Typological Aspects of Translating Literary Japanese into German, II: Syntax and Narrative Technique

Götz Wienold

Abstract

Japanese has a colourful variety of linguistic means for presenting voices in the dialogue of a novel and distinguishing them from the narration. In German translations, this is generally reduced to a uniform way of formulating sentences. Point of view, however, which finds linguistic expression in Japanese as well as in Western languages, is respected in German translations. The present article takes up some linguistic indications of point of view in Japanese, most of the examples being drawn from Kawabata's Yukiguni and Benl's German translation of it. A consistent finding is that the German translation tends toward a more objectivating way of narration alongside greater linguistic explicitness. This may be related to the linguistic signalling of personhood in Japanese and the role of personhood in Japanese culture. Thus, the present article puts forward the hypothesis that German translations of Japanese novels may tend to deflect traits of Japanese culture in the direction of the receiving culture.

Table of contents

In an earlier article I argued that typological differences between source and target languages create tendencies for "shifts" in translation (Wienold 1990). I adduced evidence from patterns of morphology and lexicalization in Japanese and German. However, differences between Japanese originals and German translations are probably even greater at higher levels of linguistic organization. Take, for instance, dialogue in novels. Japanese is famous for its richly differentiated address system, its equally variegated array of self-referring expressions, its multi-layered system of honorifics in verbal paradigms, its marked differences in men's and women's speech and its large variety of sentence-final particles. All of these linguistic means play a role in indicating a speaker's perception of others and of himself/herself in relation to them. The variety of voices of figures in a Japanese novel indicates characters' perceived status and ways of dealing with one another in interaction.

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