Imperial Messages II – “Sā sarayya ya ninayāng …”

This is the second posting in a series on the process of translating the short story “Eine kaiserliche Botschaft” by the Praguer writer Franz Kafka (*1883, †1924). The individual installments will go through the text mostly sentence by sentence, quoting from the German text as well as a translation of it into English. Following these quotations, I will discuss and comment on newly coined words and thoughts I had on grammar while doing the translation.

The text

Den Boten hat er beim Bett niederknieen lassen und ihm die Botschaft ins Ohr zugeflüstert; so sehr war ihm an ihr gelegen, daß er sich sie noch ins Ohr wiedersagen ließ. (Kafka 1994, 281:2–5)

He bade the messenger kneel by his bed, and whispered the message in his ear. So greatly did he cherish it that he had him repeat it into his ear. (Kafka 2011)

Sā sarayya ya ninayāng pinamya nay ang naraya taran budangas tangya ninayana. Budangang kapo-ing padangyam sitang-yana, sā na-narayāng yos tangya yana bayhi.

Interlinear glossing

CAUF
saray-ya
bow-3SM
ya
3SM.FOC
ninaya-ang
messenger-A
pinam-ya
bed-LOC
nay
and
ang
AF
nara-ya
say-3SM
taran
quiet
budang-as
message-P
tang-ya
ears-LOC
ninaya-na.
messenger-GEN

‘He had the messenger bow at his bedside and quietly said the message into the messenger’s ears.’

Budang-ang
message-A
kapo=ing
important=so
padang-yam
heart-DAT
sitang=yana,
self=3SM.GEN,
CAUF
na~nara-yāng
again~say-3SM.A
yos
3SN.P
tang-ya
ears-LOC
yana
3SM.GEN
bayhi.
ruler

‘The message was so important to his own heart that the ruler had him say it again into his ears.’

Notes on translation

The only newly coined word here is ninaya, from nin- ‘to carry’ and -mayaAGTZ’: a messenger is literally a ‘carrier’, thus. I chose saray- ‘to bow’ instead of ‘kneel down’ because I did not like to derive a word from the existing expression for ‘knee’, that is, sirayila (lit. ‘foot bend’).

This paragraph contains a structure I’m struggling with every time I come across it even twice: causatives. There is theoretically no need for expressions like “have sth. done” or “let s.o. do sth” in Ayeri, since the same meaning can be expressed by marking the motivating constituent as a causer, which is distinct from the agent in this language. The construction demands that the causer be the topic of the sentence (CAUF for ‘causative focus’), while the entity forced to act is marked with the agent case according to its semantic role. The use of the reflexive morpheme sitang- ‘self, own’ in “padangyam sitang-yana” is for emphasis.

The decision to resolve the semi-colon of the German text (cf. Kafka 1994, 281:4) as a full stop was made for more or less stylistic reasons. The semi-colon certainly underlines the parallel structure of the two clauses, however, a full stop works just as well.

  • Kafka, Franz. “Eine kaiserliche Botschaft.” Drucke zu Lebzeiten. By Franz Kafka. Eds. Wolf Kittler et al. Frankfurt a. M.: S. Fischer, 1994. 280–82. Print.
  • ———. “A Message from the Emperor.” Trans. by Mark Harman. NYRblog. The New York Review of Books, 1 Jul. 2011. Web. 9 Feb. 2012. ‹http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2011/jul/01/message-emperor-new-translation›