Tag Archives: style

Stylistic experiment: Tahano Hikamu and blackletter

I’m a doodler. More specifically, I’m in the habit of doodling random words and sentences when watching TV. Moreover, ever since I started toying with adapting Ayeri’s Tahano Hikamu writing system to a style that resembles blackletter, that idea hasn’t let go of me, and it’s become part of my idle doodling. I briefly mentioned the idea of a blackletter-style Tahano Hikamu in the grammar (p. 61–62) along with a small example, but I’ve never really documented it seriously.

So, blackletter. What does this have to do with Ayeri, since it undeniably takes some of its aesthetic of sound and spelling not from European languages but rather from southeast Asian languages? And what’s more, its ‘native’ writing system does so as well—maybe even turning some of the features of real-world syllabic alphabets typical of that region up to eleven. On the other hand, so-called Gothic scripts (see e.g. Knight 1996: 320–322, or if you read German, Schneider 2014: 28–85; this is not directly related to the Gothic language and its alphabet) are a western-central European variation of the Latin alphabet which came into fashion in the middle ages. They survive in the shape of blackletter print for certain purposes up to the present day.

Roman and blackletter styles
Roman (italic) and blackletter styles (Source Serif 4 Italic; UniFraktur Maguntia)

Here in Germany at least (and no doubt in other parts of the Germanic-speaking world as well), you can still find blackletter typefaces for instance in the mastheads of newspapers, on pub signs, beer labels, and other things that are supposed to evoke either a long-standing tradition or rustic folklore. Unfortunately, blackletter also has a dark side: it is also associated with the Nazi era and continues to be used in connection to fascist, nationalist, and racist ideas. In my exploration of and toying with this style, I expressly distance myself from such ideologies.

One key characteristic of Gothic scripts—of which blackletter typefaces are a variant—is that they emphasize vertical lines, making characters tall and narrow, like the windows in Gothic cathedrals. Another one is that the round parts of letters are broken up into multiple strokes, with the ‘feet’ of stems typically bent to the right (Schneider 2014: 29). According to Schneider (2014: 28–29) ‘gothification’ of the Carolingian minuscule can be observed first in the Anglo-Norman area, i.e. England and northern France, and also in Belgium in the late 11th and early 12th century. She writes that the style then made its way into central Europe from the mid-12th century on, spreading from west to east. Gothic book hands and blackletter typefaces with their intricate joining together of angles, straight and curved lines, and sometimes even added embellishing hairlines and tittles may lead to very intricate, at times playful shapes in spite of a stout overall look.

What brought me to combine two such disparate things as Gothic scripts and Ayeri’s writing system, anyway? For one, I’ve been working for the Handschriftencensus research project for the past few years. Handschriftencensus is a meta-catalog on the transmission of all medieval texts in German language by way of manuscripts. In real-life small talk, I like to say it’s basically the Yellow Pages of German codicology research. At the office, we don’t work with old codices directly, however, one of the pre-pandemic perks my job included was participating in excursions to and workshops at libraries such as the Heidelberg University Library’s historical collection and to get literally hands-on with old books there. When not traveling, digitized manuscripts have to suffice. Looking at writing from several hundred years ago is thus part of my current job, and I can’t deny that manuscripts hold some fascination for me, as the photos in this article probably suggest.

A view of the manuscript, St. Gallen, Kantonsbibliothek, Vadianische Sammlung, VadSlg Ms. 302, part 2, fol. 25r, with people's hands around
Getting hands-on with St. Gallen, Cantonal Lib., Vadian Coll., VadSlg Ms. 302 (e-codices, HSC). Displayed here is pt. 2, fol. 25r. Not all medieval manuscripts are this lavishly decorated. Most are drab and practical, made to be used, not treasures to be marveled at.

Secondly, I’ve long found southeast Asian scripts such as Balinese, Burmese, Javanese, Khmer, Thai, etc. intriguing both regarding their system of writing and their look, which also had an influence on Tahano Hikamu. Several years ago, I stumbled upon an image on Wikipedia of the title plate of an 1898 book commemorating queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands’ accession to the throne in 1890. The issue of European colonialism (again, with its history of violence, exploitation, and lingering socioeconomic problems) aside, what especially caught my intrigue here is the first line, which combines Javanese writing with the European blackletter style.

Javanese text written in blackletter style on the title page of a book
Text in Javanese script on the title page of a book printed in Semarang, Indonesia, in 1898 (Koninklijk Huisarchief via Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

Both the Latin alphabet and the Javanese script emphasize the vertical axis, which opens up a possibility for stylistic experimentation with Gothic style features in an alien environment. If something like this is possible, shouldn’t it also be possible in my script? Tahano Hikamu’s consonant letters as well are mainly built on a lattice of vertical strokes, so there shouldn’t be a problem either to adapt them to broken lines and curly feet. In some cases, it proved even possible to adapt the shape of Latin letters to the ‘gothicized’ Ayeri script directly. The following chart gives an overview of the characters and diacritics with the exception of numerals, which I’ve so far neglected to experiment on.

Chart of blackletter-style Tahano Hikamu characters
Chart of blackletter-style Tahano Hikamu characters

The following correspondences exist, in some cases also independent of the particular style of Tahano Hikamu:

  • TH pa — Lat. n
  • TH ba — Lat. a (double-storey shape)
  • TH na — Lat. i, j
  • TH nga — similar to Lat. w
  • TH va — Lat. r
  • TH ra — similar to Lat. g (looptail shape)
  • TH ya — Lat. u
  • TH fa — Lat. m
  • TH sha — similar to Lat. B
  • TH kha — similar to Lat. R

The diphthong marker appears turned on its head in the above chart (4th line, 5th item from the right), resulting in what looks similar to the quarter rest in music. This is a stylistic variation I have recently experimented with, in part also because I keep forgetting preposed diacritics when doodling words as described initially. Starting with a base stroke thus often rescues the attempt to write a word, so it’s a beneficial feature to keep. The basic grapheme in its ‘canonical’ orientation is straightforward enough to be adapted as well, though. The letter ga posed the greatest challenge, similar to Latin g, which itself has invited stylistic experiments by both scribes and typographers over the centuries as well. For instance, look at the gs in James Todd’s (2015) article on designing the Essonnes typeface, which he samples from a version of the classic Didot. Aren’t they glorious with their serifed lower bowls?

Will you see more of Ayeri written in this style, maybe even a cohesive text? Frankly, I have no idea what the future holds, since I’m still working on my dissertation and am intent on finishing it this year. Small indulgences like writing this blog article already leave me with a slightly bad conscience about neglecting my off-hour duties (working on your PhD is usually an unpaid hobby in German academia, at least in the humanities, and yes, people are not happy about it).

Suffice it to say, doodling in this style has renewed my appreciation for the toil of medieval scribes. It’s a slow and arduous way of writing if you want it to look good, even when it’s just to write a few lines.

  • Knight, Stan. 1996. The Roman Alphabet. In The World’s Writing Systems, edited by Peter T. Daniels and William Bright. New York, NY, and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 312–332.
  • Koninklijk Huisarchief. 2013. Book title commemorating Wilhelmina’s ascension, Semarang 1898. Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain). [Link]
  • Schneider, Karin. 2014. Paläographie und Handschriftenkunde für Germanisten: Eine Einführung. 3rd ed. Sammlung kurzer Grammatiken germanischer Dialekte, B. Ergänzungsreihe 8. Berlin and Boston, MA: de Gruyter. DOI: 10.1515/9783110338676.
  • Todd, James. 2015. Making Fonts: Essonnes. I Love Typography (June 12). [Link]
Private photos of:

Translation Challenge: The Scientific Method

The other day, when I was reading io9, I came across an article about One of the World’s First Statements About the Scientific Method. The article is about a quote by Alhazen – Ibn al-Haytham, an Arab polymath of the 10th/11th cenutry –, the quotation from his book Doubts Concerning Ptolemy (Al-Shukūk ‛alā Baṭlamyūs). I don’t know how accurate the translation is, but I thought that it would still be nice as a Translation Challenge, so I’m basing the following translation off of this English translation, since I don’t know any Arabic. Unfortunately, there is no indication of the edition the translated passage is quoted from. According to a comment on the article by Bradley Steffens, the source of this quotation is the closing passage of his own book Ibn al-Haytham: First Scientist. Contrary to what Steffens says in the comment, however, there is a critical translation of Alhazen’s book into English by Don L. Voss, published in 1985 as a Ph.D. thesis at the University of Chicago, but it doesn’t seem to be easily available outside of UChicago. Since I don’t have access to either book, I’m quoting this from the io9 article:[1. I hope Mr. Steffens will excuse my lifting this passage from his book, here with proper attribution, though.]

The seeker after truth is not one who studies the writings of the ancients and, following his natural disposition, puts his trust in them, but rather the one who suspects his faith in them and questions what he gathers from them, the one who submits to argument and demonstration and not the sayings of human beings whose nature is fraught with all kinds of imperfection and deficiency. Thus the duty of the man who investigates the writings of scientists, if learning the truth is his goal, is to make himself an enemy of all that he reads, and, applying his mind to the core and margins of of its content, attack it from every side. [H]e should also suspect himself as he performs his critical examination of it, so that he may avoid falling into either prejudice or leniency.

What struck me as challenging here is that this rather lengthy quotation consists of just three sentences with both a complex structure and interesting vocabulary that exceeds that of daily language, e.g. seeker after truth, the ancients, natural disposition, deficiency, investigate, … However, since I don’t like too complex sentences in Ayeri, I split the three sentences in the quote up into multiple sentences, which makes translation a bit easier. The first sentence especially also lends itself well to using anaphora and parallelism as a stylistic device. The English text also does that, but obscures it a little by using a lot of coordinated clauses in a single sentence.

[gloss]Balang kalam -maya -ang voy nyān -as si le sobisa -yāng tahang -ye -Ø timbay -an -ena nay parona -yāng suhing -ya yana nasyam.
Seek truth -AGTZ -A NEG person -P REL PT.INAN study -3SG.M.A writing -PL -T ancient -NMLZ -GEN and trust -3SG.M.A nature -LOC 3SG.M.GEN according.to.[/gloss]
‘The truth-seeker is not a person who studies the writings of the ancient and trusts in them according to his nature.’

[gloss]Adanya -ang nāreng nyān -as si sa birenya -yāng paronān -Ø yana nay sa nikang -yāng adanya -Ø si sob -yāng ray.
That.one -A rather person -P REL PT doubt -3SG.M.A trust -T 3SG.M.GEN and PT question -3SG.M.A that.one -T REL learn -3SG.M.A 3PL.INAN.INS.[/gloss]
‘He is rather a person who doubts his trust and questions what he learns from them.’

[gloss]Adanya -ang māy nyān -as si ya sitang= avan -yāng mandan -Ø nay pukatan -Ø, nāroy narān -ya keynam -ena =nama si -Ø -nā suhing -ang tan deng miran -ye -ri =hen sempay -arya -na nay sinka -ye -na.
That.one -A AFF person -P REL LOCT self= subject -3SG.M.A argumentation -T and proof -T, but.not word -LOC people -GEN =mere REL -GEN -GEN nature -A 3PL.M.GEN full kind -PL -INS =all perfect -NEG -GEN and flaw -PL -GEN.[/gloss]
‘He is a person who subjects himself to argumentation and proof, but not to the word of mere humans the nature of which is full of all kinds of imperfections and flaws.’

[gloss]Dila -yam -an -ang kalam -ena bahalan -as ayon -ena si le nivisa -yāng tahang -ye -Ø sobisaya -ye -na, ruān -as yana kada, sa tav -yāng kehin -Ø enya -na si laya -yāng.
find.out -PTCP -NMLZ -A truth -GEN goal -P man -GEN REL PT.INAN investigate -3SG.M.A writing -GEN -T scholar -PL -GEN, duty -P 3SG.M.GEN thus, PT become -3SG.M.A enemy -T everything -GEN REL read -3SG.M.A.[/gloss]
‘If finding out the truth is the goal of the man who investigates the writings of the scholars, his duty is thus for him to become the enemy of everything he reads.’

[gloss]Na pakua -yāng tenuban -as yana terpeng -yam nay lito -yam erar -Ø nay ang kongr -ya ray -ena =hen.
GENT apply -3SG.M.A reason -P 3SG.M.GEN center -DAT and margin -DAT content -T and AT attack -3SG.M.A side -GEN =every.[/gloss]
‘He applies his reason to the center and the margin of the content and attacks it from every side.’

[gloss]Ang mya birenya -ya -Ø sitang= yās naynay ling nivisān -j -ya yana, kadāre ang mya manang -ya -Ø tav -yam kimbisan -as adun -ena soyang tataman -ena.
AT be.supposed.to doubt -3SG -T self= 3SG.M.P as.well during investigation -PL -LOC 3SG.M.GEN, so.that AT may avoid -3SG -T become -PTCP prey -P prejudice -GEN or leniency -GEN.[/gloss]
‘He is to doubt himself as well during his investigations so that he may avoid becoming the prey of prejudice or leniency.’

The whole text:

Balangkalamayāng voy nyānas si le sobisayāng tahangye timbayanyena nay paronayāng suhingya yana nasyam. Adanyāng nāreng nyānas si sa birenyayāng paronān yana nay sa nikangyāng adanya si sobyāng ray. Adanyāng māy nyānas si ya sitang-avanyāng mandan nay pukatan, nāroy narānya keynamena-nama sinā suhingang tan deng miranyeri-hen sempāryana nay sinkayena. Dilayamanang kalamena bahalanas ayonena si le nivisayāng tahangye sobisayayena, ruānas yana kada, sa tavyāng kehin enyana si layayāng. Na pakuayāng tenubanas yana terpengyam nay litoyam erar nay ang kongrya rayena-hen. Ang mya birenyaya sitang-yās naynay ling nivisānjya yana, kadāre ang mya manangya tavyam kimbisanas adunena soyang tatamanena.

  • Added pretty scriptie and recording; fixed some errors and redundancies both in translation and in wording.

Imperial Messages VI – “… ang bidisaya arilinya itingley …”

This is the second half of the fifth 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 a rather long sentence (though not the longest of the piece yet!), so I’ve split this passage into two parts. This is the second.

[…]; findet er Widerstand, zeigt er auf die Brust, wo das Zeichen der Sonne ist; er kommt auch leicht vorwärts, wie kein anderer. (Kafka 1994, 281:14–16)

[…]; every time he meets resistance he points to his breast, which bears the sign of the sun; and he moves forward easily, like no other. (Kafka 2011)

[…] – ang bidisaya arilinya itingley, ang mapaya ninaya hevenya yana sijya telbānley perin – saylingyāng kovaro naynay, ku-ranyāng palung.

Interlinear glossing

[gloss][…] – ang bidisa-ya arilinya iting-ley, ang mapa-ya ninaya heven-ya yana si-ya-ya telbān-ley perin – sayling-yāng kovaro naynay, ku=ranya-ang palung.
[…] – AF obstruct-3SM someone way-P.INAN, AF point_at-3SM messenger chest-LOC 3SM.GEN REL-LOC-LOC sign-P.INAN sun – progress-3SM.A easy also, like=nobody-A different.[/gloss]
‘[…] if someone stood in his way, the messenger pointed at his chest on which the sun-sign was; he also got on easily, like nobody else.’

Notes on translation

“To meet resistance” is such a nice idiom, I almost wanted to steal it. Let’s not do that! The German text has finden ‘to find’ here (Kafka 1994, 281:14) instead of the more current treffen auf ‘to meet upon’. After some thinking I decided to use a phrase: Ang bidisaya arilinya itingley ‘If someone blocks the way’. This is also a nice parallel to the merengye bidis ‘obstructing walls’, which were mentioned earlier: just like the walls are torn down to clear the view and spread the word, the messenger overcomes resistance from individuals in the crowd to get the Message out to its recipient. A new word is sayling- ‘to progress’, which is from sayling ‘further’.

As far as morphophonology is concerned, the relative pronoun complex sijya ‘in/at/on which.LOC’ is interesting in so far as it is a contraction of *siyayaREL-LOC-LOC’ that I introduced here: the plural marker -ye combined with a case marker that begins with a vowel or -y, like e.g. -angAGT’, -asPAT’, -yamDAT’, already contracts to just -j-, as I described in an earlier blog posting of March 2011. The decision to do this with -yaya as well, but only if both parts are grammatical suffixes, is thus rather consequential. Since this feature does not occur in previous texts, let’s assume it’s an acceptable variant.

Of syntactic interest is the rather literary conditional construction without conjunctions in this passage, which is similar to the equally literary variant of conditional phrases used in the German text, although with a twist: unlike German, which inverts the order of subject and verb in this case (“findet er” instead of “er findet”, cf. Kafka 1994, 281:14), Ayeri does not change the word order, so the fact that it is a conditional clause must be inferred from context.

  • 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›

Imperial Messages IV – “Nay marin yenuya silvayana ikan …”

This is the fourth 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

Und vor der ganzen Zuschauerschaft seines Todes – alle hindernden Wände werden niedergebrochen und auf den weit und hoch sich schwingenden Freitreppen stehen im Ring die Großen des Reichs – vor allen diesen hat er den Boten abgefertigt. (Kafka 1994, 281:6–11)

And before the entire spectatorship of his death – all obstructing walls have been torn down and the great figures of the empire stand in a ring upon the broad, soaring exterior stairways – before all these he dispatched the messenger. (Kafka 2011)

Nay marin yenuya silvayana ikan tenyanena yana – manga adruran merengyeley-hen bidis nay ang manga bengyan nyānye tiga similena hicanya ling rivanya ehen, siya lingreng iray nay apan – sā tavya mayisa ya ninayāng marin enyaya-hen.

Interlinear glossing

[gloss]Nay marin yenu-ya silvaya-na ikan tenyan-ena yana – manga adru-ran mereng-ye-ley=hen bidis nay ang manga beng-yan nyān-ye tiga simil-ena hican-ya ling rivan-ya ehen, si-ya ling-reng iray nay apan – sā tav-ya mayisa ya ninaya-ang marin enya-ya=hen.
and in_front_of group-LOC spectator-GEN complete death-GEN 3SM.GEN – PROG destroy-3P.INAN wall-PL-P.INAN=all obstructing and AF PROG stand-3PM person-PL honorable country-GEN circle-LOC top_of mountain-LOC stair, REL-LOC ascend-3S.INAN high and wide – CAUF become-3SM ready 3SM.FOC messenger-A in_front_of everyone-LOC=all[/gloss]
‘And in front of the whole group of spectators of his death – all obstructing walls were being destroyed and the honorable persons of the country were standing in a circle on top of the mountain of stairs which ascended high and wide – in front of everyone of them he dispatched the messenger.’

Notes on translation

Few new words needed to be coined here: one is bidis ‘obstructing’, which I derived from the previously existing verb bidisa- ‘to block, obstruct’, which seems to be a causative derivation of the noun bidan ‘block’. Also, there was only a word for ‘stair in a staircase’ in the dictionary, ehen, but I discovered the lack of a regular way to derive sets of things. I left the word as ehen in the text, but made a compound with rivan ‘mountain’ as its head, since the setting Kafka describes reminds me strongly of Mayan pyramids or similar religious architecture with long and high-climbing stairs found in Asia. It should be noted that the compound is rivanehen ‘stair-mountain’ as an individual word, but the compound, headed by a noun, is regularly split after the the head for case marking: ling rivanya ehen ‘on top of the stair mountain’. Tiga ‘honorable’ was derived as an adjective from tigan ‘honor’.

One striking thing in the German text that has not been translated in the same way into English is the change to present tense in the parenthesis: the walls “werden niedergebrochen” (Kafka 1994, 281:8) in present tense, dynamic passive, while in English the walls “have been torn down” (Kafka 2011) in present perfect, stative passive, although the great ones “stehen” (Kafka 1994, 281:9) as well as they “stand” (Kafka 2011). Since Ayeri uses morphologic tense rather sparingly and does not employ an epic preterite like German and English do, I used the progressive marker manga to achieve a similar effect of immediacy.

A nifty feature of Ayeri comes into play in this sentence: usually, verbs have agreement in person and number with the agent of the clause, however, in “manga adruran merengyeley-hen bidis”, the verb adru- ‘to destroy’ has third person plural inanimate agreement (-ran), which refers to “merengyeley”, from mereng ‘wall’ + yePL’ + -leyP.INAN’, which is itself marked as a patient so that the clause does not contain an agent and thus is in passive voice.

What’s more, the German text has an adverbial clause right at the beginning of the sentence that is picked up again for emphasis after the parenthesis. However, usually Ayeri requires the verb phrase to come first, with the verb phrase here marked for location focus, since this seems like the prevalent perspective in the original. Still, for stylistic purposes, I think it might be better to keep the original structure, so that the constituent order of the sentence becomes marked in the face of this epic moment.

An issue I found problematic is that in the original, the circle of dignitaries is so strongly emphasized, while the structure in the last part of the sentence, “before all these he dispatched the messenger” (Kafka 2011) is translated in the most straightforward way by using a causative construction again (“sā tavya mayisa ya ninayāng”), thus the locative topic that should have been used must be replaced with the causative one out of syntactic constraints. I tried to compensate by overspecifying enya ‘everyone’ with the quantifier -hen ‘all’, which basically results in the meaning ‘all of them all’.

  • 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›

Imperial Messages I – “Budang lanyana iray”

This is the first 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

Eine kaiserliche Botschaft
Der Kaiser – so heißt es – hat Dir, dem Einzelnen, dem jämmerlichen Untertanen, dem winzig vor der kaiserlichen Sonne in die fernste Ferne geflüchteten Schatten, gerade Dir hat der Kaiser von seinem Sterbebett aus eine Botschaft gesendet. (Kafka 1994, 280:15–281:2)

A Message from the Emperor
The emperor – it is said – sent to you, the one apart, the wretched subject, the tiny shadow that fled far, far from the imperial sun, precisely to you he sent a message from his deathbed. (Kafka 2011)

Budang lanyana iray
Yam turakaya lanyāng iray – da-ningrey – va, si kebay, avanaya dipakan, karano, si iyin marinya perinena desay iray nay si danguvāng mangasaha timangya kahu-vā: yam māy turakaya va pakas lanyāng iray budangas mangasara pinamya pang-vā yana.

Interlinear glossing

[gloss]Budang lanya-na iray
message king-GEN high[/gloss]
‘A Message from the High King’

[gloss]Yam turaka-ya lanya-ang iray – da=ning-rey – va, si kebay, avanaya dipakan, karano, si iyin marin-ya perin-ena desay iray nay si dangu-vāng mangasaha timang-ya kahu=vā: yam māy turaka-ya va pakas lanya-ang iray budang-as mangasara pinam-ya pang-vā yana.
DATF send-3SM king-A high – such=tell-3S.INAN.P – 2S.FOC, REL single, subject pathetic shadow, REL tiny face-LOC sun-GEN noble high and REL flee-2S.A towards distance-LOC far=SUPL: DATF EMPH send-3SM 2S.FOC especially king-A high message-P away_from bed-LOC last 3SM.GEN[/gloss]
‘To you – as is told – the single one, the pathetic subject, the shadow that is tiny in the face of the high-noble sun, and that has fled to the furthest distance: yes, precisely to you the high king has sent a message from his final bed.’

Notes on translation

First of all, it has to be noted that I have developed only little cultural background about the fictional people that are supposed to the speak the Ayeri language so far. However, let us assume that like in many parts of both the Occident and the Orient, there used to be an empire with an emperor. Actually, the Ayeri-speaking countries themselves belonged to an empire once that crumbled and split into what is three nations today. However, there is no individual word for an ‘emperor’ in my dictionary yet because I have never seen the need for one. There is, however, bayhi ‘ruler’ as a general term, and also lanya ‘king’ as a more specific one. For the sake of translating the title of the short story and also this series, I chose to call the emperor lanya iray ‘high king’, since this person would be the Great King, the Principal of a group of rulers.

Likewise, there is no word for ‘subject’ yet. Since the whole sentence stresses how small and utterly insignificant the addressee is in comparison to the imperial court, let us go with something derived from avan ‘bottom’ here – ignoring possible connotations of proletarianism. Avanan, the direct (re-)nominalization of this word, already exists and means ‘basis, funding, groundwork’. It is possible to make a word like avanaya < avan ‘bottom’ + -mayaAGTZ’, though.

Another word for which there has not yet existed a definition is ‘pathetic, wretched’, for which I recycled the word dipakan ‘pity’ as an adjective. Another such recycled word is desay, which prior to this translation exercise was only defined as ‘noble’, though together with iray ‘high’, it may just as well be understood to pattern with lanya iray ‘high king, emperor’, also by extension of ‘noble’ with ‘royal’.

There has not been a word for ‘deathbed’ either so far, but I chose to translate that as pinam pang-vā ‘last bed’, thus not naming death overtly. Interestingly, pang-vā ‘(the) last’ was so far listed as a noun in the dictionary probably because it was used only in that context when I coined it earlier. However, it patterns with ban-vā ‘(the) best’, which can also be used as an adjective, since ban ‘good’ is one and -vā is an adverbial quantifier expressing superlative amounts, cf. the verb va- ‘to be (the) most’.

Syntactically, the addressee is kept as the topic of the sentence throughout the passage, as is implied also in the German and English version, albeit only by recursion to it by means of a great number of coordinated modifying clauses. The phrase that was probably the most difficult to translate in this passage is “dem winzig vor der kaiserlichen Sonne in die fernste Ferne geflüchteten Schatten” (Kafka 1994, 281:16–17), which in German is very complicated. The English translation renders this as “the tiny shadow that fled […]” (Kafka 2011), however, this is not exactly what it says in German, since “winzig” does not agree in case with “Schatten”, or otherwise it would have to be “dem winzigen […] Schatten”.

What happens instead is that “winzig vor der kaiserlichen Sonne” (‘tiny in the face of the imperial sun’) forms a syntactic unit, and “in die fernste Ferne geflüchteten” (‘fled into the furthest distance’) does so as well, so that the sentence contains two coordinated modifying clauses that refer to “Schatten”, bracketed by “dem […] Schatten” (Kafka 1994, 281:16–17). The Ayeri translation breaks this highly complicated structure up into two coordinated relative clauses. Note as well that like in the first half of the sentence, the topicalized second person pronoun va(-yam) stays in its syntactic slot after the patient as usual. However, at the beginning of the text, it is buried between the other sentence constituents, which is amplifed by the parenthesis of “da-ningrey”, thus mirroring the insignificance of the addressee even in sentence structure, while the effect is not as strong in the occurrence of this construction towards the end. Now that I’m thinking of it, why not add a grammatical rule to prevent the burying of zero-marked pronouns by moving them right behind the verb phrase if focussed?

  • 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›