aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

A problem in translation

All translation is a negotiation among various compromises. Some things are hard to express in another language. Some idioms don't translate at all; at least, they don't make sense when translated into the equivalent words. Here is a wonderful German poem centered upon a grammatical joke. It is impossible to translate fully; however, "an approach" was made by changing the monster from one kind to another. This allows for an English grammatical joke of the same sort the German original relies upon. See for yourself.

Der Werwolf

Ein Werwolf eines Nachts entwich
von Weib und Kind und sich begab
an eines Dorfschullehrers Grab
and bat ihn: Bitte, beuge mich!

Der Dorfschulmeister stieg hinauf
auf seines Blechschilds Messingknauf
und sprach sum Wolf, der seine Pfoten
geduldig kreuzte for dem Toten:

"Der Werwolf," -- sprach der gute Mann,
"des Weswolfs, Genetiv sodann,
dem Wemwolf, Dativ, wie man's nennt,
den Wenwolf, -- damit hat's ein End'."

Dem Werwolf schmeichelten die Fälle,
er rollte seine Augenbälle.
Indessen, bat er, füge doch
zur Einzahl auch die Mehrzahl noch!

Der Dorfschulmeister aber mußte
gestehn, dass er von ihr nichts wußte.
Zwar Wölfe gäb's in großer Schar,
doch 'Wer' gäb's nur im Singular.

Der Wolf erhob sich tränenblind --
er hatte ja doch Weib und Kind!
Doch da er kein Gelehrter eben,
so schied er dankend und ergeben.

-- C. Morgenstern

The Banshee

One night, a banshee slunk away
from mate and child, and in the gloom
went to a village teacher's tomb,
requesting him: "Inflect me, pray."

The village teacher climbed up straight
upon his grave stone with its plate
and to the apparition said
who crossed his paws before the dead:

"The banSHEE, in the subject's place;
"the banHERS, the possessive case.
The banHER, next, is what they call
objective case -- and that is all."

The banshee marveled at the cases
and writhed with pleasure, making faces,
but said: "You did not add, so far,
the plural to the singular!"

The teacher, though, admitted then
that this was not within his ken.
"While 'bans' are frequent," he advised,
"a 'she' cannot be pluralized."

The banshee, rising clammily,
wailed, "What about my family?"
Then, being not a learned creature,
said humbly "Thanks" and left the teacher.

-- K.F.R.

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