Imperial Messages X – “… nay viturongyāng …”

This is the tenth 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

This is again a rather long passage, so I’ve split this into four parts, still to be published semi-weekly to stay on schedule. This is the second part.

[…]; und gelänge ihm dies, nichts wäre gewonnen; die Treppen hinab müßte er sich kämpfen; […] (Kafka 1994, 281:22–24)

[…]; and were he to succeed at this, nothing would be gained: he would have to fight his way down the steps; […]. (Kafka 2011)

[…] – nay viturongyāng, le gamarongyāng ranya – ang rua kotongya apanjam rivanley ehen – […]

Interlinear glossing


‘[…]; and if he succeeded, he wouldn’t have managed anything; he would have to toil at descending the stair mountain; […]’

Notes on translation

Today’s bit had me thinking about how to translate “nichts wäre gewonnen” (Kafka 1994, 281:23) idiomatically rather than literally. The English translation with “gained” (Kafka 2011) instead of literal “won” is accurate: the idea behind this is that nothing would be achieved even by overcoming all the previously mentioned obstacles. Hence, I chose to translate this with gamar- ‘to manage’, which I stupidly did not give an example sentence for in the dictionary when I coined the word. Let us assume I intended it to mean ‘to achieve’ rather than ‘to conduct an enterprise’ originally.

Also, in order to translate “müsste er sich kämpfen” (Kafka 1994, 281:24), which I interpreted as toiling rather than literally fighting like in the English translation (cf. Kafka 2011), I brought myself to coin a word for that after all, although I chose to use pen- ‘to fight’ in the previous passage. The word kot- ‘to toil’ (with a causative derivation kotisa- ‘to torture’?) is derived from the word kotas ‘thorn, prick’, a relation I found not unreasonable.

The passage “ang rua kotongya apanjam” in the Ayeri translation is interesting in that it includes both ways Ayeri handles complement of verbs with verbs. Modal verbs are uninflected when they are not used as full verbs; instead, the content verb receives all inflection (this is the opposite of how German does it, by the way). For other verb-verb combinations, the second verb is marked with the participle/dative ending -yam and the noun phrase dependent of that second verb is usually in the patient case. In the above quotation, the content verb kot- ‘to toil’ is both modified by the modal rua ‘must’ (deviation from head-first order?) and complemented by apand- ‘to descend’.

  • 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. ‹›