This is the ninth 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.
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 first part.
Aber statt dessen, wie nutzlos müht er sich ab; immer noch zwängt er sich durch die Gemächer des innersten Palastes; niemals wird er sie überwinden; […]. (Kafka 1994, 281:20–22)
But instead, how uselessly he toils; he is still forcing his way through the chambers of the innermost palace; never will he overcome them; […]. (Kafka 2011)
Da-yamva nārya, da-penyāng riayo – ya manga pastayāng tarela sangalye mitanena kong-vā – ang sēyraya tadoy adanyās – […].
‘Instead of this, though, how uselessly he fought; he was still squeezing through the rooms of the innermost palace; he would never overcome that/those; […].’
Notes on translation
In this passage, I only extended the meanings of some words, so for “abmühen” (Kafka 1994, 281:20), literally ‘to labor off’, I used pen- ‘to fight’, since that is also tedious in the long run. I was quite surprised I had a word for ‘useless’ actually that has nothing to do with the word for ‘useful’ that I could also find in the dictionary, merambay. I can’t explain how I came up with either of them in retrospective, since I can’t find any related words in the dictionary. Instead of “Gemächer” (Kafka 1994, 281:21), or “chambers” respectively (Kafka 2011), I simply translated sangalye ‘rooms’. Another vocabulary-related issue was “des innersten Palastes” (Kafka 1994, 281:21–22), respectively “of the innermost palace” (Kafka 2011), where I simply used the preposition for ‘inside’, kong, and added the superlative suffix -vā to it.
What is possibly of interest grammatically are the words preceded by the prefix da-, that is da-yamva ‘instead of that’ and da-penyāng ‘so/thus he fights’. This da- is related to the demonstrative prefixes eda- ‘this’ and ada- ‘that’ and together with verbs it assumes the meaning ‘so’ or ‘thus/in this way’, while it means ‘such’ generally. It appears in a compound with the postposition yamva ‘instead of’ here because that requires a prepositional object. I could have translated adaya yamva ‘that-LOC instead_of’, or raya yamva ‘3S.INAN.LOC instead_of’, however I preferred the more concise expression at the beginning of the sentence here.
- 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›