Step-by-Step Arabic Literature Translation #2

رِوايَة

root: ر-و-ي / noun / plural: روايات / definition: novel


Note: this is part two of the previous Step-by-Step Arabic Literature Translation, so if you haven’t read that one yet, you might want to start with that first! We’ll keep this introduction short because it’s safe to assume this will be a very long post…

Just as a reminder, we’re going through the following excerpt from الطيّب صالح’s novel مَوسِم الهِجرة إلى الشَمال (Season of Migration to the North):

كان ذهني قد صفا حينئذ، وتحددت علاقتي بالنهر، إنني طاف فوق الماء ولكنني لست جزءاً منه، فكرت أنني إذا مت في تلك اللحظة فإنني أكون قد متُّ كما ولدت، دون إرادتي. طول حياتي لم أختر ولم أقرر. إنني أقرر الآن أنني أختار الحياة. سأحيا لأن ثمة أناساً قليلين أحب أن أبقى معهم أطول وقت ممكن، ولأن عليّ واجبات يجب أن أؤديها، لا يعنيني إن كان للحياة معنى أو لم يكن لها معنى. وإذا كنت لا أستطيع أن أغفر فسأحاول أن أنسى، سأحيا بالقوة والمكر. وحركتُ قدمي وذراعي بصعوبة وعنف حتى صارت قامتي كلها فوق الماء. وبكل ما بقيت لي من طاقة صرخت، وكأنني مُمثل هزلي يصيح في مسرح: “النجدة. النجدة”. ـ


In part one, we went word-by-word through the first few sentences and arrived at the translation below:

كان ذهني قد صفا حينئذ، وتحددت علاقتي بالنهر، إنني طاف فوق الماء ولكنني لست جزءاً منه، فكرت أنني إذا مت في تلك اللحظة فإنني أكون قد متُّ كما ولدت، دون إرادتي. طول حياتي لم أختر ولم أقرر. إنني أقرر الآن أنني أختار الحياة

At that time, my mind had become clear, and my relationship to the river was determined. I was floating on top of the water but I was not part of it. I contemplated that if I had died in that moment, I would have died as I was born, without any will of my own. Throughout my life, I had not chosen nor had I decided. I have decided now that I choose life.


So let’s pick up where we left off:

(As before, we’ll deal with smaller chunks of text at a time, derive intermediate translations, then put everything together at the end.)

سأحيا لأن ثمة أناساً قليلين أحب أن أبقى معهم أطول وقت ممكن

سأحيا

components: سـ + أحيا

the سـ prefix indicates the future tense

أحيا: root = ح-ي-و

= form I verb

conjugation = present tense, first person, singular

أَحْيا = “I live”

therefore, with the prefix, سَاَحْيا = “I will live”

لأن

components: لـِ + أنّ

together, لِاَنَّ means “because” and must be followed by a nominal sentence/independent clause (جملة اسمية)

ثمة

ثَمَّةَ = “there (is)” (similar to how we use هُناك)

أناساً

root = ء-ن-س

noun

أُناس = “people” (it’s a synonym for the more common word ناس)

question: why is it منصوب (in accusative case) when it is the subject/مبتدأ of the clause?

لأنّ is one of the “sisters” of إنّ: where you have a clause following one of إنّ and its sisters, the subject/مبتدأ must be منصوب

thus, in this clause (“…لأنّ ثمّة أناساً…”) the word أُناس has the اً accusative ending

قليلين

root = ق-ل-ل

adjective

قَليلين is simply the plural form of قَليل meaning “few”

قليلين is the adjective describing the noun أناس, hence they match in number (plural) and case (منصوب) (…and definiteness and gender, as per adjective agreement rules)

أحب

note: this is the first word in the relative clause related to “أناسا قليلين”

the only reason that this relative clause does not start with الّذين is because what it is referencing (أناس قليلين) is indefinite

root = ح-ب-ب

form IV verb

أَحَبّ / يُحِبّ means “to love/like/want”

اُحِبُّ is the present tense, first person singular conjugation and therefore means “I love/like/want” (we’ll see what specific word fits better according to context in a minute)

أن

أَن = “that” or “to”

أبقى

root = ب-ق-ي

form I verb

بَقِيَ / يَبقَى = “to stay/remain”

أَبقى = present tense, first person singular conjugation—so it means “I stay/remain”

however, أن + present tense (المضارع المنصوب) = the infinitive form (which is interchangeable with the مصدر/verbal noun)

so “أن أبقى” = “to stay/remain”

معهم

components: مع + هم

مَعَ = a preposition meaning “with”

ـهُم = the pronoun suffix meaning “them”

so مَعَهُم = “with them”

(“them” refers back to أناساً قليلين, the subject of the main clause—the subject of the main clause has to be referred back to (via pronoun) in the relative clause if it’s not the subject of the relative clause (here the subject of the relative clause is “I”))

أطول

root = ط-و-ل

أَطْوَل is the superlative form of the adjective طَويل

طَويل = “long”, so أَطْوَل = “longest”

وقت

root = و-ق-ت

وَقْت = a noun meaning “time”

ممكن

root = م-ك-ن

adjective

مُمْكِن = “possible”

the construction “مُمْكِن ______ (superlative)” can be translated to “as ______ as possible”

so “أطول وقت ممكن” (literally: the longest time possible”) = “as long as possible”


Putting that together:

سأحيا لأن ثمة أناساً قليلين أحب أن أبقى معهم أطول وقت ممكن

I will live because there are a few people whom I want to remain with as long as possible

(As I did last time, I’ll leave these intermediate translations largely untouched and then edit the translations at the end to sound more natural.)


Next part of the sentence:

ولأن عليّ واجبات يجب أن أؤديها

ولأن

components: و + لِأَنّ

و = “and”

لأنّ = “because” (as discussed above)

عليّ

عَلى = a preposition meaning (among many other things) “on” or “above”

علَيَّ is a combination of على and the ـي pronoun suffix indicating “me”

however, when you have the word على followed by a reference to a person, it can mean “must”, “have to”, or (more archaically) “it is incumbent upon…”

(e.g. “عَلَيهِ أَن يَفْعَل شَيءاً” = “he must do something”)

exploring the next word will give some more clarity about this

واجبات

root = و-ج-ب

noun

واجِبات is the plural form of واجِب which means “duty”

if you say واجب على followed by a pronoun suffix or noun, it means “(someone)’s duty”

so واجِبات عَلَيَّ means “(my) duties” or “I have duties”

يجب

(note: يجب is the start of a relative clause referring to واجبات)

root = و-ج-ب (the same as the word above)

form I verb

وَجَبَ / يَجِبُ means “to be necessary”

(see next word)

أن

يَجِب أن is an impersonal (i.e. no conjugation needed) phrase meaning “it is necessary to” or “must/have to”

أؤديها

components: أُؤَدّي + ها

root = ء-د-ي

form II verb

أدّى / يُؤَدّي can mean “to lead” or “to carry out/fulfil/do”

أُؤَدّي = the present tense, first person singular conjugation

thus, أُؤَدّي means “I fulfil” (this translation makes the most sense at this point considering this clause is referring to “duties”)

ـها = the attached object pronoun suffix

this refers back to واجبات (the subject of the main clause)—as واجبات is a non-human plural, it is treated grammatically as the feminine singular; hence the feminine, singular ـها pronoun


So we can translate all of that as:

ولأن عليّ واجبات يجب أن أؤديها

and because I have duties that I must fulfil


Moving on to the last part of that sentence:

لا يعنيني إن كان للحياة معنى أو لم يكن لها معنى

لا

لا = “no” or negates present tense verbs, here it’s the latter

يعنيني

components: يَعْني + ني

root = ع-ن-ي

form I verb

عَنى / يَعْني means “to concern/worry someone”

so يَعْني = the present tense, third person, masculine, singular form of the verb

(the subject of the verb is the rest of the phrase, beginning with إن—so in English, as we can’t simply start the sentence with a verb, we would either invert the clause or insert a “dummy pronoun” at the start i.e. “it”)

ـني = is the attached object pronoun suffix, meaning “me”

therefore, يَعْنيني = “it concerns/worries me”, and لا يعنيني = “it does not concern/worry me”

إن

إِن = “if” or “whether” when followed by either the past tense (الماضي) or the jussive (المضارع المجزوم) verb

كان

root = ك-و-ن

form I verb

كان / يَكون = “to be”

كان = past tense, third person, masculine singular conjugation

in the Arabic sentence, كان is primarily fulfilling the condition of there being a past tense verb following إن—however, the present tense form “is” will appear in the translation

للحياة

components: لِـ + الـحياة

the لـِ prefix here is that of possession

الحياة = “life” (as discussed in part one)

so لِلحياة= “life has”

معنى

root = ع-ن-ي

noun

مَعْنى = “meaning” or “sense”

أو

أَو = “or”

لم

لَم followed by the present tense jussive verb (المضارع المجزوم) negates the past tense

(note: past tense is being used in this section here because we’re still talking about a condition of the إن (“if/”whether”))

يكن

يَكُن is simply the jussive form of يَكون, which is the present tense of كان that we saw above

(remember, it’s jussive because of the preceding لم)

لها

components: لـ + ها

the لـِ is that of possession, as we saw with للحياة

and the ـها attached pronoun is referring back to الحياة (hence the feminine singular)

therefore, لَها = “it has” (note that it is pronounced لَها and not لِها)

however, as this is preceded by a negation, together لم يكن لها would mean “it does not have”

معنى

معنى, as before = “meaning”


So we have:

لا يعنيني إن كان للحياة معنى أو لم يكن لها معنى

it does not concern me whether life has a meaning or it does not have a meaning


Next bit:

وإذا كنت لا أستطيع أن أغفر فسأحاول أن أنسى

وإذا

components: و + إذا

و = “and”

إذا + past tense verb = “if”

كنت

كُنْتُ = the first person singular conjugation of كان

= past tense

لا

لا = negates the following present tense verb

أستطيع

root = ط-و-ع

form X verb

اِستَطاع / يَستَطيع = “to be able”

أَسْتَطيع = the present tense, first person singular conjugation

so أستطيع means “I am able” or, simply, “I can”

if we take into account the previous words: “وإذا كنت لا أستطيع” = “and if I cannot”/”and if I am not able”

أن

أَن = “to”

أغفر

root = غ-ف-ر

form I verb

غَفَرَ / يَغْفِر = “to forgive”

أَغْفِر = the present tense, first person singular (“I forgive”)

remember that أن + المضارع المنصوب gives us the infinitive form

so أَن أغفِرَ = “to forgive” where the subject is “I”

فسأحاول

components: فـ + ـسـ + أحاول

فـ prefix = introduces the start of the result of a conditional sentence that begins with إذا (we went through this is part one)

سـ prefix = future tense indicator

أُحاوِل: root = ح-و-ل

form III verb

حاوَلَ / يُحاوِل = “to try”

أُحاوِلُ = present tense, first person singular (” I try”)

together, فسأحاول = “I will try”

أن

أن = “to”

أنسى

root = ن-س-ي

form I verb

نَسِيَ / يَنسَى = “to forget”

أنسى = present tense, first person singular conjugation (“I forget”)

أن أنسى = “to forget”


Together:

وإذا كنت لا أستطيع أن أغفر فسأحاول أن أنسى

and if I cannot forgive, I will try to forget


Last little bit of that sentence:

سأحيا بالقوة والمكر

سأحيا

components: سـ + أحيا

(we came across this word at the very start of this post)

سأحيا = “I will live”

بالقوة

components: بِـ + الـ + قُوّة

بـ = a preposition prefix meaning “with” or “by”

الـ = prefix indicating definiteness

قُوّة comes from the root ق-و-ي and means “strength/power/force”

بِالقُوّة = an adverb meaning “by force” or “forcibly”

والمكر

components: و + الـ + مكر

و = “and”

الـ = definiteness marker

مَكْر = a noun from the root م-ك-ر meaning “slyness/deception”


So that all means:

سأحيا بالقوة والمكر

I will live by force and deception


Onto the penultimate sentence:

وحركتُ قدمي وذراعي بصعوبة وعنف حتى صارت قامتي كلها فوق الماء

وحركتُ

components: و + حركتُ

و = “and”

حركتُ: root = ح-ر-ك

form II verb

حَرَّكَ / يُحَرِّك = “to move (something)”

حَرَّكْتُ = past tense, first person singular verb conjugation (i.e. “I moved”)

قدمي

root = ق-د-م

noun, dual

قَدَم = “foot”

“two feet” = قَدَمَانِ when the word is مرفوع (in nominative case) or قَدَمَيْنِ when the word is منصوب or مجرور (in accusative or genitive case)

here, the word is the object of حركتُ (“I moved…”), so it would be منصوب and hence قَدَمَيْنِ

however, when the dual form is in an إضافة (a genitive construction) and isn’t the last word in the construction, the final ن is removed

possessive constructions like “my…”, “their…”, “her…”, etc count as إضافة

when you add the possessive ـي suffix meaning “my” to قَدَمَيْنِ (“two feet”): first the ن drops because it is now an إضافة, then we get قَدَمَي + ـي, so we end up with قَدَمَيّ

i.e. the ـي is doubled because the first ي is from the dual form and the second is from the possessive suffix

so قَدَمَيّ = “my two feet”—we’d usually just say “my feet” in translation though, as the “two” is implied

notice that without the vowel markings, قَدَمِي (“my foot”) and قَدَمَيّ (“my two feet”) are written exactly the same: قدمي

however, you’ll often be able to work out which it is from the context

وذراعي

components: و + ذراعي

و = “and”

ذِراع (root = ذ-ر-ع) means “arm”

ذِراعَيّ = “my (two) arms”, as discussed above with قَدَمَيّ

بصعوبة

components: بـ + صعوبة

بـ = “with” or “by”

صُعوبة = a noun from the root ص-ع-ب meaning “difficulty”

so بِصُعوبة = “with difficulty”

وعنف

components: و + عنف

عُنْف (root = ع-ن-ف) is a noun meaning “violence”

thus, وَعُنْف = “and violence”

حتى

حَتَّى means “until” here

if you’re interested in the other meanings of this word, check out my post Three Meanings of حتّى

صارت

root = ص-ي-ر

form I verb

صار / يَصير = “to become/to come to be” or “to happen” (this was one of the synonyms we looked at in Four Common Words for “to Become” in Arabic)

صارَت = past tense, third person, feminine, singular conjugation of the verb

the subject of this verb is the following noun, قامتي, which is feminine—hence the conjugation of this verb

we’ll look at the rest of the sentence to narrow down the meaning of this word

قامتي

components: قامة + ـي

قامة is a noun from the root ق-و-م meaning “figure/frame/stature” (of a person)—although I think that “body” would be a better translation in this context

(note that the ـة is indicating the feminine gender of the noun)

the ـي suffix = “my”

كلها

components: كل + ها

كُلّ = “all (of)”

ـها = “it” (it’s feminine because it’s referring back to قامتي)

now: قامتي كلّها would literally translate to “my body, all of it”; but when translating it’s important that we think about what would ordinarily be said

“all of my body” would be a much more natural-sounding translation

فوق

root = ف-و-ق

فَوْقَ is a preposition meaning “above” or “on top of”

الماء

components: الـ + ماء

الـ = “the”

ماء = “water” (from the root م-و-ه)


All of that sentence:

وحركتُ قدمي وذراعي بصعوبة وعنف حتى صارت قامتي كلها فوق الماء

and I moved my feet and arms with difficulty and violence until all of my body came to be on top of the water


Last sentence to go through(!):

وبكل ما بقيت لي من طاقة صرخت، وكأنني مُمثل هزلي يصيح في مسرح: “النجدة. النجدة” ـ

وبكل

components: و + بـ + كل

و = “and”

بـ = “with”

كُلّ = “all (of)”

ما

ما = “what”

بقيت

root = ب-ق-ي

form I verb

بَقِيَ / يَبْقى = “to stay/remain” or “to be left” (earlier in this post, we encountered the word أبقى)

بَقِيَت = past tense, third person, feminine singular: “(it) was left”

the verb is in this feminine conjugation because its subject is طاقة (further down)

لي

components: لـ + ـي

لـِ = that of possession, as we’ve seen before

and ـي = indicates “I”

so لي = “I had/have”

من

مِن = a preposition meaning “of” or “from”

طاقة

root = ط-و-ق

noun

طاقة = “energy”

صرخت

root = ص-ر-خ

form I verb

صَرَخَ / يَصرُخ = “to scream/shout/cry (out)”

صَرَخْتُ = past tense, first person singular

so صرختُ means “I screamed/shouted/cried”

وكأنني

components: و + كأنّ + ني

و = “and”

كَأَنَّ = “as if” or “as though”

ـني suffix here is indicating the subject of this clause, which is the first person “I”

مُمثل

root = م-ث-ل

noun; active participle (اسم فاعل) of form II

مُمَثِّل = “actor”

هزلي

root = ه-ز-ل

adjective

هَزْلي = “comical” or “funny”

يصيح

root = ص-ي-ح

form I verb

صاحَ / يَصيح = “to scream/shout” (this is a synonym for صرخ that just occurred a few words back)

يَصيح = present tense, third person, masculine, singular (because the subject is ممثل هزلي)

في

في = “in”

مسرح

root = س-ر-ح

noun

مَسْرَح = “theatre” or “stage”

النجدة (x2)

root = ن-ج-د

noun

نَجْدة = “help”

النجدة (here with the definite marker, الـ) is used for screaming for help


The last sentence put together:

وبكل ما بقيت لي من طاقة صرخت، وكأنني مُمثل هزلي يصيح في مسرح: “النجدة. النجدة “ـ

and with all that I had left of energy, I shouted, and as if I was a comical actor screaming in a theatre “Help! Help!”


Okay, now we can gather together everything we’ve just gone through in this post:

سأحيا لأن ثمة أناساً قليلين أحب أن أبقى معهم أطول وقت ممكن، ولأن عليّ واجبات يجب أن أؤديها، لا يعنيني إن كان للحياة معنى أو لم يكن لها معنى. وإذا كنت لا أستطيع أن أغفر فسأحاول أن أنسى، سأحيا بالقوة والمكر. وحركتُ قدمي وذراعي بصعوبة وعنف حتى صارت قامتي كلها فوق الماء. وبكل ما بقيت لي من طاقة صرخت، وكأنني مُمثل هزلي يصيح في مسرح: “النجدة. النجدة “. ـ

I will live because there are a few people whom I want to remain with as long as possible, and because I have duties that I must fulfil, it does not concern me whether life has a meaning or it does not have a meaning. And if I cannot forgive, I will try to forget, I will live by force and deception. And I moved my feet and arms with difficulty and violence until all of my body came to be on top of the water. And with all that I had left of energy, I shouted, and as if I was a comical actor screaming in a theatre: “Help! Help!”


And finally we come to the complete translation of the whole passage (with some last few edits for a better flow):

كان ذهني قد صفا حينئذ، وتحددت علاقتي بالنهر، إنني طاف فوق الماء ولكنني لست جزءاً منه، فكرت أنني إذا مت في تلك اللحظة فإنني أكون قد متُّ كما ولدت، دون إرادتي. طول حياتي لم أختر ولم أقرر. إنني أقرر الآن أنني أختار الحياة. سأحيا لأن ثمة أناساً قليلين أحب أن أبقى معهم أطول وقت ممكن، ولأن عليّ واجبات يجب أن أؤديها، لا يعنيني إن كان للحياة معنى أو لم يكن لها معنى. وإذا كنت لا أستطيع أن أغفر فسأحاول أن أنسى، سأحيا بالقوة والمكر. وحركتُ قدمي وذراعي بصعوبة وعنف حتى صارت قامتي كلها فوق الماء. وبكل ما بقيت لي من طاقة صرخت، وكأنني مُمثل هزلي يصيح في مسرح: “النجدة. النجدة “. ـ

At that time, my mind had become clear, and my relationship to the river was determined. I was floating on top of the water but I was not part of it. I contemplated that if I had died in that moment, I would have died as I was born, without any will of my own. Throughout my life, I had not chosen nor had I decided. I have decided now that I choose life. I will live because there are a few people with whom I want to remain for as long as possible, and because I have duties that I need to fulfil. It does not concern me whether life has a meaning or not. And if I cannot forgive, I will try to forget, I will live by force and by deception. So, with struggle and violence, I moved my arms and feet until my whole body surfaced upon the water. And with all of the energy that I had left, I cried out as though I was a comical actor screaming in a theatre: “Help! Help!”



Well… congratulations if you’ve made it this far and read through all of that!

I don’t know when I’ll next do one of these step-by-step literature translations, but I assure you that when I do, it’ll be of a considerably shorter excerpt… (Maybe some poetry next time?)

I have to say this really brought me back to my university days, especially seeing as we went through parts of this novel in my final year.

Anyway, that’s all for now, مع السلامة!


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5 thoughts on “Step-by-Step Arabic Literature Translation #2

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