Imperial Messages VII – “Nārya ikananang kāryo-ing …”

This is the seventh 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

Aber die Menge ist so groß; ihre Wohnstätten nehmen kein Ende. (Kafka 1994, 281:16–17)

But the crowds are so vast; their dwellings know no bounds. (Kafka 2011)

Nārya ikananang kāryo-ing – ang tahoyyon midayanye tan litoley.

Interlinear glossing


‘But the crowd was so large; their neighborhoods had no boundaries.’

Notes on translation

After a long sentence now a very short one, and probably the one that is most typical of Kafka in the whole story by thematizing an unsurmountable task a single person is charged with, only to find themselves doomed to fail. No new words had to be coined here, and nothing of importance needs to be said about grammar. Except one thing: Ayeri distinguishes masculine, feminine, neuter, and inanimate in its third person pronouns. But how then should I handle groups of indeterminate or mixed gender? So far I’ve usually followed the French rule: default to masculine. Hence midayanye tan ‘their neighborhoods’ uses the masculine third person plural genitive pronoun. However, I seriously wonder how common defaulting to masculine is in languages that have gender if there also is a neuter/inanimate category.

  • It must be tahoyyon ‘have-NEG-3PN’ rather than tahayon ‘have-3PN’ to convey the intended sense of “don’t have.”
  • 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. ‹›