Step-by-Step Arabic Literature Translation #11

مُواصَلة

root: و-ص-ل / verbal noun of form III / definition: continuation


This week we’re continuing on from last week’s literature translation where we went through the first part of our extract:

هذيان سعاد المتواصل قبل موتها بأسابيع قليلة جعلنا نفكّر بمصيرنا. أصبحت صورتنا العائليّة المعلّقة على جدار الصالون مصدر ثقل نفسي نحاول تحاشيه وكذباً فاحشاً لا يمكن إخفاؤه، أبٌ هجرنا مع منقِّبة آثار عجوز علّمتها أمّي صنع مربى المشمش، وأخت بائسة لا نعرف لماذا تهذي، تفتح فمها محاولة التنفّس بصعوبة فائقة، نحبّها وتعتبرها أمّي عاراً شخصيّاً يجب إخفاؤه عن الجميع


Now, we’ll cover the rest, starting here:

أبٌ هجرنا مع منقِّبة آثار عجوز علّمتها أمّي صنع مربى المشمش

أبٌ

root: ء-ب-و

noun

أَب = “father”

أب is the subject of this clause, therefore it is مرفوع and has dammatayn

note that this noun is indefinite, so we’d translate it as “a father”

the next word is the start of a relative clause giving us more information about this “father”—because the word أب is indefinite, we don’t need a relative pronoun to introduce the clause

هجرنا

components: هَجَرَ + نا

root: ه-ج-ر

form I verb, past tense, third person, masculine singular

هَجَرَ / يَهجُرُ = “to abandon/leave”

هَجَرَ = “he abandoned/left”

the subject of this verb is أب—seeing as the subject of the verb in the clause is the same as the subject of the clause (i.e. the word the clause is describing, أب), there won’t be a pronoun suffix linking back to the subject of the clause

ـنا = the object pronoun suffix, “us”

so أَبٌ هَجَرَنا = “a father who left/abandoned us”

مع

preposition

مَعَ = “with”

منقِّبة

root: ن-ق-ب

form II active participle, feminine

مُنَقِّب—derived from the form II verb نَقَّبَ / يُنَقِّبُ (“to dig/explore/excavate”)—can mean “scholar”, “researcher”, or “explorer”, among other things—we’ll look at the next word before deciding on a translation

this word is feminine as it’s referring to a female scholar/researcher/explorer

منقّبة here is مجرور as it directly follows a preposition—it’s also the first word of a two-word إضافة, so it can’t have tanween: منقّبةِ

آثار

root: ء-ث-ر

plural noun

آثار is the plural form of أَثَر, meaning “relic/remnant” or “trace”

so آثار = “relics”

together منقّبة آثار means “an archaeologist”

seeing as آثار is the second word of the إضافة, it’s مجرور—so it’ll end in kasratayn: آثارٍ

عجوز

root: ع-ج-ز

adjective

عَجوز = “old woman”

عَجوز is describing منقّبة, and therefore agrees with it in case (مجرور), so it’s عجوزٍ

there’s no ـة seeing as this adjective already has a feminine meaning

so منقبة آثار عجوز = “an old (female) archaeologist”

the next word marks the start of a relative clause describing this “archaeologist”

علّمتها

components: عَلَّمَت + ـها

root: ع-ل-م

form II verb, past tense, third person, feminine singular

عَلَّمَ / يُعَلِّمُ = “to teach”

عَلَّمَت = “she taught”

the subject of this verb within the relative clause is the following noun—seeing as the subject of the verb within the relative clause (أُمّي) is not the subject of the relative clause (منقّبة), we need a pronoun suffix referring back to منقّبة:

ـها = the object pronoun suffix, “her”, referring back to منقّبة

أمّي

components: أُمّ + ـي

noun

root: ء-م-م

أُمّ = “mother”

ـي = possessive pronoun suffix, “my”

أُمّي = “my mother”—and this is the subject of the preceding verb

صنع

root: ص-ن-ع

form I verbal noun

صُنْع = “making” or “to make” (the form I verb is صَنَعَ / يَصنَعُ)

this is the object of the verb عَلّمَت, so it is منصوب

صنع is the first word of a three-word إضافة, so it can’t take tanween, it just takes fatha: صنعَ

مربى

root: ر-ب-و

form II passive participle

مُرَبّى = “jam”

interestingly, this word is derived from the form II verb رَبّى / يُرَبّي which means “to raise/cultivate/develop (something)”

so مُرَبّى literally means “the thing that is cultivated/developed”

المشمش

components: الـ + مِشمِش

root: م-ش-م-ش

noun

مِشمِش = “apricot”

الـ = the definite article

المشمش is the final word in the إضافة structure and therefore مجرور—so we have المِشمِشِ


Putting this section together:

أبٌ هجرنا مع منقِّبة آثار عجوز علّمتها أمّي صنع مربى المشمش

a father who abandoned/left us with* an old archaeologist whom my mother taught to make apricot jam

*The word “with” here, in this literal translation, is ambiguous because it seems to imply that the father left them with the archaeologist—but what is meant here is that the father left with the archaeologist, leaving them behind. We’ll adjust the translation at the end to make this clear.


Next part:

وأخت بائسة لا نعرف لماذا تهذي، تفتح فمها محاولة التنفّس بصعوبة فائقة

وأخت

components: وَ + أُخت

وَ = “and”

root: ء-خ-و

noun

أُخْت = “sister”—this word comes from the same root as أَخ (“brother”)

the و (“and”) tells us that we’re continuing on from أب, and that أب and أخت have the same role in the sentence—they’re both the subjects

so أخت is also مرفوع and we have: أُختٌ (“a sister”)

بائسة

root: ب-ء-س

adjective

بائِس = “miserable”

seeing as بائِس is describing أخت, it has to be feminine to match, hence the ـة on the adjective: بائِسة

it also matches in definiteness, case, and number—hence بائسة is indefinite, singular, and مرفوع

أُختٌ بائِسةٌ = ” a miserable sister”

the next word marks the start of a relative clause describing this indefinite phrase

لا

لا is used to negate present tense verbs

نعرف

root: ع-ر-ف

form I verb, present tense, first person plural

عَرِفَ / يَعرِفُ = “to know”

لا نَعرِفُ = “we do not know”

لماذا

لِماذا = “why”

تهذي

root: ه-ذ-ي

form I verb, present tense, third person, feminine singular

هَذى / يَهذي = “to talk irrationally/rave” or “to be delirious”

تَهذي = “she is delirious”

we encountered the verbal noun for this verb in the previous post: هَذَيان

تفتح

root: ف-ت-ح

form I verb, present tense, third person, feminine singular

فَتَحَ / يَفتَحُ = “to open (something)”

تَفتَح = “she opens”

this word marks the start of another relative clause, describing the sister—so instead of “she opens”, we’d translate it as “who opens”

فمها

components: فَم + ـها

root: ف-م

فَم = “mouth”

this is the object of the verb تفتح, so it’s منصوب and ends in a fatha: فمَ

ـها = the possessive suffix, “her”

فَمَها = “her mouth”

note that فم is one of the five special nouns in Arabic, so we’ll also see فم spelt without its م when followed by a possessive suffix and it’ll appear as فو (when مرفوع) or فا (when منصوب) or في (when مجرور)—so فمَها may also be written as فاها

محاولة

root: ح-و-ل

form III active participle, feminine

the form III verb حاوَلَ / يُحاوِلُ means “to try”, its active participle مُحاوِل refers to a person who is trying

so مُحاوِلة = “trying”, referring to أخت, hence the feminine ـة

this word is the start of a حال (circumstantial) phrase, meaning that it is giving us more information about how the previous verb or verb phrase (تفتح فمها) was carried out—i.e. who opens her mouth, trying (to)…

seeing as this word is acting as a حال, it has to be منصوب and indefinite

it can’t have tanween though, as it’s in an إضافة phrase with the following word, so it must have a fatha: محاوِلةَ

التنفّس

components: الـ + تَنَفُّس

root: ن-ف-س

form V verbal noun

تَنَفُّس = “breathing” or “to breathe”

الـ = the definite article

التَنَفُّس is the second and final word of the إضافة phrase, and is therefore مجرور with a kasra

together تفتح فمها محاولةَ التنفسِ = “who opens her mouth, trying to breathe”

بصعوبة

components: بِـ + صُعوبة

بِـ = a preposition, meaning “with” in this context

root: ص-ع-ب

form I verbal noun

صُعوبة = “difficulty”

صعوبة is مجرور here as it directly follows a preposition

so بِصُعوبةٍ = “with difficulty”

فائقة

root: ف-و-ق

form I active participle

فائِق = “exceeding”

this active participle is acting as an adjective here, describing the noun صعوبة—hence it agrees in gender, number, case, and definiteness: فائقةٍ

بصعوبة فائقة means “with exceeding/great difficulty”


All together:

وأخت بائسة لا نعرف لماذا تهذي، تفتح فمها محاولة التنفّس بصعوبة فائقة

and a miserable sister whom we do not know why is delirious, who opens her mouth, trying to breathe with great difficulty


And onto the final part now:

نحبّها وتعتبرها أمّي عاراً شخصيّاً يجب إخفاؤه عن الجميع

نحبّها

components: نُحِبّ + ـها

root: ح-ب-ب

form IV verb, present tense, first person plural

أَحَبَّ / يُحِبُّ = “to love”

نُحِبُّ = “we love”

we’re still within the relative clause describing the sister (أخت بائسة) by the way—which is why we need a pronoun referring back to her:

ـها = object pronoun suffix, “her”, referring back to أخت

وتعتبرها

components: وَ + تَعتَبِرُ + ـها

وَ = and

root: ع-ب-ر

form VIII verb, present tense, third person, feminine singular

اِعتَبَرَ / يَعتَبِرُ = “to consider”

تَعتَبِر = “she considers”, with the subject being the following noun

ـها = again, “her”, referring back to أخت

أمّي

as mentioned previously, أمّي = “my mother”

here, it is the subject of the preceding verb تعتبر

عاراً

root: ع-ي-ر

noun

عار = “shame”, “disgrace”, or “dishonour”

عار here is an object of the verb تعتبرها—i.e. what she considers her—so it is منصوب

تعتبرها عاراً = “she considers her a shame/disgrace”

شخصيّاً

root: ش-خ-ص

adjective

شَخصيّ = “personal”

this adjective is describing عاراً, hence it’s also منصوب

يجب

root: و-ج-ب

form I impersonal verb

like the verb يُمكِن which we encountered in the previous post, يَجِب is also an impersonal verb—meaning that it is not conjugated in this context

يَجِب = “must”

this word marks the start of another (and, I promise, the last!) relative clause, this time describing عارا شخصيا

إخفاؤه

components: إخفاء + ه

root: خ-ف-ي

form IV verbal noun

إخفاء = “to hide/conceal (something)”—we covered this word in the previous post too

ُه = the pronoun suffix, “it”, referring back to عارا

(remember to check out the post Seats of the Hamza (ء) to discover why the hamza in إخفاء ends up on a و in إخفاؤه!)

عن

preposition

عَن (when preceded by إخفاء) = “from”

الجميع

components: الـ + جَميع

root: ج-م-ع

noun

الجَميع (with الـ being the definite article) = “everyone”

الجميع is مجرور here, seeing as it directly follows a preposition: الجميعِ


Putting that together, we get:

نحبّها وتعتبرها أمّي عاراً شخصيّاً يجب إخفاؤه عن الجميع

whom we love and whom my mother considers a personal shame that must be concealed from everyone



Now it’s time to add the literal translations from this post to the translation of last week’s portion:

هذيان سعاد المتواصل قبل موتها بأسابيع قليلة جعلنا نفكّر بمصيرنا. أصبحت صورتنا العائليّة المعلّقة على جدار الصالون مصدر ثقل نفسي نحاول تحاشيه وكذباً فاحشاً لا يمكن إخفاؤه، أبٌ هجرنا مع منقِّبة آثار عجوز علّمتها أمّي صنع مربى المشمش، وأخت بائسة لا نعرف لماذا تهذي، تفتح فمها محاولة التنفّس بصعوبة فائقة، نحبّها وتعتبرها أمّي عاراً شخصيّاً يجب إخفاؤه عن الجميع

Su’aad’s incessant delirium in the few weeks leading up to her death made us think about what would become of usOur family photo hanging on the living room wall became a mental burden that we tried to avoid and an atrocious lie that could not be concealed, a father who left us (with) an old archaeologist whom my mother taught to make apricot jam, and a miserable sister whom we do not know why is delirious, who opens her mouth, trying to breathe with great difficulty, whom we love and whom my mother considers a personal shame that must be concealed from everyone.


And with some edits:

هذيان سعاد المتواصل قبل موتها بأسابيع قليلة جعلنا نفكّر بمصيرنا. أصبحت صورتنا العائليّة المعلّقة على جدار الصالون مصدر ثقل نفسي نحاول تحاشيه وكذباً فاحشاً لا يمكن إخفاؤه، أبٌ هجرنا مع منقِّبة آثار عجوز علّمتها أمّي صنع مربى المشمش، وأخت بائسة لا نعرف لماذا تهذي، تفتح فمها محاولة التنفّس بصعوبة فائقة، نحبّها وتعتبرها أمّي عاراً شخصيّاً يجب إخفاؤه عن الجميع

Su’aad’s incessant delirium in the few weeks leading up to her death made us contemplate what would become of usOur family photo hanging on the living room wall became a mental burden that we tried to avoid and an atrocious lie that could not be concealed: a father who abandoned us and left with an ageing archaeologist my mother taught how to make apricot jam, and a miserable sister whose delirium left us stumped and whose mouth opened as she struggled her hardest to breathea sister we loved and a daughter my mother considered a personal shame that needed to be hidden from the world.


Translation notes:

  • “think about” > “contemplate”—there were too many small words in the very first sentence, so I thought it sounded better to change the phrase to a single verb
  • I clarified “a father who left us with” by replacing it with “a father who abandoned us and left with”—I was considering translating it as “left us for”, but I think this creates a better image
  • “old” > “ageing”—I thought that sounded nicer, maybe it’s the alliteration it creates
  • “taught to make” > “taught how to make”—this sounds more natural in English
  • There were a lot of “who”s and “whom”s towards the end of this translation, so I tried to restructure things a little to reduce repetition and make everything sound more natural
  • “whom we do not know why is delirious” > “whose delirium left us stumped”—I simplified the structure here by making the “delirium” the focus of the relative clause and then using the idiomatic phrase “left us stumped” to replace “we do not know why”; I then changed the structure of the next section to “whose mouth opened” for continuity
  • I also sorted out inconsistencies in tense by ensuring everything is in the past tense
  • “trying to breathe with great difficulty” > “struggled her hardest to breathe”—combining “trying” and “great difficulty”, the word “struggled” seemed appropriate, and “her hardest” is added more emphasis
  • I added a dash after “to breathe” to break up the long sentence without creating a new one. I then swapped the two “whom”s for “a sister” and “a daughter” for a more natural-sounding structure
  • “must be concealed from everyone” > “needed to be hidden from the world”—we used “concealed” earlier in the translation, so I used “hidden” here instead; I also thought “the world” sounded better than “everyone” in this context as it implies being kept away from the outside world

So there’s my translation for this extract—how would you have translated differently?

!إلى اللقاء


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2 thoughts on “Step-by-Step Arabic Literature Translation #11

  1. I have been studying Arabic for three years now and find your blog very useful. Planning to read all your posts.

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