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Elliptical sentences in English translations
Thread poster: Pihoqahiak
Pihoqahiak
English to German
+ ...
Jan 10, 2008

Hi all,

I'd like to get your opinions on the use of elliptical sentences in English. The reason: I'm translating a book from German to English which is full (I mean to the brim) of verbless sentences ... it works though

Having had drummed into me from the time I was a little girl doing homework under the watchful eye of an English teacher (!), right through school and university, on to translation/ interpreting training and beyond, that every sentence must have a verb, I'm now faced with battling over 40 years of brainwashing.

The solutions I was always given: use punctuation, be it colons, semi-colons, commas, dashes, whatever, just make sure any sentence that begins with a capital letter and ends with a full stop has a VERB in it (and an active verb at that). But with this amount of text such a mixture of punctuation looks very sloppy; I'd prefer a series of full stops.

The book is autobiographical, and I'm working directly with the author, who also speaks extremely good English and is pushing to keep her ellipses. What would you do? Would you say, to hell with the rules if it makes the text readable in English and keeps close to the style of the original? Or would you stick to the "rules"?

Thanks for your opinions
Lizzie


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Kim Metzger  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 17:35
German to English
Elliptical sentences Jan 10, 2008

Hi Lizzie - can you give us one or two of those German sentences that doesn't have a verb?

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Wenjer Leuschel  Identity Verified
Taiwan
Local time: 07:35
English to Chinese
+ ...
Hi Kim! Jan 10, 2008

Kim Metzger wrote:

Hi Lizzie - can you give us one or two of those German sentences that doesn't have a verb?


How about "Ende gut, alles gut"?Alles in Ordnung, nicht? Such elliptical sentences are en masse in German.


[Edited at 2008-01-10 16:58]


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Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Finland
Local time: 02:35
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
You should achieve the same effect in English Jan 10, 2008

In case of literal translation the reader of the translation should get a grasp at least what the author has achieved linguistically and stylistically. Even if its bad style in the common sence (English teacher's rules). Have you ever read Jelinec's books in translation?
Cheers
Heinrich


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Sibylle Ferner
Local time: 12:35
English to German
+ ...
Style is important Jan 10, 2008

Hi Lizzie,

I read a German book like that myself recently and found that style quite annoying. There seemed to be a full stop after ever two or three words. So it's not as if this was "within the rules" in German. Therefore I think it is important that you achieve this effect in your translation as well, even if it grates on your own feelings.

Regards
Sibylle


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Giles Watson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 01:35
Italian to English
Is she can, you can Jan 11, 2008

Pihoqahiak wrote:

Hi all,

The book is autobiographical, and I'm working directly with the author, who also speaks extremely good English and is pushing to keep her ellipses. What would you do? Would you say, to hell with the rules if it makes the text readable in English and keeps close to the style of the original? Or would you stick to the "rules"?

Thanks for your opinions


Hi Lizzie,

I'd just like to make a couple of little points.

The first is that rules were made for breaking and your author seems to have broken one or two of her own, if Mark Twain is anything to go by.

Do you remember what he said about German in "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court"?:

>
Whenever the literary German dives into a sentence, that is the last you are going to see of him till he emerges on the other side of his Atlantic with his verb in his mouth.
>

So if she is using elliptical syntax, she is doing so for a reason.



I'd like to get your opinions on the use of elliptical sentences in English. The reason: I'm translating a book from German to English which is full (I mean to the brim) of verbless sentences ... it works though



My other point is that the syntax works for you, too.

If you think of the book as a musical score, this means you can read appreciate it. Now you've just got to find a way of playing the music on your instrument, the English language. Of course, you may have to transpose bits into a different key to find equivalent resonances, and you will almost certainly have to write several drafts, but if the author is available and has good English, I'm sure you'll enjoy yourself.

Have fun!

Giles


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Pihoqahiak
English to German
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
I'm getting there - with a bit of teeth-grinding along the way Jan 14, 2008

Thanks all for your comments - at the moment I'm still at the stage of getting the text out of German and into English, so have done pretty much word-for-word translation to date. Some chapters have been reworked, together with the author - who is a journalist telling of a year she spent training local journalists in Iraq. So the book is extremely interesting. At the moment I'm holding onto the elliptical sentences which bring through either the irony or the humour of the moment; the subject of the book is seious, but is written with warmth and humour, and the lack of active verbs actually gives the text a rhythm of its own. Many of these sentences are a form of "quoted thought", indirect speech, etc. - so I can keep them without worrying too much about them. The solution for the versions in the narrative is the main point of discussion with the author - we're managing to find compromises most of the time.

A couple of examples of the type of sentence I mean in this book:
"Eine Wohngemeinschaft berufstätiger, überwiegend unverheirateter Frauen? Im kurdischen Welt- und Stadtbild nicht vorgesehen."
Or the description of a copy of the Mona Lisa as house-warming present: "Schön, rätselhaft und schwer durchschaubar. Wie ihr Vorbild im Louvre. Wie deses Land."

I've sort of decided to leave the sentences as they are until I get to the polishing stage and then to rewrite those I really can't live with or can rewrite without losing the rhythm or the feeling.

Working directly with the author, with no editors, etc. in between, is something I've done before and which I really enjoy. If I ask a question I get a direct answer - no "well, she could mean" or "I think she means"... and if I misunderstand anything, miss the intended irony or humour, or if I make the serious sections too heavy, the author knows she can say so without worrying about hurting my feelings


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Wenjer Leuschel  Identity Verified
Taiwan
Local time: 07:35
English to Chinese
+ ...
I NV U Jan 14, 2008

Pihoqahiak wrote:

Working directly with the author, with no editors, etc. in between, is something I've done before and which I really enjoy. If I ask a question I get a direct answer - no "well, she could mean" or "I think she means"... and if I misunderstand anything, miss the intended irony or humour, or if I make the serious sections too heavy, the author knows she can say so without worrying about hurting my feelings


Lucky you! I would like to have such a luck someday.


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Selina Gullery  Identity Verified
German to English
+ ...
Stick to the author's style! Feb 22, 2008

From the examples you have given, I can now follow what you mean and I would also recommend you keep the same style in English, however staccato it may sound to you.

Is the author a native German speaker?


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