zu einem ungeheueren Ungeziefer verwandelt

dyerdreams

New Member
USA - English
I am writing a paper about the importance of accurate translation in "The Metamorphosis." I have read several English translations of "ungeheueren Ungeziefer," but since I do not speak German I can not tell which is most accurate.

The complete sentence is:

"Als Gregor Samsa eines Morgens aus unruhigen Träumen erwachte, fand er sich in seinem Bett zu einem ungeheueren Ungeziefer verwandelt."

What does a German reader interpret an "ungeheueren Ungeziefer" to be from reading the above sentence??
Thanks -_-
 
  • Brioche

    Senior Member
    Australia English
    I am writing a paper about the importance of accurate translation in "The Metamorphosis." I have read several English translations of "ungeheueren Ungeziefer," but since I do not speak German I can not tell which is most accurate.

    The complete sentence is:

    "Als Gregor Samsa eines Morgens aus unruhigen Träumen erwachte, fand er sich in seinem Bett zu einem ungeheueren Ungeziefer verwandelt."

    What does a German reader interpret an "ungeheueren Ungeziefer" to be from reading the above sentence??
    Thanks -_-

    There is a discussion in Wikipedia about what exactly is meant.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Metamorphosis
    "lost in translation"
    Ungeziefer is vermin, not insect.

     

    dyerdreams

    New Member
    USA - English
    There is a discussion in Wikipedia about what exactly is meant.
    "lost in translation"
    Ungeziefer is vermin, not insect.


    I read that Wiki article, but it seems pretty biased to me & gives inaccurate information too...
    Example: "This is the phrasing [monstrous vermin] used in the David Wyllie translation and Joachim Neugroschel." Actually David Wyllie used "horrible vermin," not "monstrous vermin."

    Although "Ungeziefer" directly translates to "vermin" in English, I was told by a German friend of mine that "vermin" is often associated with "bug" or "insect" in German, but in the United States, "vermin" is often associated with rodents or rats. That's why I was hoping to get the opinion of native German speakers...
     

    Quelle

    Senior Member
    Deutschland Deutsch
    That's often the problem in translations, that it isn't possible to translate it accurately. I think "insect" isn't a good translation because there are a lot of useful insects that aren't "Ungeziefer". "Ungeziefer" refers to little animals that are bad for the human being, or they eat the food or they disseminate diseases (rats, cockroaches, bugs, fleas, lice ...).
    And "ungeheuer" has the meaning of monstrous, horrible...
    Sometimes you have to use paraphrase it to get an approaching translation.
     

    pebpb

    New Member
    English UK
    Monstrous has the same double meaning as ungeheuer i.e. gigantic and horrific / horrible. Ungeziefer applies to rats and mice as well as lice etc (see German language Duden definition) so ungeheuer implies that Samsa has changed into the shape of an Ungeziefer but has not shrunk (and is thus all the more horrific). Ungeziefer is clearly meant to invoke feelings of disgust and loathing without picking a specific form. It is clear that the transformed Samsa struggles to get off his back and is generally slow, clumsy and helpless, so the behaviour is not indicative of a mammal like a rat, nor of a flee, a fly, or a louse, but more like a cockroach. Kafka's stories are obviously dream like experiences so they can be at once vivid and precise and also vague. Ungeheuer and Ungeziefer have the untranslatable 'jokey' property of starting with the same 2 syllables. There are often 'jokes' in Kafka e.g. 'Bucephalus' is Alexander the Great's horse and the short story of that name starts with an Alexandrine - how can you translate that! You can't translate culture specific associations using the 'same' word in another language. Perhaps a 'giant cockroach' would capture the ideas of vermin, horrific looking and size (so better than 'insect') but lose the dream-like imprecision and the alliteration, so still horribly inadequate. The 'joke' in Verwandlung is the matter of fact way Samsa thinks as he tries to go to the office and his family and office react. As in a dream you live in an enhanced way hidden psychological and social conflicts, human inadequacy, power games etc. through the impossible mixed with the mundane. His works are vivid dream / nightmare experiences with underlying satire and poetry. They are untranslatable.
     

    Hutschi

    Senior Member
    "Ungeziefer": I understand it mostly as Insekt=insect and spiders and similar biests. But "insect" is a neutral word. "Ungeziefer" is similar to "Unkraut". It is not wished to have it. It is horrifying and disgusting. If "vermin" has this connotation, it is good.
    I did not know that mice and rats are included in "Ungeziefer".

    Ungeziefer - Wiktionary gives:

    Etymology​

    From early modern German ungeziffer, Ungezieffer, a variant form of Middle High German ungezibere. These pertain to Old High German zebar (“sacrificial animal”) and hence originally meant “animals unsuitable for sacrifice”, ultimately from Proto-Germanic *tībrą (“offering, sacrifice, victim”). The word is rarely attested in medieval texts due to suppression of words reminiscent of heathen practices, but must have survived in lower registers.

    This etymology is usually not known by the most.

    They exlain it here:

    Ungeziefer n (strong, genitive Ungeziefers, plural Ungeziefer)

    1. ...
    2. (countable, rare) a vermin animal; a despised creature

    So I think "vermin" is rather good.

    What about "despised vermin"?

    The internet translator gives: tremendous vermin

    PS:

    "Ungeheueres Ungeziefer," has the connotation of a very large vermin, much larger than possible in nature - ungeziefer refers to little beasts not to large ones - but here it is larger or at least equal to a person.
     
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    JClaudeK

    Senior Member
    Français France, Deutsch (SW-Dtl.)
    Ungeziefer is clearly meant to invoke feelings of disgust and loathing without picking a specific form. It is clear that the transformed Samsa struggles to get off his back [....] You can't translate culture specific associations using the 'same' word in another language. Perhaps a 'giant cockroach' would capture the ideas of vermin, horrific looking and size (so better than 'insect')
    :thumbsup:
    I agree with you, 'giant/ enormous cockroach' would be a good equivalent.
     

    Kajjo

    Senior Member
    Ungeziefer applies to rats and mice as well as lice etc
    Indeed, Ungeziefer covers rodents and insects. In past times it was mostly about rodents.

    I would like to mention the English term "pest" here, as defined by Collins: "Pests are insects or small animals which damage crops or food supplies." This is very close to the German Ungeziefer, because Ungeziefer implies threats to hygiene, health or supplies.

    Samsa struggles to get off his back and is generally slow, clumsy and helpless, so the behaviour is not indicative of a mammal like a rat, nor of a flee, a fly, or a louse, but more like a cockroach.
    I agree, the picture of a cockroach fits very well to this part of storyline.
     

    pebpb

    New Member
    English UK
    I thought I would add in response to the 'despised vermin' suggestion that this is not really possible. Vermin always refers in normal usage to a plurality of creatures i.e. you can't normally say 'a' vermin. Hence the translator's attempt to find an alternative (insect) referred to at the start of the thread. I re-read die Verwandlung and Samsa does have 'many thin legs'.

    The problem with 'insect' is that there are many beautiful insects (butterflies etc) so the word does not have the right negative emotions. My personal opinion is that it is more important to lose some vagueness but keep the feelings. The word 'pest' can be used in the singular but it is routinely applied to humans to mean something like 'a person who irritates and annoys you by persistently doing something you don't like', so again it has a completely different feeling and meaning to 'Ungeziefer'. I hate trying to do translations of great literature because the authors use multiple layers of meaning simultaneously and so you can never find true equivalents.
     

    Schlabberlatz

    Senior Member
    German - Germany
    I’d say that "monstrous insect" is fairly accurate, see here: The Metamorphosis - Wikipedia
    What kind of bug or vermin Kafka envisaged remains a debated mystery.[16][20][21] Kafka had no intention of labeling Gregor as any specific thing, but instead was trying to convey Gregor's disgust at his transformation. In his letter to his publisher of 25 October 1915, in which he discusses his concern about the cover illustration for the first edition, Kafka does use the term Insekt, though, saying: "The insect itself is not to be drawn. It is not even to be seen from a distance."[22]

    Vladimir Nabokov, who was a lepidopterist as well as a writer and literary critic, concluded from details in the text that Gregor was not a cockroach, but a beetle with wings under his shell, and capable of flight. Nabokov left a sketch annotated "just over three feet long" on the opening page of his English teaching copy. In his accompanying lecture notes, he discusses the type of insect Gregor has been transformed into. Noting that the cleaning lady addressed Gregor as "dung beetle" (Mistkäfer), e.g., 'Come here for a bit, old dung beetle!’ or 'Hey, look at the old dung beetle!’", Nabokov remarks that this was just her way of friendly addressing and that Gregor "is not, technically, a dung beetle. He is merely a big beetle."[23]
    It has to be admitted, though, that "monstrous insect" lacks some of the punch of "ungeheueres Ungeziefer". Also, the alliteration is missing. But what can you do when something is hardly translatable? Forego translating and tell people they have to learn the language of the original in order to read it? I think it’s more realistic to accept some compromises and add a few notes to explain important passages :)
     

    pebpb

    New Member
    English UK
    So first the biology - insects are anything with 6 legs, beetles are a very broad and varied subgroup of insects. Cockroaches are also insects and resemble beetles although they are apparently actually related to termites. They are also a very broad and varied group. Cockroaches have wings under wing cases like beetles but Kafka is not being scientific and it seems irrelevent. Importantly, all cockroaches which live in proximity to humans are normally classified specifically as 'vermin' or 'pests'.

    For my taste 'cockroach' captures the essence of the German text because it evokes the right shape and strong disgust and because cockroaches are specifically a form of vermin. Thus, 'cockroach' strongly satisfies both Mistkafer and Ungeziefer.

    I am very enthousiastic about the suggestion of 'colossal' instead of monstrous. It 'colossal cockroach. is even more alliterative than 'colossal critter'. I have a problem with 'critter' however because I speak UK and not US English. In UK English 'critter' is hardly used and is certainly not a 'literary' word. I have a problem with 'insect' because it is a 'weak' translation. It doesn't evoke a beetle shape, or a strong feeling of disgust nor does it imply 'vermin'.

    For my taste, 'colossal' is excellent (see above). 100 years ago monstrous would have been OK but now it is contaminated by Walt Disney's lovable monsters and by vampire and zombie movies. Monstrous no longer conveys the feelings that ungeheuer did in Kafka's day.
     
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