Imperial Messages III – “Ri kaytisyāng halinganley …”

This is the third 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

Durch Kopfnicken hat er die Richtigkeit des Gesagten bestätigt. (Kafka 1994, 281:5–6)

With a nod of his head he confirmed the accuracy of the messenger’s words. (Kafka 2011)

Ri kaytisyāng halinganley narānjas ninayana naban devona yana.

Interlinear glossing

[gloss]Ri kayt-is(a)-yāng haling-an-ley narān-jas ninaya-na nab-an devo-na yana.
INSF right-CAU-3SM.A exact-NMLZ-P.INAN word-PL.P messenger-GEN wag-NMLZ head-GEN 3SM.GEN[/gloss]
‘With a wag of his head he confirmed the accuracy of the messenger’s words.’

Notes on translation

First of all, how to translate “nod”? As far as I know (though I cannot quote literature here), nodding your head in agreement is a European gesture that is not necessarily applicable to other cultures. I do not know how my fictional people will show agreement, so I translated “nod” with “swing”, which received an extended meaning for this purpose and may probably better be translated as “wag”. Another difficulty was the word “accuracy”. At first I had translated it with kalam ‘truth’, but using haling ‘exact’ seemed more suitable to extend with accurate. The dictionary in fact lists two words for ‘exact’: haling and tarika.

In terms of grammar and style, not much needs to be said. Participles cannot be marked for focus but instead need to be nominalized for this purpose, hence we get naban ‘wag’ rather than nabyam ‘wagging’.

  • 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. ‹›