Bathrobe's Harry Potter in Chinese, Japanese & Vietnamese Translation
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The Treatment of Relative Clauses in the Description of the Basilisk in Harry Potter (Book 2)

 

Later note: This page was written many years ago. Unfortunately it's hard to figure out what it's talking about unless you understand the point, which is only made clear at the end. Rather than completely rewriting the whole thing, I'll state the point here to help make it a bit more comprehensible.

Too often relative clauses are regarded as a point of grammar, whereas they are often better treated as a point of style. That is, understanding them does not involve what they are; it is much more important to understand how they are used.

Now to the original content of the page...

One feature of the description of the Basilisk is the heavy use of attributive relative clauses (clauses using 'which' or 'that' modifying nouns). If you look up grammar books, you'll find a lot about the grammatical functions of relative clauses. Apart from some basic stuff, in particular the distinction between restrictive and non-restrictive relative clauses (see below), these grammatical explanations are of limited use in analysing how relative clauses are used in writing. This passage by Rowling is a good example.

Content of the page:

The Grammar of the relative clause in English

Relative Clauses as a device in writing:

1. Of the many fearsome beasts and monsters that roam our land, there is none more curious or more deadly than the Basilisk...
2. known also as the King of Serpents.
3. This snake which may reach gigantic size, and live many hundreds of years is born from a chicken's egg, hatched beneath a toad.
4. Spiders flee before the Basilisk for it is their mortal enemy and the Basilisk flees only from the crowing of the rooster which is fatal to it.
Summing up

 

First off, a brief look at the grammar of attributive relative clauses.

Relative clauses: the grammar

The best way to explain relative clauses is through example. The clauses shown in italics below are relative clauses modifying 'wand':

The wand that was lying on the floor was broken.
The wand which was lying on the floor was broken.

This particular type of relative clause is known as a 'restrictive relative clause' because it restricts what 'the wand' refers to. In other words, the sentences are not just talking about any old wand, but the particular wand that was lying on the floor. The restrictive relative clause is essential to the meaning of the whole because of its role in specifying the wand being discussed. It cannot be left out. These kinds of restrictive clause are also known as 'integrated relative clauses' because they are integrated into the construction containing them, especially in terms of content.

There are, however, certain kinds of integrated relative clause that are not actually 'restrictive' in their function. For example:

The first sentence could mean that she has two sons who support her and another son who doesn't. If this is what is meant, the clause would be restrictive in meaning, specifying that only a subset of her sons, those who support her financially, are being discussed. But it is equally possible that she has only got two sons, both of whom are supporting her financially. 'Who support her financially' in this case is an integrated clause, but does not serve to restrict the meaning to 'those two sons who support her financially'.

Similarly for the second example, where 'who lives there' is not restrictive in meaning; it is an explanation as to why the speaker goes to Hanoi a lot. These two examples can't be classed as non-restrictive clauses (see below) because they can't be left out without changing the meaning.

Fo another example, see the High Inquisitor's Order Banning Teachers from Giving Students Extraneous Information.

A second kind of relative clause is the 'non-restrictive relative clause', also known as the 'supplementary relative clause'. An example is:

The wand, which was lying on the floor, was broken.

The clause is contained inside commas, which cordon it off from the rest of the sentence. The relative clause does not restrict the meaning of the word 'wand'; it almost casually adds extra information, as if to say, 'oh, and by the way, the wand happened to be lying on the floor'. It could be left out without making much difference to the primary meaning of the sentence, namely, 'the wand was broken'. The name 'supplementary relative clause' refers to the fact that the information is not fully integrated into the larger structure and is not necessary for identifying the referent (the particular wand being referred to).

For information on relative clauses, see Edufind (several pages -- Edufind uses 'defining clause' in preference to 'restrictive clause'), Grammar Workshop, and Using English.

 

Relative clauses as a device in writing

The passage describing the Basilisk contains several relative clauses, which we will discuss one by one. (There is one example, 'all who are fixed with the beam of its eye shall suffer instant death', which I will leave out of consideration. This instance has grammatical complexities which distinguish it from the others.)

Example 1: Integrated Relative Clause

The first sentence contains an integrated relative clause (in italics).

Of the many fearsome beasts and monsters that roam our land, there is none more curious or more deadly than the Basilisk...

The moment the author writes 'the many beasts and monsters', she is obliged to indicate in some way which beasts and monsters are involved, hence the use of an integrated relative clause to characterise which beasts and monsters are under discussion. Note that this is not a restrictive relative clause. That is because Rowling isn't really restricting the passage to 'beasts and monsters that roam our land' as opposed to, say, 'beasts and monsters that live in our seas' or 'beasts and monsters that fly through the skies' or 'beasts and monsters that live in our cellars'. Despite this, the content of 'that roam our land' is very much integrated into the meaning of the passage. In normal English prose, omitting it would leave the sentence lacking.

In fact, the 'obligatory' relative clause is an occasion to add a dramatic flourish. If Rowling had written 'Of the many beasts and monsters that are hanging around the place' or whatever else came to mind, the impact would have been lost. The relative clause is important within the sentence not to specify the kind of beasts and monsters involved, but in order to impart the alarming information that 'many beasts and monsters are roaming our land'. A grammatical device thus becomes a point of style.

Notice, moreover, how this section is placed right at the start of the sentence. 'Of the many beasts and monsters that roam our land' is not simply a phrase containing a restrictive relative clause, it is a sentence opening that provides a dramatic backdrop to the description of the Basilisk. See the difference between what Rowling writes and a more straightforward version:

Straightforward version:    
None of the many fearsome beasts and monsters that roam our land is more curious or deadly than the Basilisk
Rowling version:    
Of the many fearsome beasts and monsters that roam our land there is none more curious or deadly than the Basilisk

In fact, this sentence must be seen in a wider context than that of the relative clause. What Rowling resorts to here is a ready-made literary device that follows the formula: 'Of the many x that...., perhaps the most y is the ...' The restrictive relative clause forms just one part of this pattern. The effect is as we have seen here, setting a grand background for what follows.

Another example of this literary device is this sentence, found in the 19th-century book The Young Mechanic (quoted here):

Of all people in the world who must not be neglected are, first and foremost, "Our Boys" and, of all boys, mechanical boys deserve a very high place in our estimation.

While the grammatical details are slightly different, the basic structure -- 'Of all the xxx + relative clause' -- is the same.

Keeping the above in mind, let's see how the translators handle this sentence.

Mainland version:

在我们国家,游荡着许多可怕的野兽和怪物,其中最离奇、最具有杀生力的莫过于蛇怪...。
Zài wǒmen guójiā, yóudàng-zhe xǔduō kěpà de yěshòu hé guàiwù, qízhōng zuì líqí, zuì jùyǒu shāshānglì de mòguòyú Shéguài....
In our country are roaming many frightful wild beasts and monsters; of these, the most curious, the most lethal does not surpass the Basilisk...

This version does not try to knit the whole together as in English. Instead the sentence is split in two.

The first sentence notes that many 'frightful beasts and monsters are roaming our land'. The dramatic opening gesture of the English is transformed into an independent sentence. The Basilisk is then identified as the most curious and lethal of those beasts and monsters.

在我们国家,游荡着许多可怕的野兽和怪物 其中最离奇、最具有杀生力的莫过于蛇怪
zài wǒmen guójiā, yóudàng-zhe xǔduō kěpà de yěshòu hé guàiwù qízhōng zuì líqí, zuì jùyǒu shāshānglì de mòguòyú Shéguài
In our country are roaming many frightful wild beasts and monsters of these, the most curious, the most lethal does not surpass the Basilisk

(Note on grammar: Normally the verb 游荡着 yóudàng-zhe 'are roaming' would come after the phrase 许多可怕的野兽和怪物 xǔduō kěpà de yěshòu hé guàiwù 'many frightful wild beasts and monsters'. By reversing the order, the translator is creating a 'sentence of existence' in Chinese. This structure is used to tell us that 'something exists', equivalent to saying in English 'There are many frightful wild beasts and monsters roaming in our country'.)

While it does not follow the English grammatical structure exactly, this translation reflects the total effect quite accurately, i.e., the procession from 'fearsome beasts and monsters roaming the land' to 'the most curious and lethal is the Basilisk'.

The Taiwanese version follows the English more closely:

在我們國土上漫遊的眾多可怕野獸與怪物裡面,其中最希罕,同時也是最危險的種類就是蛇妖...。
Zài wǒmen guótǔ-shàng mànyóu de zhòngduō kěpà yěshòu yǔ guàiwù lǐmiàn, qízhōng zuì xīhǎn, tóngshí yě shì zuì wēixiǎn de zhǒnglèi jiù shì shéyāo...
Among the many frightful wild beasts and monsters that roam in our country, of these the most curious and at the same time most dangerous type is the snake-monster...

This can be analysed as follows:

在我們國土上漫遊的眾多可怕野獸與怪物裡面 其中最希罕,同時也是最危險的種類就是蛇妖
zài wǒmen guótǔ-shàng mànyóu de zhòngduō kěpà yěshòu yǔ guàiwù lǐmiàn qízhōng zuì xīhǎn, tóngshí yě shì zuì wēixiǎn de zhǒnglèi jiù shì shéyāo
Among the many frightful wild beasts and monsters that roam in our country of these the most curious and at the same time most dangerous type is the snake-monster

Unfortunately, trying to follow the English slavishly is faithful to the letter but not the spirit of the original.

The main problem is its structural clumsiness. The standard way of translating the English restrictive relative clause into Chinese is to use the connecting particle de. Unlike English, the content of the clause is placed before the noun:

English  
the many fearsome beasts and monsters that roam our land
   
Chinese  
我們國土上漫遊的 眾多可怕野獸與怪物
wǒmen guótǔ-shàng mànyóu de zhòngduō kěpà yěshòu yǔ guàiwù
on-our-land-roaming many fearsome beasts and monsters

This kind of relative clause was originally an uncommon construction in Chinese, but under the influence of English (or rather, poor translations from English) it has become extremely widespread, especially in certain styles of writing. This kind of construction can be ungainly and difficult-to-understand, especially if it gets too long. It is a rather laboured device divorced from normal speech. There does not seem to be any reason for using it here.

A secondary problem arises in translating the structure 'Of the many fearsome beasts and monsters that roam our land'. The translator ends up saying 'of the' twice, first as 在...裡面, then again as 其中. This is a direct result of trying to render the relative clause construction literally.

The only factor that can be cited in favour of this translation is the fact that it imitates the ponderous academic style that might be found in reference books describing the Basilisk.

Given, however, that the main purpose of the opening words, 'Of the many fearsome beasts and monsters that roam our land, ...', is to provide a dramatic start to the passage, one has to question the decision of the Taiwanese translator to follow the English so closely. All in all, the Mainland version is more natural.

Japanese version:

我らが世界を徘徊する多くの怪獣、怪物の中でも、最も珍しく、最も破壊的であるという点で、バジリスクの右に出るものはない。
Warera ga sekai o haikai suru ōku no kaijuu, kaibutsu no naka demo, mottomo mezurashiku, mottomo hakaiteki de aru to iu ten de, Bajirisuku no migi ni deru mono wa nai.
Even among the many frightful wild beasts and monsters that roam our world, in terms of being the rarest and most destructive, there is nothing to top the Basilisk.

Unlike Chinese, Japanese has always used a structure like the relative clause, known in Japanese as rentai shushoku (連体修飾 rentai shūshoku). Very long rentai shushoku clauses can stand before a noun without strain. The whole thing is made easy by the fact that the Japanese verb comes at the end of the sentence, which means that it also comes at the end of the modifying clause and links directly to the following noun:

English  
the many fearsome beasts and monsters that roam our land
Japanese  
我らが世界を徘徊する 多くの怪獣、怪物
Warera ga sekai o haikai suru ōku no kaijū, kaibutsu
'roam our world' many beasts and monsters

The verb in this case is 徘徊する haikai suru 'to roam', modifying the following 多くの怪獣、怪物 ōku no kaijū, kaibutsu 'many beasts and monsters'. Note that 徘徊する, like most verbs in rentai shushoku clauses, is in the plain, not the polite form.

The opening with 我らが世界を徘徊する多くの怪獣、怪物 is thus perfectly natural in Japanese and is a good reflection of the English. The expression 'Of the many beasts and monsters ...' is particularly well translated through the use of the particle mo, meaning 'also' or 'even'. Whereas the English simply says 'Of the many beasts and monsters', the Japanese says 'Even amongst the many beasts and monsters', hinting that something even more terrifying is about to come.

In fact, the entire structure of the Japanese sentence is somewhat different from the English original because the second half is broken up into 'in terms of being the rarest and most destructive' and 'there is nothing to top the Basilisk'.

我らが世界を徘徊する多くの怪獣、怪物の中でも、 最も珍しく、最も破壊的であるという点で、 バジリスクの右に出るものはない
warera ga sekai o haikai suru ōku no kaijuu, kaibutsu no naka demo mottomo mezurashiku, mottomo hakaiteki de aru to iu ten de Bajirisuku no migi ni deru mono wa nai
even among the many frightful wild beasts and monsters that roam our world in terms of being the rarest and most destructive there is nothing to top the Basilisk

 

Vietnamese version:

Trong số những ác thú và quái vật đáng sợ đi lang thang trên mảnh đất của chúng ta, không có con nào lạ lùng hơn và nguy hiểm hơn Basilisk.
Among the terrible wild beasts and monsters that wander though our land, there is none that is stranger or more dangerous than the Basilisk.

The Vietnamese follows the English closest of all. This is primarily because Vietnamese relative clauses, like those in English, follow the noun. Vietnamese grammar therefore allows the translator to follow the English without any strain.

In this case, the relative clause is connected to the noun without the use of a relative pronoun corresponding to English 'that'.

The Vietnamese runs:

số những ác thú và quái vật đáng sợ đi lang thang trên mảnh đất của chúng ta
The many fearsome beasts and monsters [that] roam our land

The Vietnamese is a good reflection of the English.

The rest of the relative clauses in the passage are supplementary, which, as I said above, add extra information almost incidentally. But once again, the relative clauses that Rowling uses are not simply grammatical devices; they have informational functions that are much more important.

Example 2: Supplementary Relative Clause

The first is a textbook example of additional information being casually tacked on.

...the Basilisk (which is) known also as the King of Serpents

This is a case where 'which is' has been omitted. In full, this would be '...the Basilisk, which is known also as the King of Serpents'.

This straightforward usage is reflected in the four translations:

Mainland version:

...蛇怪,又被称为蛇王。
...Shéguài, yòu bèi chēng wéi Shéwáng.
...the Snake-monster, (this) is also known as the Snake King.

In keeping with the nature of the English, 又被称为蛇王 yòu bèi chēng wéi Shéwáng is an additional sentence in the Chinese (although it is only separated by a comma) that provides extra information about the Basilisk.

The Taiwanese version:

...蛇妖,亦稱為萬蛇之王。
...Shéyāo, yì chēng wéi Wàn-shé-zhī-wáng.
...the Snake-monster, (this) is also known as the King of the Snakes.

The treatment is almost identical to the Mainland version. Where it is superior to the Mainland sentence is its avoidance of the passive form 被称 bèi chēng, which is used under the influence of the English. The Taiwanese translator uses the more natural non-passive form 亦稱 yì chēng, which is the traditional usage in Chinese.

Japanese version:

...バジリスクの右に出るものはない。『毒蛇の王』とも呼ばれる。
Bajirisuku no migi ni deru mono wa nai. "Dokuhebi no Ō" to mo yobareru.
...there is nothing to top the Basilisk. It is also known as the 'King of venomous snakes'.

The Japanese separates this fragment into a clearly independent sentence.

Vietnamese version:

...Basilisk, còn được gọi là Tử Xà.
the Basilisk, also known as the Death Snake.

Like the other translations, this forms an additional simple sentence, although separated only by a comma.

 

Example 3: Supplementary Relative Clause

The next example is:

This snake which may reach gigantic size, and live many hundreds of years is born from a chicken's egg, hatched beneath a toad

This looks like the classic case of a supplementary relative clause tacking on additional information, but this is a poor characterisation of its function. In fact, the information that 'the Basilisk may reach gigantic size and live many hundreds of years' is no less important than the information that it is 'born from a chicken's egg, hatched beneath a toad'. The two could be reversed with very little difference:

This snake which is born from a chicken's egg, hatched beneath a toad may reach gigantic size and live many hundreds of years

The use of a supplementary clause here has one purpose: to add stylistic variety to the sentence. It is a more interesting alternative to the straightforward and monotonous:

This snake may reach gigantic size, and live many hundreds of years. It is born from a chicken's egg, hatched beneath a toad.

This snake may reach gigantic size, and live many hundreds of years   It is born from a chicken's egg, hatched beneath a toad

In translating this sentence it is important to grasp the stylistic function, not merely the grammatical.

How do the translators fare?

Mainland version:

这种蛇的体积可以变得十分巨大,通常能活好几百年。它是从一只公鸡蛋里、由一只癞蛤蟆孵出的。
Zhè zhǒng shé de tǐjī kěyǐ biàn de shífēn jùdà, tōngcháng néng huó hǎo jǐ bǎi nián. Tā shì cóng yīzhī gōngjīdàn lǐ, yóu yīzhī lái hámá fūchū de.
The dimensions of this kind of snake can become quite huge; frequently it can live for hundreds of years. It is hatched from inside a rooster's egg by a toad.

The Mainland version virtually follows the 'boring' English version suggested above. Boring though it may be in English, this is very well suited to Chinese, which traditionally has a preference for short sentences with parallelism of function. The single sentence is broken into two separate sentences.

Part 1

这种蛇的体积 可以变得十分巨大 (这种蛇) 通常能活好几百年
Zhè zhǒng shé de tǐjī kěyǐ biàn de shífēn jùdà (zhè zhǒng shé) tōngcháng néng huó hǎo jǐ bǎi nián
This kind of snake's dimensions can become quite large (this kind of snake) frequently can live many hundred years
Part 2    
它是 从一只公鸡蛋里、由一只癞蛤蟆孵出
Tā shì cóng yīzhī gōngjīdàn lǐ, yóu yīzhī lái hámá fūchū de
It is hatched from inside a rooster's egg by a toad (grammatical particle)

 

Taiwanese version:

此種可以成長到驚人尺寸,並擁有數百年壽命的蛇類,是由蟾蜍孵育雞蛋所生。
Cǐ zhǒng kěyǐ chéngzhǎng dào jīngrén chǐcùn, bìng yōngyǒu shùbǎi nián shòumìng de shélèi, shì yóu chánchú fūyù jīdàn suǒ shēng.
This kind of snake, which may grow to amazing dimensions and has a life span of several hundred years, is born from a toad hatching chicken's egg.

Again, the Taiwanese version slavishly follows the relative clause structure of the English:

此種 可以成長到驚人尺寸,並擁有數百年壽命的 蛇類...
Cǐ zhǒng kěyǐ chéngzhǎng dào jīngrén chǐcùn, bìng yōngyǒu shùbǎi nián shòumìng de shélèi...
This kind of can grow to an amazing size and have a life span of several hundered years snake-type...

This results in a long and clumsy pre-modification to the noun 蛇類 'type of snake'. While perhaps common in certain kinds of Chinese prose, this is not necessarily a suitable place to use this kind of structure. The whole intent of using a relative clause in English is to add a variety to the sentence structure, which it did in a natural way. By using the equivalent structure the translator only makes the sentence clumsy and hard-to-understand. The 'boring' structure above is preferable.

 

Japanese version:

この蛇は巨大に成長することがあり、何百年も生き長らえることがある。鶏の卵から生まれ、ヒキガエルの腹の下で孵化される。
Kono hebi wa kyodai ni seichō suru koto ga ari, nanbyakunen mo ikinagaraeru koto ga aru. Niwatori no tamago kara umare, hikigaeru no hara no shita de fuka sareru.
This snake may grow to huge size and live hundreds of years. It is born from a chicken's egg and hatched underneath the belly of a toad.

Although Japanese prose of all kinds abounds in relative-clause-like rentai shushoku, which could easily have been used here, the translator wisely refrains from doing so. Like the Mainland Chinese translator, she separates the content into independent sentences. Each sentence consists of two clauses joined by the verb-form known as ren'yokei. The ren'yokei is an 'incomplete' form that suspends the sentence, awaiting a further clause to carry on. The second and final verb completes the sentence:

First sentence あり (ren'yokei),
ari,
'be',
...ある (sentence-ending form)。
...aru.
...'be'.
Second sentence 生まれ (ren'yokei)
umare,
'be born',
...孵化される (sentence-ending form)。
...fuka sareru.
...'be hatched'.

This is perfectly natural in terms of the structure of Japanese and reflects the true function of the English.

 

Vietnamese version:

Con rắn này có thể sống đến nhiều trăm năm, và đạt tới kích thước lớn kinh hồn. Nó được phôi thai trong một cái trứng gà, nhưng được một con cóc ấp nở ra.
This snake can live for hundreds of years, and reach amazingly large dimensions. It is conceived in a hen's egg but is hatched by a toad.

Like the Japanese and Mainland translations, this separates the whole into two sentences. The first sentence consists of two parts, with ('and') providing a transition in the first. In the second, the two halves are connected by a comma. This accurately reflects the intent of the English structure.

Part 1

Con rắn này có thể sống đến nhiều trăm năm và đạt tới kích thước lớn kinh hồn
This snake can live for hundreds of years and reach amazingly large dimensions
Part 2  
Nó được phôi thai trong một cái trứng gà nhưng được một con cóc ấp nở ra
It is conceived in a hen's egg but is hatched by a toad

 

Example 4: Supplementary Relative Clause

The third supplementary relative clause is perhaps the most interesting.

Spiders flee before the Basilisk for it is their mortal enemy and the Basilisk flees only from the crowing of the rooster which is fatal to it

Although it takes the form of a relative clause, almost casually attached to the end, the final clause 'which is fatal to it' performs a similar function to the clause 'for it is their mortal enemy' earlier in the sentence (For a note on this see also the treatment of 'for'). The information is an explanation of the behaviour of the Basilisk, not a casual observation. The author could as well have written:

Spiders flee before the Basilisk for it is their mortal enemy and the Basilisk flees only from the crowing of the rooster for this is fatal to it

This is a good example of how writers use grammatical structures in ways that transcend the purely grammatical.

As we will see below, the four translations use different, sometimes roundabout ways to translate this seemingly innocent relative clause.

Mainland Version:

蜘蛛看到蛇怪就会逃跑,因为蛇怪是蜘蛛的死敌,而蛇怪只有听见公鸡的叫声才会仓皇逃命,因为公鸡的叫声对它来说也是致命的。
Zhīzhū kàn dào Shéguài jiù hùi táopǎo, yīnwei shéguài shì zhīzhū de sǐdì, ér Shéguài zhǐyǒu tīngjiàn gōngjī de jiàoshēng cái huì cānghuáng táomìng, yīnwei gōngjī de jiàoshēng duì tā lái shuō yě shì zhìmìng de.
Spiders will flee if they see the snake-monster, because the snake-monster is the mortal enemy of spiders, but the snake-monster just has to hear the cry of the rooster before it will flee in confusion, because the crowing of the rooster is lethal to it.

The translator correctly interprets the intent of the English. This is probably the simplest version, making explicit the causal connection by using 因为 yīnwèi 'because'.

1st part

蜘蛛看到蛇怪就会逃跑 因为蛇怪是蜘蛛的死敌
zhīzhū kàn dào Shéguài jiù hùi táopǎo yīnwei shéguài shì zhīzhū de sǐdì
Spiders will flee if they see the snake-monster because the snake-monster is the mortal enemy of spiders

2nd part

而蛇怪只有听见公鸡的叫声才会仓皇逃命 因为公鸡的叫声对它来说也是致命的
ér Shéguài zhǐyǒu tīngjiàn gōngjī de jiàoshēng cái huì cānghuáng táomìng yīnwei gōngjī de jiàoshēng duì tā lái shuō yě shì zhìmìng de
but the snake-monster just has to hear the cry of the rooster before it will flee in confusion because the crowing of the rooster is lethal to it

 

Taiwanese version:

蜘蛛見到蛇妖就會落荒而逃,因為牠是牠們的天敵,但蛇妖唯一忌憚的卻是雄雞的啼叫,那對牠來說是奪命的魔音。
Zhīzhū jiàndào Shéyāo jiù huì luòhuāng ér tào, yīnwèi tā shì tāmen de tiāndì, dàn Shéyāo wéiyī jìdàn de què shì xióngjī de tíjiào, nà duì tā lái shuō shì duó mìng de móyīn.
Spiders will flee in panic if they see the snake-monster because it is their mortal enemy, but the only thing that the snake-monster fears is the crowing of the rooster; this is a lethal magic sound to it.

The Taiwanese version is closer to the English. It does not explicitly use a word meaning 'because' in the second sentence; it simply splits off the relative clause as a separate sentence. Fortunately, the translator does not use a relative clause to translate the English -- if she had, it would have resulted in the ungainly and almost incomprehensible 蛇妖唯一忌憚的卻是 對牠來說奪命的 雄雞的啼叫 Shéyāo wéiyī jìdàn de què shì duì tā lái shuō shì duó mìng de xióngjī de tíjiào ('What the snake-monster fears is only the cry of the rooster which is fatal to it').

1st part

蜘蛛見到蛇妖就會落荒而逃 因為牠是牠們的天敵
zhīzhū jiàndào Shéyāo jiù huì luòhuāng ér tào yīnwèi tā shì tāmen de tiāndì
Spiders will flee in panic if they see the snake-monster because it is their mortal enemy

2nd part

但蛇妖唯一忌憚的卻是雄雞的啼叫 那對牠來說是奪命的魔音
dàn Shéyāo wéiyī jìdàn de què shì xióngjī de tíjiào nà duì tā lái shuō shì duó mìng de móyīn
but what the snake-monster solely fears is the crowing of the rooster this is a lethal magic sound to it

Because 那對牠來說是奪命的 nà duì tā lái shuō shì duó mìng de ('this is lethal to it') sounds incomplete, the translator is forced to fill the sentence out a little by describing the crowing of the rooster as a 魔音 móyīn 'magic/demonic sound', which is not in the original.

 

Japanese version:

The Japanese version departs from the English somewhat more than the other translations.

蜘蛛が逃げ出すのはバジリスクが来る前触れである。なぜならバジリスクは蜘蛛の宿命の天敵だからである。バジリスクにとって致命的なのは雄鶏が時をつくる声で、唯一それからは逃げ出す。
Kumo ga nigedasu no wa Bajirisuku ga kuru maebure de aru. Naze nara Bajirisuku wa kumo no shukumei no tenteki da kara de aru. Bajirisuku ni totte chimeiteki na no wa ondori ga toki o tsukuru koe de, yui-itsu sore kara wa nigedasu.
The escaping of the spiders is a harbinger of the coming of the Basilisk; that is because the Basilisk is the mortal enemy of spiders. What is lethal to the Basilisk is the crowing of the rooster at dawn; it flees only from this.

The difference from the English lies in four features:

Sentence One (about spiders)

1) 'Spiders flee before the Basilisk': By saying that 'the escaping of the spiders is a harbinger of the coming of the Basilisk', the Japanese translator spells out what is not fully spelt out in the English. This is a bit of 'over-explanation' designed to fit in with the content of the story, i.e., to explain the curious phenomenon of the escaping spiders.

2) 'For it is their mortal enemy': In the natural order of things, Japanese gramatically prefers to list the cause first and the result second. The normally expected, neutral sentence structure is therefore as follows:

バジリスクは蜘蛛の宿命の天敵だから、蜘蛛が逃げ出すのはバジリスクが来る前触れである。
Bajirisuku wa kumo no shukumei no tenteki da kara, kumo ga nigedasu no wa Bajirisuku ga kuru maebure de aru.
Because the Basilisk is the mortal enemy of spiders, the escaping of the spiders is a harbinger of the coming of the Basilisk.

There are ways of getting around this order, and one of them is to use the なぜなら...だからである naze nara... dakara de aru construction. This literally means, 'if (you ask) why...it is because'. This is a common device for putting the 'reason' clause second in Japanese, and is typically used to render the English word 'because' when Japanese learners study English. Here the translator uses this device to preserve the order of the English: 'The fleeing of the spiders is a harbinger of the coming of the Basilisk because it is their mortal enemy'.

Sentence Two (about the Basilisk)

3) Causation: In the Japanese, the explanation of causation (the Basilisk flees from the rooster because the rooster's crow is fatal to it) uses a vaguer construction than in Sentence One, namely de, which is the ren'yokei or sentence-linking form of the verb です/である desu / de aru ('to be'). This is different from なぜなら...だからである naze nara... dakara de aru in at least two ways:

a) The connection expressed by de is loose enough that the two sentences could be interpreted simply as two independent statements ('The crowing of the rooster is lethal to the Basilisk. It flees only from this'). However, this construction generally tends to have an implication of a causal connection ('Because what is lethal to the Basilisk is the crowing of the rooster, it flees only from this'). The Japanese thus conveys a causal relationship without being overly explicit.

b) The use of de does not preserve the order of the English. As a result, the order of elements in the first sentence (about the spiders) and the second sentence (about the Basilisk) are reversed.

What is a less perceptible difference between the two sentences in the English ('for it is their mortal enemy' and 'which is fatal to it') is therefore transformed into a much more marked contrast in the Japanese, that between the sledgehammer なぜなら...だからである naze nara... dakara de aru and the more subtle de.

3) 'The crowing of the rooster... is fatal to it' uses what is known as a cleft sentence in the Japanese translation. The literal meaning is: 'What is lethal to the Basilisk is the crowing of the rooster at dawn'. This highlights 'is lethal to the Basilisk' by putting it right up at the start of the sentence.

This transforms the information structure of the Japanese version into something quite different from the English. Where the English relies on parallelism -- the sentence about the spiders and the sentence about the Basilisk run largely in parallel -- the Japanese sets up a conscious contrast using the cleft sentence. Roughly, the intent behind the Japanese structure is:

Sentence A: 'The Basilisk is lethal to spiders'.

Sentence B: '(So what is lethal to the Basilisk?' Answer:) 'What is lethal to the Basilisk is...'

The total effect of these various changes is to considerably transform the contours (although not necessarily the meaning) of the original English sentence. Apart from the light it throws on the tendency of the Japanese translator to 'over-explain', it also suggests that the translator was over-influenced by Rowlings' use of a relative clause ('which is fatal to it') for the sake of stylistic variety.

1st part

蜘蛛が逃げ出すのはバジリスクが来る前触れである なぜならバジリスクは蜘蛛の宿命の天敵だからである
kumo ga nigedasu no wa Bajirisuku ga kuru maebure de aru naze nara Bajirisuku wa kumo no shukumei no tenteki da kara de aru
The escaping of the spiders is a harbinger of the coming of the Basilisk (that is) because the Basilisk is the mortal enemy of spiders

2nd part

バジリスクにとって致命的なのは雄鶏が時をつくる声で 唯一それからは逃げ出す
Bajirisuku ni totte chimeiteki na no wa ondori ga toki o tsukuru koe de yui-itsu sore kara wa nigedasu
What is lethal to the Basilisk is the crowing of the rooster and (therefore) it flees only from this

 

Vietnamese version:

Nhền nhện thường trốn chạy trước khi Tử Xà xuất hiện, bởi vì ̣đó là kẻ tử thù của chúng. Và Tử Xà thì chỉ bỏ chạy khi nghe tiếng gáy của gà trống, tiếng gà trống gáy là tai họa chí tử đối với Tử Xà.
Spiders often flee before the Death Snake appears because it is their deadly enemy. And the Death Snake will only flee when it hears the crowing of the rooster. The sound of the rooster crowing is a fatal calamity for the Death Snake.

The Vietnamese goes furthest towards separating the relative clause 'which is lethal to it' into a separate sentence. The final sentence is a very clear explanation (in fact, almost overdone) of what goes before, even though the word 'because' is not used.

1st part

Nhền nhện thường trốn chạy trước khi Tử Xà xuất hiện bởi vì ̣đó là kẻ tử thù của chúng
Spiders often flee before the Death Snake appears because it is their deadly enemy

2nd part

và Tử Xà thì chỉ bỏ chạy khi nghe tiếng gáy của gà trống tiếng gà trống gáy là tai họa chí tử đối với Tử Xà.
and the Death Snake will only flee when it hears the crowing of the rooster. The sound of the rooster crowing is a fatal calamity for the Death Snake.

 

Summing up

The four instances of relative clauses found in this passage (one integrated, three supplementary) each exemplify a crucial difference between 'grammatical function' and 'stylistic function'. The first relative clause adds to the dramatic introduction to the Basilisk. The second is a textbook example of tacking on information almost parenthetically. The third is a stylistic device used to add variety to what would otherwise be a straightforward string of sentences. The fourth is used as a replacement for a clause expressing cause or reason.

In translating it is essential to grasp the difference between the relative clause as a grammatical device and what it is being used for. A purely literal transposition of the English device into the target language will not necessarily achieve the same effect as the original.

Of the four translations, it is clear that the Mainland Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese translators have largely grasped the function of the relative clause in the context and reflected it in their translations in one way or another.

The Taiwanese translator has failed to do this, using a knee-jerk translation process, which results in awkwardness in all but the second example. The Taiwanese translation is inferior to the Mainland translation in this regard.

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