Towards a Pro-Drop English? And Also Retranslating Cross Channel’s Intro

1.

One of my greatest pre-occupations nowadays is how to make English flexible like other pro-drop languages (Japanese & Chinese) without making it sound weird.

(Pro-drop basically means languages that allow for dropping of the pronouns or subjects etc… while inferring from context)

So let’s go back to the opening of Cross Channel. Somehow I felt like redoing it especially since my last attempt was a long time ago.

最古の記憶は。

日付さえおぼろげな、遠い霞のなか。

貴族的な気品を抱く、豪華な私室。

そこには天蓋つきの寝台も欧羅巴製の椅子もあった。

けど床に座るのが一番好きだった。

こんな日は特に。

窓から見える黒の帳は星月夜。

枠に切り取られた散在する瞬きに目を奪われる。

外界と室内を隔てる窓ガラスに、己の姿が映る。

深窓の令嬢―――洋風のドレスに身を包む、楚々とした少女。

きみはいったい、だれですか?

First, I’ll translate it in messy and un-grammatized pro-drop English.

Oldest memory.

Date even indistinct, farthest mists within

Aristocratic elegance wrapped – gorgeous private room

Over there was a canopy-attached bed as well as a European chair.

But the floor – seated – was the number one best

That day especially

Window outwards looking, black curtain – a starry night

The frame – a cut of scattered twinkles, eyes captivated

Outer-and-interior splitting windowpane – one’s own form reflected

Inner room’s girl – western dress wrapped, graceful girl

You. Exactly – where are you?

Do you believe that linguistic relativity can reach the extent whereby this type of writing sounds natural in the far future? Probably not. Most people would define this as stream-of-consciousness. Too bad. The jarring feeling in the grammar kills the aesthetics.

But, if this could sound natural to English ears, you can see how absolutely minimal you can get. The images and feelings are condensed to create dense atmosphere with little intermediary words in between.

2.

One of the things that came into my attention a while back was the script for the movie Point Blank, written by Alex Jacobs. People out there say it’s one of the most poetically minimalist scripts out there:

INT. & EXT. ALCATRAZ – DAY – (UNDER TITLES)

LYNNE ON STEPS.

REESE & WALKER ON CATWALK.

DOWN LENGTH OF CATWALK – SHE SAUNTERS TOWARDS PEN

EXERCISE YARD – THEY PLAN – LYNNE WALKS IN

UP ANGLE – TO CELL BLOCK – REESE BRINGS THEM UP STAIRS

WALKER WITH LYNNE – HE WANDERS INTO CELLS – WIDE – DOORS CLOSE ON HIM

REESE OPENS IT AGAIN

WALKER EXITS SHOT

SHE IN YARD

TRIO ON BRIDGE ABOVE EXERCISE YARD

TRANSITION SHOT: ZOOM – LYNN F.G. – MEN ABOVE ON BRIDGE

Those are the camera directions, the other writing is something like this.

Walker and Reese wait in the shadows of the high-walled exercise yard. They watch as two men appear carrying a heavy box between them.

The men set the box down only a few feet from where Walker and Reese are hiding. Walker is calm and alert, Reese exhilarated.

One of the men runs up a flight of steps leading to a catwalk overlooking the yard. Walker watches as the man rushes across the rusty catwalk to an observation tower. He enters in and almost immediately a spotlight goes on, throwing a pool of light onto the center of the yard.

Reese is startled. He grips his gun and starts to move. Walker restrains him and they press themselves back into the shadows.

The SOUND of an approaching helicopter reaches them. The man in the observation tower hurries down to join his companion.

The helicopter lands neatly in the high-walled exercise yard, guided by the beam of light.

A valise is handed to the two men. The ‘copter rises immediately and fades into the dark sky.

The camera directions are closer to true Pro-Drop English than the rest of the script. But I guess it’s because those technical instructions are only meant to be read by crew – so you don’t need anything but the basics.

3.

Since a pure Pro-Drop translation is out (in our generation) – how much can you add? Let’s run down the CC intro line by line.

a)

Oldest memory.

Probably too terse on its own. You also need to establish a first person speaker.

Changes to:

My oldest memory.

b)

Date even indistinct, farthest mists within

The rhyme alleviates the ungrammatical nature, but draws too much attention away.

Possible Changes:

Date – indistinct – wrapped in distant mists

Even the date – indistinct. Inside far mists.

Where even the date was indistinct/Where memory was clouded and distant

It was clouded and distant, and even the date was hazy

Clouded – distant. Even the date was hazy.

Clouded & distant. Even the date – hazy.

c)

Aristocratic elegance wrapped – gorgeous private room

4 adjectives, 1 verb, 1 noun. Hard to know exactly where you have to add, but it’s probably bad to state it as it is.

Possible Changes:

Wrapped in elegance – a gorgeous private room.

A gorgeously enclosed room wrapped in elegance.

Richly furnished. A gorgeous & private room.

In a richly-set, gorgeous – private room.

d)

Over there was a canopy-attached bed as well as a European chair.

Actually this sounds okay, with maybe a bit of changes.

Possible Changes:

Inside was a bed with a canopy, and a Western chair.

Inside was a bed with canopy, and a European chair.

e)

But the floor – seated – was the number one best

Definitely out.

Possible Changes:

But, sitting on the floor was the best

But, sitting on the floor was the absolute best.

But – the floor was the best place to sit.

But – the floor was my favorite seat.

But – I liked to sit on the floor.

f)

That day especially

Can’t change much.

Possible Changes:

Especially, then.

g)

Window outwards looking, black curtain – a starry night

Now we come to the meat. But it’s hard because the thrust of the aesthetics in this line comes from the push towards the 星月夜 at the end. The rhythm also sort of matches the next line.

Possible Changes:

From the window, to the sky’s black curtain – a starry night.

From the window out into the black film of sky – The Starry Night

Looking out from the sill into that black curtain – The Starry Night

f)

The frame – a cut of scattered twinkles, eyes captivated

As I said, there’s a bit of match with the previous line where everything shifts into 目を奪われる.

Possible Changes:

The frame excised a strip of twinkles – and drew in my eyes

The frame cut away a part of those twinkles – and captivated my eyes

The frame blocked out all but those twinkles – for my captivated eyes

Within the frame – cut – twinkling lights. Captivating gazes.

g)

Outer-and-interior splitting windowpane – one’s own form reflected

The first part is definitely hyper condensed. Which makes it hard to get the feel unless you go full-on Pro-Drop.

Possible Changes:

And the outside – the inside – split by the windowpane. Reflecting one’s form.

The sky and the room cleft by the pane, which reflected one’s form.

h)

Inner room’s girl – western dress wrapped, graceful girl

The repetition of girl is a bit misleading since both are different Kanji.

Possible Changes:

The damsel in the tower – my graceful girl in the western gown.

i)

You. Exactly – where are you?

Possible Changes:

Exactly where could you be?

4.

Taking all that into consideration, this was what I decided in the end:

My oldest memory,

Clouded and distant, and even the date was hazy.

In a richly-set, gorgeous, and private room.

It had a bed with a canopy, and a Western chair.

But, the floor was my favorite seat.

Especially, then.

When I looked out from the sill into the sky’s black curtain – The Starry Night,

And the frame cut a strip of those scattered lights – captivating my eyes.

The sky and the room were separated by the pane. A form was reflected.

The damsel in the tower – a graceful girl in a western gown.

Where could you be?

Wasn’t as pro-drop as I thought it would be, mainly because I decided that you could cut off pieces here and there from the other sentences, but you had to maintain it for the central image.

Even then, I wonder if more translators of Eastern languages should try for Pro-Drop techniques – just to see how far you can push that kind of style in normal text. You only see these kinds of things in books that try to be openly experimental. In fact, one of the greatest failures of experimental fiction is the fact that they use experimental techniques in books with plots that loudly broadcast: “This is an experimental text!” – as if experimentalism and readability /w cool narratives are mutually exclusive.

In fact, one of the things I’m throwing around in my head as a technique is to get rid of stuff like ‘she said’ or ‘he said’ or ‘David said’ and just pretend that I’m writing a script/VN scenario rather than a novel – placing the names directly in front of the dialogue:

David: “etc… etc… etc..”

Mary:” Etc… etc..”

This is better than just having long dialogue chains without any note of who is speaking, and it allows for a certain kind of flexibility since you don’t have to describe talking as much anymore.

Compare:

Mary opened the fridge to get a carton of milk. She turned it over, and a single drop fell out. She looked over to David and said:

“We’re out of milk”

He gave her a ‘what-do-you-want-from-me?’ kind of face and walked away.

With:

The carton in the fridge had barely a single drop left. She looked over to him.

Mary: “We’re out of milk”

David gave a ‘what-do-you-want-from-me?’ face. He left.

People would say that this would destroy the sense of disbelief – but in actuality, after you get through 5 pages of it – you’ll probably forget that it even exists. Furthermore, it doesn’t have to be done all the time, but only when it’s called for (like extremely long dialogue stretches)

Increase your repertoire: mix single lines with paragraphs; use blatant dialogue signifiers; use pro-drop English; abuse capitalizations; abuse onomatopoeia; abuse Dickinson dashes etc…

Just remember not to write shittily.

6.

(EDIT: Extra Translation Attempt /w mixed tenses)

My oldest memory.

Where even the date – indistinct. In farthest mists.

A cradle of aristocratic elegance – gorgeous private room.

There was a bed with a canopy and a European chair.

But sitting on the floor was what I preferred.

Especially that day.

From the window you can see the black curtain of a starry night.

And the frame – cut off – those twinkles that so easily entrances the eyes

The exterior and the interior split by the windowpane. It reflects a self.

The damsel in the tower – with the western dress. Elegantly dressed girl.

Who, exactly – are you?

 

 

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