The Poetics of Grammar as Challenge and Chance in Literary Translations

Article excerpt


Poetics of grammar is among the largely neglected facts in literary translations. As a rule, this term is missing in translation handbooks and also in surveys concerning translation theory. The reason why this aesthetic device frequently escapes translation scholars' attention, probably has to do with the different make up of languages. There are certain qualities of a language which inspire authors to poetics of grammar. Three such qualities are to be found in the Polish language: 1. a relatively high amount of optional variants of grammatical phenomena, 2. a relatively high amount of grammatical categories and structures equipped with either specific grammatical sense or a number of meanings that a user may choose from, and 3. a certain amount of word classes, which allow for creating lexical variants--first of all with the help of prefixes and suffixes. This study discusses poetics of grammar based on the copula jest, the reflexive pronoun sobie, the adjectival attribute, interjections, and the grammatical sense of the verbal aspects. Most examples are taken from 20th century Polish literature, i.e. from texts written by Witkiewicz, Gombrowicz, Herbert, Rozewicz and others. Both German and English function as target languages.

1. Introduction

Poetics of grammar is among the largely neglected facts in literary translations. So, it is not surprising that, as a rule, this term is missing in translation handbooks and in many studies concerning translation theory. For example, there is no entry dealing with the poetics of grammar in the de Gruyter International encyclopedia of translation studies. (1) However, the term is being used in literary studies. Most books and articles devoted to this artistic device, so it seems, deal with Russian literature. A few titles may illustrate the case: "O poetike O. Mandel'stama. Grammatika kak predmet poezii" (Uspenskij 1990), Problemy poetiki grammaticeskich kategorij (Gin 1996), Poetika grammaticeskich kategorij (2) (Nozdrina 2000). Though fairly comprehensive research on the poetics of grammar has only been going on since the late 1980s, literary scholars have been aware of this phenomenon for a long time: In his meticulous study on Norwid's poem "Czutosc" ('Susceptibility', 'Sensitivity'), Jakobson (1975: 234) talks about the "actualization of grammatical gender" (aktualizacja rodzaju gramatycznego). Jakobson is clearly surveying one out of many aspects of poetics of grammar. A preliminary definition of this frequently underestimated marker of fictional texts, then, may run as follows: Poetics of grammar means actualization and functionalization of any grammatical category and structure in order to create and support aesthetic sense.

Two examples will illustrate this phenomenon. The first one concerns the so-called grammatical sense (grammatischen Sinn) of aspect and Aktionsart (aspects and Aktionsarten respectively), the second one concerns the Polish diminutive. Both cases have to do with Polish-English and Polish-German language asymmetries. The first example is taken from the beginning of Kartoteka ('The card index')--Rozewicz's most important dramatic text. At the opening of the play, the main character, HERO, is lying in bed, looking at his hand. The FATHER, who wants to put an end to this state of apathy, laments: "Co z niego wyrosnie, jak bedzie sit tak dlugo wylegiwal. Wstawaj! Chlopcze!" (Rozewicz 1999: 30). What interests us here is the verb of state and condition, wylegiwal sie. The grammatical sense of this iterative-durative verb is twofold. It communicates the state of 'lying', and also criticism of this posture. It should be remembered that the image contained in the verb wylegiwac sic, the image of a person lolling about in his or her bed, appertains to Rozewicz's central matter of concern: man's reaction to the physical, cultural and mental destruction brought about during the Second World War and after. In Kartoteka, the HERO's reaction, quite typically, is utter apathy and refusal to engage in things going on around him. …