Bathrobe's Le Petit Prince
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The Fox's Secret:
On ne voit bien qu'avec le cœur.
Translating into Japanese (1)

(Japanese translations) ▶ Here is my secret. It is very simple ▼ One sees clearly only with the heart ▶ What is essential is invisible to the eyes

On ne voit bien qu'avec le cœur

On ne voit bien qu'avec le cœur ('It is only with the heart that one can see rightly'), from 'The Little Prince'.

There are currently 16 translations of Le Petit Prince in Japanese, including the original one by Naitō Arō in 1953. That by Shinsan is more an adaptation than a translation and is not covered here, making a total of 15 translations.

A. STRUCTURE

Japanese translators use two different structures for the basic sentence, as well as two different ways of handling 'only'. An exceptional grammatical structure is treated separately. In addition, Japanese has rather interesting discourse features, including the practice of embedding the statement in a kind of 'frame' (my secret is the fact that...), and modal particles that give an assertive or declaratory force.


little prince 1. BASIC SENTENCE

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At French, Chinese, and English, this sentence is ideal for building on the basic Subject-Object-Verb sentence (On voit [les choses] 'One sees [things]') by successively adding 'with the heart', 'well', and 'only'. At Japanese, however, this breaks down since translators take two different paths almost from the outset.

The French original uses the transitive verb voir 'to see', which a transitive verb is one which takes an object. In fact, neither the subject nor the object in the French sentence is specific in its reference. The subject is on ('one'), a pronoun that applies to anyone, and the object is not even expressed. To fill this gap, we will supply a suitably vague subject and object for Japanese: hito 'person' and ものごと monogoto 'things'. There is, in fact, some variation in the term used for the object, discussed here.

The basic French sentence is (with Japanese gloss):

BASIC SENTENCE WITH TRANSITIVE VERB
 
on
'one'
les choses
'things'
voit
'sees'
人が
hito ga
'person' (subject)
ものごとを
monogoto o
'things' (object)
見る
miru
'look at/see'

The verb comes at the end of the Japanese sentence, i.e, the basic order is S-O-V. Particles indicate grammatical roles: ga marks the subject, o marks the object of the verb. Here, as in the French, ものごと monogoto 'things' is the object of the verb 見る miru 'to see'.

'With the heart'

If we add 'with the heart', the basic sentence becomes:

BASIC SENTENCE + 'WITH THE HEART', USING TRANSITIVE VERB
 
on
'one'
avec le coeur
'with the heart'
les choses
'things'
voit
'sees'
人が
hito ga
'person' (subject)
心で
kokoro de
'with the heart'
ものごとを
monogoto o
'things' (object)
見る
miru
'look at/see'

This simply involves adding 心で kokoro de, where de marks the instrument.

Choice of sentence structure: transitive or intransitive

So far so good. But now we strike a problem. Whereas the French uses the verb voir as a general statement of seeing, Japanese needs to phrase this as the ability to see, and there are at least two ways of doing this, which yield rather different sentences.

Transitive

The potential form preserves the S-O-V structure of the sentence:

POTENTIAL FORM
 
on
'one'
avec le coeur
'with the heart'
les choses
'things'
peut voir
'can see'
人が
hito ga
'person' (subject)
心で
kokoro de
'with the heart'
ものごとを
monogoto o
'thing' (object)
見る
miru
'look at/see'
ことができる
koto ga dekiru
'be able to'

Intransitive

On the other hand, since an intransitive verb doesn't take an object, using 見える mieru requires the sentence to be recast:

SWITCHING FROM TRANSITIVE TO INTRANSITIVE VERB
 
Transitive verb: 見る miru 'to see'
on (subject)
'one' (subject)
avec le coeur
'with the heart'
les choses (object)
'things' (object)
voit
'sees'
人が
hito ga
'person' (subject)
心で
kokoro de
'with the heart'
ものごとを
monogoto o
'things' (object)
見る
miru
'look at/see'
arrow
Intransitive verb: 見える mieru 'to be able to see, visible'
les choses (subject)
'things' (subject)
avec le coeur
'with the heart'
x
x
peut voir / peut être vues
'can see / can be seen'
ものごとが
monogoto ga
'things' (subject)
心で
kokoro de
'with the heart'
x
見える
mieru
'can see, can be seen'

Here, ものごと monogoto 'things' (not even expressed in the French) becomes the subject of the intransitive verb 見える mieru 'to see'. The agent, the very general term hito 'people', disappears. (It can be expressed if necessary by using the particle ni, roughly meaning 'by': 人に hito ni 'to or by people'.)

There is a difference in meaning to match. The difference is similar to that between the English sentences:

1. We sold the houses quickly. (Transitive. Subject is 'we', object is 'the houses'.)
2. The houses sold quickly. (Intransitive. Subject is 'the houses'.)

In the second sentence, the verb 'to sell' is in an active form but the meaning is passive -- the houses were sold. There is also a sense that the selling occurred naturally, and that we were able to sell the houses quite naturally.

All of these senses are found in the intransitive verb 見える mieru, which simultaneously carries the meanings 'to be seen, to be able to see, to be visible'. (For more on transitive vs intransitive, see Transitive, not Transvestite!, Transitive and Intransitive Verbs, and Notes on Japanese Verbs.)


NE ... QUE ('ONLY')

Normally the next step would be to add bien, but it's more useful to look at the treatment of ne...que 'only' first. In fact, translators use two different ways of rendering this, largely (but not completely) split according to their use of transitive and intransitive verbs.

Translating 'only' as しか shika

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The two translators using 見ることができる miru koto ga dekiru 'is able to see' both use しか shika 'only' to express ne ... que. This involves:

a. Placing the word しか shika after the focus (shown in red lettering).

b. Putting the verb in negative form, a special requirement of しか shika.

ADDING しか shika ('ONLY')
 
les choses
'things'
avec le coeur
'with the heart'
ne ... que
'only'
peut voir
'can see'
negative (grammatically required)
ものごとは
monogoto wa
les choses
'thing' (topic)
心で
kokoro de
avec le coeur
'with the heart'
しか
shika
ne...que
'only'
見ることができ-
miru koto ga deki-
peut voir
'can look at/see'
ない
nai

In addition, one translator using the intransitive verb 見える mieru also uses しか shika. Again, this involves adding しか shika after the focus ('with the heart', shown in red), and converting the verb to a negative:

ADDING しか shika
 
les choses
'things'
avec le coeur
'with the heart'
ne ... que
'only'
ne peut être vu / n'est pas visible
'can be seen, be visible'
negative (grammatically required)
ものごとは
monogoto wa
'things' (topic)
心で
kokoro de
'with the heart'
しか
shika
'only'
見え-
mie-
peut voir / peut être vu
'can see, can be seen'
ない
nai

'Unless look with the heart things can't be seen'

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However, the great majority of translators -- 11 out of 15 -- prefer a different way of translating ne ... que. They use a sentence pattern of the form 'if not look with the heart things can't be seen well' (or in more idiomatic English, 'unless you look with the heart things can't be seen well'). This involves using two negative clauses:

〜なくちゃ ... 〜ない
-nakucha ... -nai
('if not' ... 'not')

which together express an affirmative. (Japanese negatives are attached after the verb as part of the verb's inflection).

'ONLY' EXPRESSED WITH DOUBLE NEGATIVE

 
A
B
voit pas avec le coeur
'look with the heart'
si ne ... pas
'if not'
peut voir / être vue
'can see / be seen'
Negative
心で見-
kokoro de mi-
'look with the heart'
-なくちゃ
-nakucha
'-if not'
見え-
mie-
'can see'
-ない
-nai
'-not'

A) The A clause has the transitive verb 見る miru 'to look'. Although the verb is transitive, neither the subject ('a person') nor the object ('things') is expressed. Only the instrumental 'with the heart' is expressed.

The verb is in the conditional form 見なくては -minakute wa, 'if not look' or in its colloquial form 見なくちゃ minakucha. But there is some variety among translations. As well as 〜なくちゃ -nakucha and 〜なくては -nakute wa, the alternative (and at times slightly different in usage) conditional forms 〜ないと -nai to and 〜なければ -nakereba are also found.

One translator omits the verb 見る miru and uses でなければ de nakereba 'if not' (with the heart).

B) The B clause means 'cannot see well' or 'cannot be seen well'. The verb form, 見えない mienai, is the plain negative form (using ない -nai) of the intransitive verb 見える mieru 'to be visible'.

One translation uses 見えてこない miete konai, literally 'not come to see', which means something like 'not come into view'. It indicates both gradualism in making things out, and an effort to do so.

With its two negatives, this sentence is strongly affirmative.

Some translations use different froms from -なくちゃ ... -ない -nakucha ... -nai for the conditional + negative construction...


Different ways of saying 'if not'

-なくちゃ ... -ない -nakucha ... -nai is only one way of expressing the conditional + negative construction in Japanese. This page gives a fairly comprehensive rundown of the alternatives. The following are found in the 11 translations that use the double negative construction:

VARIATIONS ON 見なくちゃ minakucha
 
A
If not look....
B
...not
Occurrences
〜なくちゃ
-nakucha
-ない
-nai
5
〜なくては
-nakute wa
-ない
-nai
1
〜ないと
-nai to
-ない
-nai
3
〜なければ
-nakereba
-ない
-nai
2
TOTAL  
11

Double negative: 'Only if' and 'must'

As an aside, the double negative construction in Japanese is also the most common method of expressing the concept of 'must'. The parallelism can be quite clearly seen if the two are placed together:

 
'ONLY' EXPRESSED WITH DOUBLE NEGATIVES
A
B
si ne voit pas avec le coeur
'if not look with the heart'
ne peut pas voir
'cannot see'
心で見-
kokoro de mi-
'look with the heart'
-なくちゃ
-nakucha
'-if not'
見え-
mie-
'can see'
-ない
-nai
'-not'
 
'MUST' CONSTRUCTION
A
B
si ne voit pas avec le coeur
'if do not look with the heart'
ça ne va pas
'won't do'
心で見-
kokoro de mi-
'look with the heart'
-なくちゃ
-nakucha
'-if not'
なら-
nara-
'be ok'

いけ-
ike-
'be ok'
-ない
-nai
'-not'

The first sentence means "Can only see with the heart". The second means: "Must look with the heart".

For more information, see the site Things that must be done (or not).

Bien

Now that we've looked at ne... que 'only', we can add the word bien ('well'). It comes before the verb.

PLACING OF BIEN
 
心で
kokoro de
'with the heart'
なくちゃ
minakucha
'if not look'
ものごとは
monogoto wa
'thing' (topic)
よく
yoku
'well'
見えない
mienai
'not be seen'

However, not all translators use よく yoku or an equivalent word. Some omit it altogether, which changes the meaning of the sentence from 'can only see well with the heart' to 'can only see with the heart'.

Those that omit it are all in a sense special cases:

The translator using 心でなければ kokoro de nakereba 'only if (with) the heart'. The meaning thus becomes 'only (with) the heart can see'.

The translator using なにも見えない nanimo mienai 'can see nothing'. The meaning thus becomes 'if not look with the heart, can see nothing'. While in colloquial use this is similar to what the original French says, it actually makes the strongest claim of all those who omit よく yoku.

The translations using 見ることができる miru koto ga dekiru. The meaning thus becomes 'can only see with the heart'.


little prince 2. ALTERNATIVE SENTENCE PATTERN

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'Look with the heart': 'Imperative' style

One translator uses this very simple basic construction with very little modification. He doesn't bother with ne ... que ('only') or bien ('well'). He does, however:

'IMPERATIVE' STYLE
 
les choses
'things'
avec le coeur
'with the heart'
voir
'see'
ものは
mono wa
'things' (topic)
心で
kokoro de
'with the heart'
見る
miru
'see'

Literally this sentence means 'Things with the heart to see'. In fact it's quite a strong categorical recommendation. 見る miru 'to see' is the ordinary dictionary form of the verb, but it's almost an imperative, meaning 'See things with the heart' or 'One must see things with the heart'. (It's not a true imperative, however. The true or brusque imperative in Japanese uses the form 見ろ miro 'look!')

little prince 3. THEMATIC STRUCTURE

Despite the different grammatical patterns in the Japanese translations, something remarkable is apparent from even a cursory glance: apart from the verb form used and the inclusion or omission of よく yoku, there is almost total convergence in expressing the agent (French on 'one') and the object of the sentence.

Agent and object

1. ALL Japanese versions omit the agent (人が hito ga 'person', i.e., on in the original French).

2. All but three Japanese versions explicitly express the object of the action ('things'). This object bears the topic marker wa. (For more on the topic particle, see Practical Particular Particles.)

The result is two almost identical sentence patterns:

TRANSITIVE AND INTRANSITIVE
 
Transitive verb: 見る miru 'to see'
les choses (topic)
'things' (topic)
avec le coeur
'with the heart'
peut voir
'can see'
ものごと
monogoto wa
'things' (topic)
心で
kokoro de
'with the heart'
見る
miru
'look at/see'
ことができない
koto ga dekinai
'not be able to'
Intransitive verb: 見える mieru 'to be able to see, visible'
les choses (topic)
'things' (topic)
avec le coeur
'with the heart'
peut voir / peut être vues
'can see / can be seen'
ものごと
monogoto wa
'things' (topic)
心で
kokoro de
'with the heart'
見えない
mienai
'cannot see, cannot be seen'

These two patterns are so similar as to be almost interchangeable. However, the choice of one or the does involve some differences.

Placing of the topic

In all cases the object seen -- ものごと monogoto or もの mono -- is followed by the topicaliser wa. But its placing in the sentence varies.

1) In sentences using 見える mieru 'to be visible', all but one place ものごとは monogoto wa before the main verb clause. This includes the translation that uses しか shika for 'only'.

PLACING OF THE TOPIC IN なくちゃ... ない nakucha ... nai SENTENCES
 
ものごとはね
monogoto wa ne
'thing' (topic)
心で
kokoro de
'with the heart'
なくちゃ
minakucha
'if not look'
--
見えない
mienai
'not be seen'

1
--
心で
kokoro de
'with the heart'
なくちゃ
minakucha
'if not look'
ものごとは
monogoto wa
'thing' (topic)
見えない
mienai
'not be seen'
6
 
心で
kokoro de
'with the heart'
しか
shika
'only'
ものは
mono wa
'things'
見えない
mienai
'not be seen'
1
Total
8

Placed immediately before よく見える yoku mieru, ものごと monogoto or もの mono is tied closely to the verb. That is, 'see things' (ものがよく見える mono ga yoku mieru) is a tightly knit group.

The one translator who places ものごと monogoto at the start of the sentence treats it as the grand topic of the sentence. Indeed, the expression used is ものごとはね monogoto wa ne, followed by a comma to indicate pause. The effect is that the fox is proclaiming he is about to make a pronouncement on the nature of things. Note the use of the grander term ものごと monogoto rather than the more specific and concrete もの mono.

2) Turning to the patterns using 見ることができない miru koto ga dekinai, we find that the topic is placed at the start of the sentence.

PLACING OF THE TOPIC IN 〜ことができない - koto ga dekinai SENTENCES
ものごとは
monogoto wa
'things'
心で
kokoro de
'with the heart'
しか
shika
'only'
見ることができない
miru koto ga dekinai
'can see'
2
Total
2

Perhaps it is placed at the start in order to avoid the long, strung-out ものごとは見ることができない monogoto wa miru koto ga dekinai 'it is not possible to see things'.

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