Jonathan Franzen and Germany/Jonathan Franzen und Deutschland

I have just finished reading Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen (which also came out in German, rushed onto the market in a version by two translators). It’s very good, but I’m not really interested in what is the Great American Novel.

Now I wonder where the promised German element is. Franzen is said to have told MayBritt Illner that some of the novel would be set in Germany, but it isn’t. Germerica:

The 49-year old author of The Corrections says what he loves most of Berlin are its parks where he intends to spend a lot of time. “The Federal Republic will play an important role in the novel,” he told TV moderator Maybrit Illner as reported in the Berlin daily Berliner Morgenpost.

The only reference I saw was to a German called Matthias Dröhner who leaves a voice message asking Richard Katz to give him an interview.

The first (message) was from a pesty German, Matthias Dröhner, whom Katz vaguely recalled having struggled to fend off during Walnut Surprise’s swing through the Fatherland.

There’s a lot of information on the Web about Franzen and Germany. Apparently he studied science and filled up with German credits, since German was regarded as the language of science (that certainly used to be the case forty or fifty years ago). He spent two years in Germany in the early 1980s, which cured him of his desire to live in Europe. He is working on translating Karl Kraus essays into English.

There’s a 2005 interview with Franzen on Perlentaucher/signandsight, in English and German. Here Franzen talks about the influence German literature had on him – something I haven’t really noticed, except, slightly, for Thomas Mann.

Meine literarischen Vorbilder sind deutsch: Kafka die Nummer eins, dann Karl Kraus, Goethe, Thomas Mann. Sie alle waren mir ungemein wichtig. Einiges in der 27sten Stadt, auch einiges in den satirischen Passagen von Schweres Beben ist von Karl Kraus gestohlen. Thomas Manns feine Ironie gefiel mir immer sehr gut. So habe ich mich lange als eine Art deutscher Schriftsteller betrachtet.

My literary models were mostly Germans. Kafka was the number one person, and then, two years later, Karl Kraus. Much of the tone of “The Twenty-Seventh City”, but also some of the satiric passages of “Strong Motion” are stolen from Karl Kraus. Thomas Mann had a very fine irony which I found very sympathetic. So, all along, I’ve considered myself a kind of a German writer.

In another interview in Der Tagesspiegel earlier this year (German, English), Franzen talks about the German language.

Das Bild, das mir für die deutsche Sprache in den Sinn kommt, gleicht einer jener riesigen chinesischen Fabriken, die dem Arbeiter alles bieten: ein Kino, einen Volleyballplatz, Schlafsäle – eine ganze Firmenstadt, in der alles vernünftig angeordnet ist. In den englischen Gebäuden, so kommt es mir vor, geht man viel seltener mit dem Staubsauger durch. Die Fenster werden nicht so oft geputzt, der Schmutz hängt in den Ecken. Vor allem das gegenwärtige Amerikanisch kommt mir vor wie ein großes unordentliches Studentenwohnheim.

The image of the German language that springs into my mind resembles one of those enormous Chinese factories that provide everything for their workers: a cinema, a volleyball court, dormitories – a complete corporate city in which everything is rationally laid out. The vacuum cleaner is used less frequently in English houses – at least, that’s how it seems to me. The windows are not cleaned as often and there’s dirt hanging in the corners. Contemporary American in particular seems to me very much like a large untidy student dorm.

DE>EN>DE law dictionary/Karin Linhart, Wörterbuch Recht

I summarized a number of small German-English law dictionaries some time ago. Here’s another one, by Karin Linhart: Wörterbuch Recht, Beck Verlag.

Now a review of this dictionary, in German, by Christine Haselwarter, has appeared in the ADÜ Nord Infoblatt, 2/2010, available online as a PDF at

As I’ve said before, I don’t think these small dictionaries are so useful for translators, because there are bigger ones available and there is a limit to the number one wants to consult. But they are an ideal size to be carried in a bag, for instance by law students.

This seems to me – on a cursory inspection – a good and reliable dictionary from US legal English into German. It has a number of Infokästchen – boxes on a grey background with extra information – very popular with students and with the review too. For instance, on contingency fees (only US), punitive damages, zealous lawyer (seems to be a US term), jurisdiction (US only) and many more. There are frequent references to US terms that are not translated into German, but cited and explained. In the DE>EN direction, there are fewer boxes.

There is extra material at the end, for example ten rules on how German lawyers should behave ‘im englisch-sprachigen Ausland’. Here I note that Karin Linhart is familiar with US law and South African law, but I don’t know how far her rules apply to all common-law countries. For example, there is no need to use euphemisms when looking for the loo in the UK – in fact, it might be counter-productive. I have my doubts about South Africa too, but I’ve never been there (‘Fragen Sie niemals nach der “Toilet”!).

So without doing a proper full review, I would just like to say I think this dictionary should be seen in an American context, and I think that’s what very many German law students want in any case.

There is another book by Karin Linhart, Englische Rechtssprache – Ein Studien- und Arbeitsbuch. I really must say I have no idea why the book is so huge – A4 with thick paper. The paper may be because one’s supposed to write the answers on it. The nice thing about this book is that it really is full of exercises, with fairly short introductions. It has suggested solutions in the back. Many books on English for lawyers, at least those written for lawyers, have pages and pages of reading and only short exercises, if any. For those who want the terminology first and learn vocabulary in this way, this is an attractive volume. There are many English-German lists and comments on vocabulary too. The book is based on Karin Linhart’s work with students at Würzburg University. (Incidentally, there is a small section on Office Language, quite useful I think, with terms like paperclip, stapler, ring binder, hole punch – this EN>DE list possibly explains the presence of some of the terms the ADÜ dictionary reviewer found superfluous).

LATER NOTE: Richard Schreiber has an entry on this dictionary at the Übersetzerportal.

Collocation dictionaries/Kollokationswörterbücher

There is a new edition of the BBI Combinatory Dictionary of English available, 24 euros for the paperback. Here is a PDF workbook which gives a good impression of the contents.

According to the John Benjamins Book Gazette, the new edition has 20% more material. It looks to me as if it has much more information on BE/AmE differences.

I had meanwhile gone over to the Oxford Collocations Dictionary. (amazon lets you look inside). That seems larger, and it has some pages summarizing differences which might be useful for foreign learners. In the middle, it also has some workbook pages it describes as ‘photocopiable’, which I suppose means free to use in class without copyright considerations.

Since I only use these books occasionally to get an idea for a verb combination, I appreciate the fact that I have found them both reliable and full.

The first edition used to be available online, but if anyone is looking for an online collocations dictionary (the search words that most frequently bring people to this site), Mark Davies’ page at Brigham Young University is the way to go.

As for German collocations, if you search for a word in DWDS, it will show you some collocations too.

David Hawkes obituary/Nachrufe

I’ve read The Story of the Stone (the Dream of the Red Chamber) twice this year but I didn’t realize that David Hawkes, who translated the first three volumes, died on 31 July (the last two volumes were translated by John Minford, his son-on-law).

There’s an article in today’s Guardian by Fu Ying, the Chinese ambassador to the UK, Remembering David Hawkes. Guardian obituary by John Gittings, Times obituary

Hawkes apparently gave up his chair of Chinese Studies at Oxford to translate full-time.

The translation is a very good read, witty as well as erudite. I love the translations of the names of all the servants and other characters (Baoyu’s servant Ming Yan (Tea Mist) is Tealeaf – although he isn’t a thief, he is resourceful and cunning – the Buddhist nun is Mother Euergesia, and I recall a passing reference to members of the Chinese upper class including ‘Piggy Feng’, which could have come from Evelyn Waugh)

Apart from reading, I’ve also been watching the 1987 TV version on 12 DVDs; a 2009 version is being made. I wouldn’t recommend watching this in reliance on the English subtitles unless you’ve read the novel first: this is some of the worst English I’ve ever seen, and some of the subtitles go past so fast you can scarcely see them, let alone read them, but I assume the film gives a good impression of what the garden may have looked like, the big funeral processions, the arrangements for eating, the plays (operas) and so on. See the chapter titles here for an idea of the English in the subtitles.

Redology (with one d, Guardian) is the study of the Dream of the Red Chamber. One of Fu Ying’s criticisms of the translation is that Hawkes decided not to use the colour red throughout as it is used in the Chinese.

There were, of course, points at which Hawkes was less successful. His reluctance to use the word “red” drew criticism, for “red” is central to the message of the book, referring as it does in Chinese culture to all the good things in life: youth, love, prosperity, and nobility. He avoided ‘red’ in the title of the book which he translated into The Story of the Stone, rather than Dream of Red Mansions. He also translated the hero’s residence as House of Green Delight, instead of Happy Red Court as its Chinese name literally suggests.

Hawkes discusses these decisions in notes and forewords.

Next on my reading list in Dore J. Levy’s Ideal and Actual in the Story of the Stone, which can easily be got second-hand.


Current news from the EU: Presseurop site launched. Translations of news from various national papers, available in ten languages. Some of it has that airless translatorese feel of the Lufthansa in-flight magazine.

Nothing for Ungood is being translated into German and coming out as a book in December. No wonder we haven’t been getting enough to read on the site.

Trier University has links to strange cases from the USA and Germany. Lawhaha: Strange Judicial Opinions Lawhaha auf Deutsch

Official Dictionary of Unofficial English as free download

Grant Barrett’s Official Dictionary of Unofficial English is available as a free download (PDF).

Since my book The Official Dictionary of Unofficial English is now available on the bootleg e-book sites (“pirate” is the wrong term, I think), I’ve decided to make it available for download at no cost. This is not a big deal. The book never sold more than a few thousand copies, the copyright is mine (even though the publisher, McGraw-Hill, incorrectly printed the copyright as theirs), the book is being remaindered, and all the rights are now reverting to me.

But the main point here is that I’d like to draw people to my site for the free download, not to some shady place on the Internet.

Dream of the Red Chamber/Traum der roten Kammer

I’ve been a bit remiss with this blog, because I have been reading The Story of the Stone (aka The Dream of the Red Chamber) by Cao Xueqin. I had read the first volume twice and the second once, and when I finished that, the rest hadn’t appeared (vol. 5 was 1986). Now I have got to the middle of Book 4. After that I only need to read the other three (or perhaps four – I like the first two reviews of Jin Ping Mei) famous Chinese novels.

Since there are a few dozen major characters and several hundred minor ones, I won’t offer a synopsis. But it’s a good read. It contains many stories, and the characters are rounded, so that it’s like taking a journey into a world that is foreign in time and space.

The Hawkes/Minford translation (Hawkes did Books 1 to 3 and Minford Books 4 and 5) was greatly praised. There are two translations online. One is by H. Bencraft Joly, done in 1891 and available in Project Gutenberg as two volumes, up to chapter 56 (vol. 1, vol. 2. The other is by B.S.Bonsall and was done in the 1950s – it was complete and was to be published in the USA, but the plan was dropped when Penguin announced the Hawkes translation. Bonsall’s son has put a typewritten MS online.

One aspect of the Hawkes translation that is praised is the handling of colloquialisms and vulgarity. Here’s an example from chapter 9:

Jokey Jin grinned. ‘Caught you in the act, didn’t I?’ He began to clap his hands and chant in a loud, guffawing voice,
Let’s all have a
Bit to eat!’ …
Tealeaf had by now singled out Jokey Jin and grabbed him by the front of his jacket.
‘Whether we fuck arseholes or not,’ he said, ‘what fucking business is it of yours’ You should be bloody grateful we haven’t fucked your dad. Come outside and fight it out with me, if you’ve got any spunk in you!’

Here is Joly:

“What I have now detected,” replied Chin Jung smiling, “is the plain
truth!” and saying this he went on to clap his hands and to call out
with a loud voice as he laughed: “They have moulded some nice well-baked
cakes, won’t you fellows come and buy one to eat!” (These two have been
up to larks, won’t you come and have some fun!)…
During this while, Ming Yen had entered the room and promptly seizing
Chin Jung in a grip: “What we do, whether proper or improper,” he said,
“doesn’t concern you! It’s enough anyway that we don’t defile your
father! A fine brat you are indeed, to come out and meddle with your Mr.

(For the end, Bonsall has a reference to ‘abusively indecent remarks’).

However, there aren’t that many passages like this in the novel, so the fact that the Joly version is somewhat bowdlerized is not the end of the world.

One odd association I have when reading this novel is with Harry Potter. The long descriptions of clothes and food are very reminiscent, and in Book 4, when Bao-Yu is learning to write octopartite compositions and so much Latin is used. I wondered if Rowling had been reading this before writing.

I noted in the introductions that redology is moving on, and wondered how much more has been discovered about the novel since 1986.

The Story of the Stone
translated by David Hawkes and John Minford.

The recent full German translation (I haven’t seen it).

German summary, from China Heute

The Dream of the Red Chamber in Wikipedia.

Summaries in Cliffs Notes.

LATER NOTE: I don’t think I praised this novel enough. It’s a glimpse of a world that would otherwise be virtually lost. It also subsumes the miseries of life, especially for women who made unfortunate marriages, under a Buddhist (or Taoist or Confucian) view that romantic love is an illusion. Although the last forty chapters may tone down the author’s original intentions – the family is not destroyed, but returned to imperial favour – there is enough evidence of what might have been its ending. I will be reading more about it, in addition to having read it twice now, because what the stories tell the reader seems harder for me to understand with relatively little knowledge of Chinese society and literature of the time. I did watch the DVDs of the 1987 TV production, which I believe give a good impression of what the buildings and the garden might have looked like, the arrangement of people sitting and eating on the kang, the splendid funerals and so on (the English subtitles are often terrible and often too fast, so you need to know the novel first).

There’s a discussion going on here – interesting on the weaknesses of the Hawkes/Minton translation.

Famous commenters/Andrew Losowsky zu Türklingel

I started photographing doorbells quite a while ago, but whether before or after Andrew Losowky I don’t know. At all events he did comment on my earlier entry. (I hope I can use the word Türklingel this time without being accused of being anti-Turkish).

The Guardian gives some examples of doorbell photos and texts from Andrew Losowky’s book The Doorbells of Florence.

A doorbell in Florence photographed by me.


Blackstone’s commentaries online (he doesn’t start English law in 1066).

BOTH thefe undertakings, of king Edgar and Edward the confeffor, feem to have been no more than a new edition, or frefh promulgation, of Alfreds’s code or dome-book, with fuch additions and improvements as the experience of a century and an half had fuggefted. For Alfred is generally ftiled by the fame hiftorians the legum Anglicanarum conditor, as Edward the confeffor is the reftitutor. Thefe however are the laws which our hiftories fo often mention under the name of the laws of Edward the confeffor; which our anceftors ftruggled fo hardly to maintain, under the firft princes of the Norman line; and which fubfequent princes fo frequently promifed to keep and to reftore, as the moft popular act they could do, when preffed by foreign emergencies or domeftic difcontents. Thefe are the laws, that fo vigoroufly withftood the repeated attacks of the civil law; which eftablifhed in the twelfth century a new Roman empire over moft of the ftates on the continent: ftates that have loft, and perhaps upon that account, their political liberties; which the free conftitution of England, perhaps upon the fame account has been rather improved than debafed. Thefe, in fhort, are the laws which gave rife and original to that collection of maxims and cuftoms, which is now known by the name of the common law. A name either given to it, in contradiftinction to other laws, as the ftatute law, the civil law, the law merchant, and the like; or, more probably, as a law common to all the realm, the jus commune or folcright mentioned by king Edward the elder, after the abolition of the feveral provincial cuftoms and particular laws beforementioned.

BUT though this is the moft likely foundation of this collection of maxims and cuftoms, yet the maxims and cuftoms, fo collected, are of higher antiquity than memory or hiftory can reach: nothing being more difficult than to afcertain the precife beginning and firft fpring of an antient and long eftablifhed cuftom. Whence it is that in our law the goodnefs of a cuftom depends upon it’s having been ufed time out of mind; or, in the folemnity of our legal phrafe, time whereof the memory of man runneth not to the contrary. This it is that gives it it’s weight and authority; and of this nature are the maxims and cuftom which compofe the common law, or lex non fcripta, of the kingdom.