Tag Archives: German

Translation Challenge: Fences and Gardens

Excerpt from Heidelberg Univ. Lib., Cod. Pal. germ. 164, fol. 17r (CC BY-SA)
Excerpt from Heidelberg Univ. Lib., Cod. Pal. germ. 164, fol. 17r (CC BY-SA; Source)
I am still busy collecting data for my MA thesis, but what with all the work during the day, I still needed to do something creative at night (and weekends), so I spent the last two-ish weeks working on a translation challenge I gave myself: one of the 13th century deeds I had come across during work that looked rather straightforward.

So if you’re curious about part of my current day job, want to see a first attempt at making up a sentence fragment in ‘Vaporlang’ and also look for some thorough annotation pointing out some Middle High German idioms (English translations provided and everything), you can download my translation here:

Fences and Gardens: An Ayeri Translation of a Medieval Neighborhood Dispute.

  • Demske, Ulrike. Merkmale und Relationen: Diachrone Studien zur Nominalphrase des Deutschen. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2001. Print. Studia Linguistica Germanica 56.
  • Eike von Repgow. Sachsenspiegel. Heidelberg Manuscript, Cod. Pal. germ. 164. 17r. Eastern Middle Germany, 14th c. Heidelberger historische Bestände digital. Heidelberg University Library, n.d. Web. 18 Oct. 2015. ‹http://digi.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/diglit/cpg164/0047›. CC BY-SA.
  • “N 163 (381 a).” Corpus der altdeutschen Originalurkunden bis zum Jahr 1300. Ed. Helmut de Boor et al. Vol. 5. Berlin: Erich Schmidt, 2004. 127. Print.

Thoughts on Object Predicatives

English and other languages have these nasty little things which I learnt are called “object predicatives,” that is, attributive complements to objects of transitive verbs (cf. Biber et al. 50). Since that’s a mouthful of abstract linguistic terminology, here’s an example of what I mean:

He / paints / the door / blue.
S / V / O / PRED

In order to look up which ways there are crosslinguistically to deal with these constructions I looked into my copy of Describing Morphosyntax as well as WALS, but sadly I couldn’t find anything useful quickly when I looked for “object predicative” and “object complement.” Since I intended Ayeri to be generally (and I mean broadly generally) influenced by Austronesian languages, I also had a look into my Indonesian grammar for fun, to see how that would deal with object complements/predicatives:

Indonesian, Sneddon (269; glosses by me):

Perbuatannya menjadikan ibunya sedih.
action-he cause mother-he sad
‘His actions made his mother sad.’

Mereka menganggapnya munafik.
they consider-he hypocrite
‘They consider him a hypocrite.’

We can see here that Indonesian also basically does it the same way as English by simply placing the adjective after the object NP. However, Indonesian, like English (on nouns at least), doesn’t mark case. German – although marking case all over the place – does it this way as well, though:

Seine Taten machten seine Mutter traurig.
he.GEN-PL.NOM deed-PL make-PST-3P he.GEN-F.SG.ACC mother sad
‘His actions made his mother sad.’

Sie halten ihn für einen Heuchler.
they.NOM hold-3P he.ACC for a-M.SG.ACC hypocrite
‘They consider him a hypocrite.’

Now what about my conlang? First, let’s look at an adjective complement of an intransitive verb (i.e. a subject complement):

Surpya ang Akan mino.
seem-3S A Akan happy
‘Akan seems happy.’

Now, to use the door-painting example from the beginning and the same sentence structure as with the previous example:

Le vitayāng kunang leno.[1. If you see vita- in the dictionary, you’ll currently find the example phrase Le məvitayang dano mereng ‘I painted the wall green’, where the color adjective (dano ‘green’) follows the verb. Seems like I’ve thought about this before but didn’t note it anywhere.]
PF paint-he.A door blue.
‘He paints the door blue’

Certainly this is one strategy to express this sentence with the syntax built in analogy to the intransitive example, but we will run into trouble when the complement of the object is not an adjective but a proper NP:

Ang garayan yās depang-???.
AF call-they he.P fool-???
‘They call him a fool.’

Since noun phrases need to be case-marked in Ayeri, what case should depang ‘fool’ have? A second patient? A way to solve this might be to exclude the direct object of the verb from the main clause and to put it instead into its own complement clause (So many complements here, gotta be careful!):[2. I think I remember having read that Slavic languages have a similar strategy?]

Garatang, yāng depangas.
call-they.A, he.A fool-P
‘They call (that) he (is a) fool.’ => ‘They call him a fool.’

Of course, we can then apply the same strategy to a sentence with an object predicative, and even one with a subject predicative, i.e. a predicative adjective modifying an intransitive verb:

Vitayāng, kunangreng leno.
paint-he.A, door-A.INAN blue
‘He paints (that) the door (is) blue.’ => ‘He paints the door blue.’

Surpreng, ang Akan mino.
seem-it.INAN.A, AF Akan happy.
‘It seems (that) Akan (is) happy.’

However, I’m not too fond of dummy-it constructions in Ayeri as presented in the Surpreng, … example, so I’d rather prefer the first rendition of the sentence at the beginning of this article. The point I wanted to make about the Vitayāng, … example is that this way there is no ambiguity whether the blue door is painted or whether there is a door painted blue: Since adjectives follow their heads, kunang leno just on its own means ‘blue door’, which potentially causes confusion. I presume that in spoken language the disambiguation between either case happens by intonation,[3. How does Indonesian distinguish ‘his sad mother’ from ‘made his mother sad’, by the way? Please explain! :)] however, in writing – where intonation is absent – or so as to give clear orders to your craftsmen, you might prefer the complement-clause phrasing.

  • Biber, Douglas, Susan Conrad, and Geoffrey Leech. Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English. 8th ed. Harlow: Pearson Education, 2002. 50. Print.
  • Sneddon, James N. Indonesian: A Comprehensive Grammar. New York: Routledge, 1996. 269. Print. Routledge grammars.