mijając stojących wokół studni

zzjing

Member
Chinese - Mandarin
This is a question about Stanisław Lem's novel Solaris. The first sentence of the book reads:

O dziewiętnastej czasu pokładowego zeszedłem, mijając stojących wokół studni, po metalowych szczeblach do wnętrza zasobnika.​

In the 1970 English translation, which is translated from French, the sentence looks like this:

At 19.00 hours, ship’s time, I made my way to the launching bay. The men around the shaft stood aside to let me pass, and I climbed down into the capsule.​

There's also a new English edition that came out in 2010, translated directly from the original Polish. And it renders the same sentence as:

At nineteen hundred hours ship’s time I climbed down the metal ladder past the bays on either side into the capsule.​

I also looked up the German translation, and here is the first sentence translated into English by Google Translate:

At nineteen o’clock on board, I climbed over the metal rungs into the interior of the capsule, past the people who surrounded the shaft.​

As you can see, the new English translation is quite different from the other two, especially the "mijając stojących wokół studni" part. Which one makes more sense to a native Polish speaker?

Any help is appreciated.
 
  • jasio

    Senior Member
    The phrase which you noted, literally means 'passing by [people (the men and perhaps some women)] standing around the well'. Considering the overall setup of the scene, a "shaft" is as good though - although, since a separate word for a shaft exists ("szyb"), studnia builds an impression of something dark and bottom-less, an abyss, like an early sign of a doom. I'm not sure if it was deliberate, as Lem's language is specific. Besides, specific connotations might have changed since his time. However, if I were to describe a mere technical construction, I would definitely use "szyb" here. But in all translations "shaft" is used, so they do not differ.

    Overall, to me the closest translation of this fragment is the German one.

    In the French translation the people stood aside - an activity which is not explicitely mentioned in the original, even though it would be necessary if they stood literally around the shaft, including the pathway. But the Polish text gives an impression that the pathway is clear, they only stand statically around, perhaps circling a railing of some sort, which is not mentioned either, but in practice is necessary to prevent accidents.

    In the new English translation, I do not see any people whatsoever, there are only bays on both sides of the shaft, perhaps between pairs of ribs of some sort.

    I do not care about the order of the subphrases or splitting the phrase into two - each language has its specifics of some sort and some constructions just sound better.

    There is also one more detail: "metalowe szczeble" ('po metalowych szczeblach'). Although this description could be used to a typical ladder as well, and it's not black and white situation,a Polish phrase brings an image of metal rungs fixed directly to the wall of the shaft. Again, it's the same picture I have while reading the German text. The new English translation builds an image that there is a metal ladder consisting of vertical rails and rungs, which is probably attached somehow to the wall as a whole, The French translation simply disregards this detail. But, as I mentioned earlier, the same phrasings could be used regardless of the actual construction of the ladder, it's only my connotation.
     
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    zzjing

    Member
    Chinese - Mandarin
    Thanks for the detailed and thoughtful response.

    A little more background. I'm actually translating the novel into Chinese from the new English translation, and I'm using the other versions as reference. I don't know any Polish myself, but by using Google Translate and comparing with the other versions, I hope I can get as close to the original as possible.

    The biggest discrepancy here is of course that there is no mention of any people standing around in the new translation. The translator defends this choice thus:

    The sentence in question can be read both ways—“ stojących” can either be an adjective modifying “studni” (as I interpreted it) or a separate noun in the form of an adjective, and referring to people (as the other translators did); likewise “studni”—shaft or well—is in the genitive and so could be either singular or plural. Both options are defendable. I chose my way partly because there’s a sense of isolation that runs through the book, and it seemed strange to have a random reference to groups of people right at the beginning. Also, I find the noun-as-adjective reading makes for rather odd Polish. But I really don’t know which version Lem himself had in mind.​

    Does this make sense? I don't know Polish grammar, so I'm in the dark here.
     

    Lorenc

    Senior Member
    Italian
    The sentence in question can be read both ways—“ stojących” can either be an adjective modifying “studni” (as I interpreted it) or a separate noun in the form of an adjective, and referring to people (as the other translators did); likewise “studni”—shaft or well—is in the genitive and so could be either singular or plural. Both options are defendable. I chose my way partly because there’s a sense of isolation that runs through the book, and it seemed strange to have a random reference to groups of people right at the beginning. Also, I find the noun-as-adjective reading makes for rather odd Polish. But I really don’t know which version Lem himself had in mind.
    Does this make sense?

    I don't know Polish grammar, so I'm in the dark here.
    I'm not a Polish native speaker, but I'd like to chip in anyway. NB: I've read Solaris several years ago in its old English translation, but I'm not familiar with Lem's style of writing in Polish.
    The explanation by the second translator quoted above makes some sense, but it seems ultimately incorrect to me.
    When I read the sentence 'mijając stojących wokół studni' I was confused, because I at first interpreted the sentence in the way indicated by the quote above, i.e. by assuming 'stojących' to refer to 'studni'; literally, it'd translate to 'walking past the standing around wells' (=passing the wells which were standing around). The word 'studnia' was also a little confusing, as I've only seen it used in reference to a water well, not to a rocket silo. Anyway, on a second reading, I concluded that this interpretation is wrong and that the proper one is 'walking past the by-standers around the well', as there is no reason whatever in the context of the book to imagine that there were many wells instead of a single, large one.
    The new English translation translates 'studni' with 'bays' in an attempt to make more sense of the chosen interpretation, but this seems just wrong to me.
    So in conclusion I think the translator of the new English versions was mistaken here.
     
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    wolfbm1

    Senior Member
    Polish
    Before he climbed down the metal rungs into the container, he had passed some people who were standing round the well.

    studnia
    studnia
    1. «otwór wykopany lub wywiercony w ziemi, obudowany i wyposażony w urządzenie do wydobywania wody»
    2. «miejsce otoczone ścianami wysokich domów lub skał»
    zasobnik,
    techn. zbiornik, element lub urządzenie do magazynowania materiałów (np. z. dozownika), półproduktów lub energii (np. akumulator hydrauliczny).
    (Lem's commentary on Solaris)
     
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    zaffy

    Senior Member
    Polish
    Well, it goes without saying that for 99.99% (if not 100) of Polish native speakers, a well is a hole in the ground from which you can get water. So if the 'studnia' in Solaris wasn't a regular well with water, I wouldn't translate it as 'a well'. I would stick to a shaft.

    On the other hand, in the technical language, a well, possibly, might be a kind of a shaft. See this article, the author didn't know themselves what to call that vertical passage. Złoty Pociąg: szyb-studnia może mieć 50 metrów. Co jest na dnie? (FOTO) - Walbrzych.dlawas.info - Największy portal informacyjno - rozrywkowy w regionie
     

    zzjing

    Member
    Chinese - Mandarin
    Thanks, Lorenc, that helps a lot. I hope to see more comments from other members of the forum about this particular point.

    wolfbm1 and zaffy, thank you both for responding as well. I think I have a pretty good grasp of those two words. "studni" is apparently a launching bay in the form of a vertical shaft, located on a huge spaceship, and "zasobnika" is a landing capsule that will land on a researching station hovering above the ocean of the planet Solaris.
     

    jasio

    Senior Member
    A little more background. I'm actually translating the novel into Chinese from the new English translation, and I'm using the other versions as reference. I don't know any Polish myself, but by using Google Translate and comparing with the other versions, I hope I can get as close to the original as possible.
    A brave task. :)
    Please note that although improving, Google Translate is a very poor reference, if you're going to dig into details. Polish grammar is very rich: 7 grammatical cases, two verb aspects (perfective and imperfective), three grammatical genders and with three subcategories of the masculine gender, agreeing forms of adjectives and verbs with noun cases, default subjects of some sentences, and more. When I compare translations between Polish and the languages I have at least a grasp of, the results are often disastrous. For me it looks as if GT translated a phrase to English word to word (thus loosing all information which was encoded in the grammar), and then translated it to the target language. You may think of it as translating from Japanese (with a number of various honorific constructions which depend on relationship, difference of hierarchy, etc between two persons so you can easily deduce if a person is older / younger / superior / equal / close etc. to the other) to Korean (with similar features) through English (which virtually has no honorifics). Sorry for not mentioning Chineese - I simply know nothing about this language, but I expect that it may also include rich honorific constructions.

    The sentence in question can be read both ways—“ stojących” can either be an adjective modifying “studni” (as I interpreted it) or a separate noun in the form of an adjective, and referring to people (as the other translators did); likewise “studni”—shaft or well—is in the genitive and so could be either singular or plural.
    Actually, not really. "Stojących" ('standing') may only refer to plural objects, and in combination with the verb "mijać" - belonging to masculine-personal class, which means that there is a group of people which includes at least one man. The well (studnia) is only one, and in Polish it's a feminine noun, so it would be "stojącą". A single shaft ("szyb" - although Lem did not use this word), would be "stojący", and a single man is also masculine noun, but belonging to a male-personal class, so it would be "stojącego". If there were only women (but also animals, or inanimate objects regardless of the noun gender), ie. objects belonging to a class 'non-masculine-personal', the proper form would be 'stojące'. Besides my first impression is that only with people you can omit mentioning them. If there were something / someone else standing, the clause without specifying what was passed by would just looks strange and confusing.

    * Mijając stojących (ludzi / mężczyzn / pracowników / kolegów / żołnierzy / policjantów - referring to males or a group with at least one male, or even a group of women if you do not want to mention their sex)
    * Mijając stojące kobiety / koty / stołki / krzesła
    * Mijając stojącego (człowieka / mężczyznę / pracownika / kolegę / psa / kota)
    * Mijając stojącą kobietę / pracownicę
    * Mijając stojące dziecko
    * Mijając stojący stołek

    So the people are there, they are just not mentioned explicitely.

    BTW - in Polish a well or a shaft cannot "stand". "Stać, stojący" can only refer to objects placed statically on a surface in an upright position - long objects placed vertically (humans, trees), objects with legs in an upright position (an animal, table, chair, bottle), and in some cases - also to other objects in their proper position (bed, building, car) regardless of their actual geometry. A well or a shaft, being a hollow below the surface, cannot stand. It's logically impossible.
     
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    jasio

    Senior Member
    Well, it goes without saying that for 99.99% (if not 100) of Polish native speakers, a well is a hole in the ground from which you can get water. So if the 'studnia' in Solaris wasn't a regular well with water, I wouldn't translate it as 'a well'.
    You're right about the meaning of the word "studnia" in Polish. But never the less, Lem did use it. He did not use "szyb", although I would safely assume that he was quite familiar with the word. :-D Considering that Solaris is one of his later works, I would also assume that he used it in purpose. The issue is: why did he use this particular word? Why he chose "studnia" over "szyb", "czeluść", "otwór", "silos", "rura" and perhaps dosen other words he might have used as well? Did he want to avoid connotations with mines (at the time mine shafts were probably more widely known to a general public than lift shafts, at least from tv and papers)? Or referred to a round shape instead of a rectangular? Or perhaps to an even surface inside, rather than filled with a supporting construction? Or - as I suggested originally - to an 'abyss' feeling, which at least I connotate with "studnia", in contrast to "szyb"? Only understanding it (or have a feeling of) you may choose the right translation. And, of course, it does not mean that even if the "shaft" is still a word of preference in English, it would be the same in Chinese.

    That's literature, an art, not a scientific treaty.
     

    wolfbm1

    Senior Member
    Polish
    In one of his interviews Lem said that he tried to present things as close to reality as possible, using words which everyone knew.
    Solaris was first published in 1961, so people had different idea of space travel. People read Jules Verne at that time.
    The phrase "czasu pokładowego" is supposed to tell us that the action takes place on board a ship, but it is easy to skip that phrase an go on to the words studnia, which conveys the meaning of a hole which is not very deep, maybe 2 metres deep. A lot of people in Poland used a studnia as a source of water at that time, even in big towns.
    <Only when Kelvin is on Solaris space station we can be sure that the name of the spaceship Kelvin has left is Prometeusz (actually first I thought it was the name of a star)>.
    Then we learn that the protagonist enters the inside of a zasobnik. The word zasobnik is not an everyday word, it is a bit technical. I imagined it was some kind of container - pojemnik, not very big. Could it be a small spaceship, a space capsule? Perhaps yes. The word zasobnik does not say much. Lem wants us, the readers, to decide how that zasobnik may look like.
    Lem said that while he was writing he was not concerned with visual imagination, with how things might look like. He was concerned with the words he had just written.
     
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    jasio

    Senior Member
    In one of his interviews Lem said that he tried to present things as close to reality as possible, using words which everyone knew. Solaris was first published in 1961, so people had different idea of space travel. People read Jules Verne at that time.
    Thank you for this comment. This only shows challenges he had had to face.

    go on to the words studnia, which conveys the meaning of a hole which is not very deep, maybe 2 metres deep.
    Considering various depths of water wells, which I've had opportinities to see (starting with perhaps less then a meter from a ground level to the water level), through several meters which I saw most often, to tenths meters in the former Eastern Frontier (currently Western Ukraine), which is an area close to Lem's birth place, I'd leave the depth part alone. Let's stay with a "hole in the ground" part. :)

    A separate question is, if this passage to the capsule was indeed meant to be only around a few metres deep (which would make its depth comparable to a drainage well or inspection well on a street), would the word "shaft" still match it. :-D
    (I would probably use a word 'studzienka' rather than 'studnia' in such a case though - and a mere existance of the former word is an evidence, that the latter must be something bigger or deeper).

    EDIT: with a special dedication for @wolfbm1 ;-) Chłopiec wpadł do 20-metrowej studni podczas festynu
     
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    Lorenc

    Senior Member
    Italian
    BTW - in Polish a well or a shaft cannot "stand". "Stać, stojący" can only refer to objects placed statically on a surface in an upright position - long objects placed vertically (humans, trees), objects with legs in an upright position (an animal, table, chair, bottle), and in some cases - also to other objects in their proper position (bed, building, car) regardless of their actual geometry. A well or a shaft, being a hollow below the surface, cannot stand. It's logically impossible.
    I had exactly the same thought when I read the translated Lem's sentence --- it seemed to me that wells cannot stać (=stand). However, I googled 'stała studnia' and found thousands of results (several results are found also in the NKJP website). For example:
    Przed domem stała studnia z daszkiem, w którym otwierały się drzwiczki.
    W podwórzu stała studnia, z której byliśmy dumni, bo miała bardzo dobrą wodę.

    I think stać works in these examples because 'studia' refers in those cases not so much to the excavation in the ground but to the external construction.
     

    jasio

    Senior Member
    I had exactly the same thought when I read the translated Lem's sentence --- it seemed to me that wells cannot stać (=stand). However, I googled 'stała studnia'
    In my case it returned exactly two thousand results, some of which are misleading. ;-)

    I think stać works in these examples because 'studnia' refers in those cases not so much to the excavation in the ground but to the external construction.
    Touché. :)
    Indeed, considering the context, I focused on the underground part, but the word itself may also mean a complete construction, including timbring, crane or windlass, protective roof, or even a building. Though I do not think, Lem referred to anything like these below: :)

    https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/a8/Russian_well.JPG/1200px-Russian_well.JPG
    http://4tour.pl/media/k2/items/cache/c501a702ef05e90d163a1eeeb1633357_XL.jpg
    http://www.polskaniezwykla.pl/pictures/original/288852.jpg
    https://archiwum.sadeczanin.info/media/gallery/2013/2015-06/20/cysterna w piwnicznej wyremontowana/cyst.JPG
     
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    Lorenc

    Senior Member
    Italian
    In my case it returned exactly two thousand results, some of which are misleading. ;-)
    Yes, I'm sure many are spurious or repeated hits... anyway, it's perhaps worth nothing that the number of hits reported by Google on the first page of a search inquire is completely unreliable. For example, if you search "stała studnia" I get on the first page '2130 results'; however, by repeatedly clicking 'Next' to browse through the results you'll see that the actual number of results is only 159 ! :eek:
     

    zzjing

    Member
    Chinese - Mandarin
    A brave task. :)
    It has been done before, once from the 1970 English translation, once from German, and most recently from the original Polish. Since the old English version was translated from French, it's fairly loose in its interpretation. I haven't read the Chinese translation of that, but I suspect it would suffer as a result. The German translation, as far as I can tell, is quite excellent and keeps very close to the original. However, the Chinese translation from German contains numerous serious errors. The one translated directly from Polish is much better, but still has a number of mistakes, and in my opinion, is a bit too loose in its wording.

    The new English translation is quite good in general and also very close to the original. I did find a few mistakes, and this is the one that I found most troublesome, if it's indeed a mistake.

    Please note that although improving, Google Translate is a very poor reference, if you're going to dig into details. Polish grammar is very rich: 7 grammatical cases, two verb aspects (perfective and imperfective), three grammatical genders and with three subcategories of the masculine gender, agreeing forms of adjectives and verbs with noun cases, default subjects of some sentences, and more. When I compare translations between Polish and the languages I have at least a grasp of, the results are often disastrous. For me it looks as if GT translated a phrase to English word to word (thus loosing all information which was encoded in the grammar), and then translated it to the target language. You may think of it as translating from Japanese (with a number of various honorific constructions which depend on relationship, difference of hierarchy, etc between two persons so you can easily deduce if a person is older / younger / superior / equal / close etc. to the other) to Korean (with similar features) through English (which virtually has no honorifics). Sorry for not mentioning Chineese - I simply know nothing about this language, but I expect that it may also include rich honorific constructions.
    I am fully aware of the limitations of Google Translate, and I do not rely on it solely for anything. Cross-referencing the different versions does help a lot to get things right.

    Actually, not really. "Stojących" ('standing') may only refer to plural objects, and in combination with the verb "mijać" - belonging to masculine-personal class, which means that there is a group of people which includes at least one man. The well (studnia) is only one, and in Polish it's a feminine noun, so it would be "stojącą". A single shaft ("szyb" - although Lem did not use this word), would be "stojący", and a single man is also masculine noun, but belonging to a male-personal class, so it would be "stojącego". If there were only women (but also animals, or inanimate objects regardless of the noun gender), ie. objects belonging to a class 'non-masculine-personal', the proper form would be 'stojące'. Besides my first impression is that only with people you can omit mentioning them. If there were something / someone else standing, the clause without specifying what was passed by would just looks strange and confusing.

    * Mijając stojących (ludzi / mężczyzn / pracowników / kolegów / żołnierzy / policjantów - referring to males or a group with at least one male, or even a group of women if you do not want to mention their sex)
    * Mijając stojące kobiety / koty / stołki / krzesła
    * Mijając stojącego (człowieka / mężczyznę / pracownika / kolegę / psa / kota)
    * Mijając stojącą kobietę / pracownicę
    * Mijając stojące dziecko
    * Mijając stojący stołek

    So the people are there, they are just not mentioned explicitely.

    BTW - in Polish a well or a shaft cannot "stand". "Stać, stojący" can only refer to objects placed statically on a surface in an upright position - long objects placed vertically (humans, trees), objects with legs in an upright position (an animal, table, chair, bottle), and in some cases - also to other objects in their proper position (bed, building, car) regardless of their actual geometry. A well or a shaft, being a hollow below the surface, cannot stand. It's logically impossible.
    Thanks a lot for the detailed reply. It's very helpful indeed.
     

    yezyk

    Member
    Polish
    To me it looks like that "studni" is the same as "zasobnika" here. The person speaking goes down the studnia/zasobnik, and when he does that, he cannot help but pass everyone who had already gathered around the studnia/zasobnik (that is, some structure which has an opening at the top and is hollow and reaching some way down; in this particular case it is also rather narrow, considering that the person cannot move when his suit gets puffed). Interestingly, it turns out to be a flying structure, too : )
     
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