M2: Unit 2: Chapter 5 – Q5.2 Answer

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The footnote seeks to explain a translation problem pertaining to the form of address the boy uses when speaking to Drystubble. Drystubble immediately reflects that the boy should have used “the second person plural” when addressing an adult visitor like himself – especially since the passage makes it clear Drystubble regards himself as socially superior. So there appear to be two different forms of the second person at stake. English however has only one second-person form available: ‘you’.

The translator inserts a footnote (and thus breaks the narrative flow and the dramatic illusion) to signal this problem and to make its nature intelligible to the reader. In French, the polite form of address is grammatically a plural form, vous; the singular form tu is used in informal situations among equals who are fairly intimate with one another. The suggestion is that the original language of the novel, Dutch, has a set of pronouns comparable to French in both form and usage. Note that the footnote assumes a reader who is familiar with the French forms of address and their social implications.

Nahuijs solved the problem without recourse to a footnote. He sidestepped the issue of the personal pronoun by making Drystubble reflect that the boy should have used a word like ‘Sir’. This is a rather elegant solution: it does not break the dramatic illusion and does not draw the reader’s attention to the fact that we are reading a translation. Note, incidentally, that in the Nahuijs version, sentence <21>, the boy subsequently does use ‘Sir’ but Drystubble does not pick up on this; a minor inconsistency?

The different solutions selected by the two translators may make us wonder why Siebenhaar chose the somewhat cumbersome option of a translator’s footnote.

In addition, we may ask ourselves if there is a connection between Nahuijs’s solution of the second-person problem and his tendency to omit quite a number details in his translation.

We can’t answers these questions at the moment. But we are already beginning to speculate about motivations behind the translators’ different choices.