2017/10/17 - 19:03

«Der Nachbar»: a paper about a translation

by Tanya Ellerbrock

"Der Nachbar" is a short story written by Franz Kafka in February 1917. The story is narrated by a man who owns a business and rents an apartment in an apartment building. The narrator had considered renting the neighboring apartment, however, it has recently been taken by a man named Harras. As with Kafka's other works, this piece is more than appears on the surface. It builds on the narrator's paranoia over having another person, who he knows virtually nothing about, in such close quarters. The narrator starts by wondering idly about the young man who has rented the apartment. By the end he is convinced that not only is Harras eavesdropping on his phone conversations, but that he is running all over the city telling other people about them (http//www.kafka.org/transl/english/neighbour.htm).

Franz Kafka was born July 3, 1883 in Prague, which was then a part of Austria. He was born into a middle class Jewish family, and lived in the shadow of his father, a powerful shopkeeper, for all of his life. In 1906 he received a law degree and began working for the Workers' Accident Insurance institution until he fell ill with tuberculosis. He was forced to retire in 1922 and spent most of his time at health resorts and sanatoriums until his death in 1924. He never married, though he did have some less-than-pleasant love affairs. His writing reflects this, giving an either guilty or dirty view of sex. Kafka did most of his writing at night, while working during the day (Grolier).

Only some of Kafka's writings were published before his death, and those which were published were published without enthusiasm from Kafka. These were such works as "The Judgement," "The Metamorphosis" and "Meditation." Kafka left instructions for his unprinted manuscripts to be destroyed after he died, but his friend Max Brod went ahead and published them anyway. The three most widely known are "The Trial," "The Castle" and "Amerika" (Grolier). "Der Nachbar" was never published. It was a part of "Oktavheft D," one of Kafka's manuscripts (http//www.kafka.org/projekt/nachlass2/ohd.html).

This translation was done by Annika Eder, a 19 year old German student who is studying in Australia. She is from Krefeld, Germany and studies at Marienschule Krefeld. I think the translation is not particularly bad, but not particularly good. It is interesting that she is translating (presumably - there is no way for me to know for sure) from her native language to a second language, which is the opposite of what most translators usually do. Also, presumably at 19 she's not a professional translator, or one with a lot of experience.

What I noticed most about the translation is that I can tell that it's something that's been translated; there are parts which don't sound quite like regular English. The very first sentence is actually interesting in the way she translated it. The German is literally "My business rests entirely on my shoulders," however she translates it as "I am totally responsible for my business." This is what Baker was referring to when she talks about idioms in chapter 3. A literal translation would make sense to, and probably convey a similar meaning, though I'm not sure we have the exact same idiom in English. However, what the translator does is to just state the meaning of the idiom "the narrator is responsible for his business."

In the second sentence the translator does several interesting things. The first is that she translates "Vorzimmer" as "front office" but "Zimmer" as "room." While it makes senese with either translation for "Zimmer," it would probably be better to be consistent in English because it's consistent in German. Personally I would probably choose "room" because that's what I learned as the translation for "Zimmer," and I learned "Büro" as the word for office. The translator also leaves out the word "a" before "desk." I think this is because German doesn't always use articles where English does (Ich bin Studentin = I am a student).

The seventh sentence is a hard one. It has two words which are not readily translated into English "aber" and "noch." In clear cases "aber" would be "but" and "noch" would be "still," but they have more subtle meanings here. I think the translator found a good way of doing it, but there would be many other possibilities which would have a slightly different meaning, but still close to the German meaning. The other thing I noticed in this sentence and the following one is the same thing as before where she left out the article (although I think even in the German it's not a complete sentence here; it's missing something meaning "it has" or "there is.").

The ninth sentence doesn't sound quite right to me, though I'm not entirely sure why. I think it might be because in English you would normally say "x is to blame for y", not "x is to blame that y." I also noticed that the translator is using "flat" instead of "apartment." I know that is the word used in British English and I would guess that it is the same in Australian English as well..

In sentence twelve the translator doesn't translate "dort" in her English sentence. I'm not sure why, because it would be simple to add it "What he is actually doing there, I don't know." In thirteen she translates "Auf das Tür steht..." as "His door reads..." Literally it would be "(It) stands on the door..." A closer translation would be "It says on the door...," though hers is not wrong, just different.

In sentence fifteen Eder adds a word in the phrase "dessen Sache vielleicht Zukunft habe." She translates it as "whose business may have a good future" but there is no form of "good" in the German phrase. Later in the sentence she uses the word "advice" where the correct word would be "advise." I think she tried to use the noun as the verb. The last sentence (16) in that paragraph is interesting because instead of saying, "the usual information that you give if you know nothing," she says "the common information you get, if you no one knows a thing." That sentence seems to have gotten a "you" in the second half from somewhere, and it doesn't really make sense. Also, she changes the sentence so that the information is being received rather than given. It almost is the opposite of the German original.

Eder's translation of sentence seventeen is funny because of the the way she translates "auf der Treppe." In the first phrase she says "in the staircase" which, for me, conjures up an image of two people meeting inside a room underneath a staircase. However, what I think what Kafka meant here that they meet "on the stairs."

Sentence 26 is also somewhat awkward. A better translation would be, "But it doesn't require much cunning to guess the names from the characteristics and unavoidable expressions in the conversation." (27) is also awkward, especially the phrase "but still can't prevent to reveal the secrets." A better translation would be "but still can't stop from revealing the secrets."

I found the last two paragraphs of the story the hardest. I think it's because they are long sentences, which I think was done intentionally, to show how the narrator is becoming more and more paranoid without really thinking things through. Because the sentences aren't simple it is much harder to translate them.

I really enjoyed looking at the translation for this story. It was interesting to be able to see what had tripped up the translator and to be able to know why certain things were problems, having made the same (or opposite) mistakes myself when translating into German. It was frustrating, however, to find places where I know there must be some more eloquent way of translating a sentence, but I can't come up with it and neither did the translator.


Baker, M. (1992). In other words A coursebook on translation. London Routledge.

Eder, A. (2002, October 12). The neighbor. The Kafka Project. Retrieved 4 November 2002 from the World Wide Web http//www.kafka.org/transl/english/neighbour.htm

Eder, A. (2002, October 12). Some notes about the translator. The Kafka Project. Retrieved 10 November 2002 from the World Wide Web http//www.kafka.org/ essays/annika.htm

Grolier Inc. (1993). Franz Kafka (1883-1924). Retrieved 4 November 2002 from the World Wide Web http//www.levity.com/corduroy/kafka.htm

Nervi, M. (2002, October 12). Oktavheft D. The Kafka Project. Retrieved 4 November 2002 from the World Wide Web http//www.kafka.org/projekt/nachlass2/ohd.html

Revision: 2011/01/08 - 00:18 - © Mauro Nervi

Top Back Print Search Sitemap Tip Login