastime.
            Dear and beloved Baptist (Battista) and Mae, we send many good wishes for a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, always with the hope that 1983 will bring us a little more peace and prosperity which we all need, especially here in this poor Italy, where things do not go very well.
            Waiting for new from you soon, would like to receive greetings and kisses do my part, my wife and my children, and especially so by his uncle Joseph.

Your cousin,


            So how much trust should be placed in the above machine translation?  After releasing this translation to the various interested parties, I was asked by several individuals why we couldn’t use a machine to translate the cursive letters exchanged between Luigi and Caterina in 1919 from Italian into English see “The Leno Prestini Files: #1, #2, and #3.  I sent the following to explain my assumptions on both matters the fidelity of machine translations in general and the problems likely to be encountered when attempting to transcribe handwritten Italian into the print characters needed for machine translation.

            The problem is; if you’re typing words into a machine in order to translate from one language to another you’ll need to be feeding the machine words that are spelled correctly. Normally translation machines will not guess at a misspelled word.  In other words, correctly spelled missives should result in an at least partially accurate translation when typed verbatim into a translation machine.  However, languages are so complex and the capabilities of computers so limited that even if all the words are spelled correctly the results should not be trusted if an accurate translation is considered important.
            As for asking a machine to translate directly from optically scanned handwritten originals, even highly sophisticated computer programs will not read cursive without extensive training in the idiosyncratic oddities of whichever of the many dozens of academically taught handwriting styles the original writer used, but also training to the very specific stylistic novelties every human writer tends to add to their handwriting as said writing evolves over time.  Legibility problems add an even more imposing barrier since even well-trained machines are reluctant to guess at what might have once filled a space now obscured by stains, folds, or the age induced fading common to antique missives.
            When a person transcribing a message from handwritten English into typewritten English can’t decipher all the handwritten characters, they can at least guess at what the unknown letters in any given word are from the few characters they can read and from how this newly guessed at word interacts with the original words written before and after. If a person guesses at a word and then finds that the word makes no sense within the sentence, that person will recognize that they’ve misinterpreted the indecipherable characters and try something else.  This kind of creativity requires the ability to imagine an ability even the most sophisticated computers are taxed to simulate.
            If all the above is true for transcribing from handwriting to print in a language a person speaks and writes every day, how could a person guess at the illegible letters in a foreign word when they’re not sure of either the spelling or meaning of that word, of the meanings of any of the surrounding words, or even of how these various words would normally be expected to fit into the grammatical structure of a sentence?  That’s why a faithful rendering from one language to another requires a human who not only understands how to read and speak with some fluency both the specific languages in question, but also someone who can write both languages with if not poetic insight, then with at least a daub of expository clarity.  Only someone able to do both can transcribe with some fidelity the original writer’s intention.  And when it comes to translations, the intention of any given message is its most important element.

            The second letter is a letter of sympathy.  Addressed “Dear Mae,” it’s written in English and signed, “vostro cugino, Mario,” or “your cousin, Mario.”  The date is May 10, 1983 just over a month after Battista Prestini’s death in early April.

Image courtesy Stevens County Historical Society used by permission.

            At this point we’re given five names  Mario, Piera, Roberto, Natale, and Uncle Giuseppe.  Our natural assumption would be that all are members of the above noted Andreoletti family.
            Mario, Roberto, and Giuseppe appear to be male names.  Piera appears to be a female name.  But Natale  now there’s a problem.  The name does appear as an Italian surname.  And in the Andreoletti family photos sent with the Stevens County material that said name is likely associated with a younger person.  When typed into the translation machine with the first letter capitalized, the name comes out literally as “Christmas.”  And when the “n” is left un-capitalized, the machine translates “natale” as “native.”
            Anyway, here are the family photos to which names can be logically associated via the handwritten text accompanying them.  The text appears to be written in Italian which suggests that Natale is the correct spelling for the individual giving us a problem.

The fallowing photos are courtesy of the Stevens County Historical Society.  The dates for the photos are unknown, but assumed to be prior to 1983.

From the left: Mario, Piera, Cathy Morris - an American relative, Natale, Roberto, and Giuseppe.
From the left: Piera, Mario Giuseppe, and Roberto.

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