Monday, November 19, 2007

Variation on folktales - a kiss or body slam?

We just purchased a copy of Grimm's Fairy Tales and I started reading the first one, The Frog King. I expected to read about the story of the princess kissing the frog and him becoming a prince and the two living happily ever after. At least that's how it has been passed on to me through various media. Much to my surprise, assuming that written stories don't change, I read that only after the princess threw the frog against the wall in disgust did he change into a prince. The body slam hardly seems like a gesture of endearment. But, low and behold he changed and they did marry. I thought this would be the end of the story, but instead a new character is introduced after the main event. He is Henry, the prince's longtime aide, who's heart had to be banned three times so it would not break out of sadness (when the prince became a frog). Instead, Henry is so glad, his heart bursts out of joy for his master. The bands break and all three ride off.

The website SurLaLune Fairy Tales has some good annotations describing the reasons behind the variation and significant parts and characters of the story. So, the translator, Edgar Taylor (1823) changes a significant event in the story to suit his taste or perhaps what he thought his audience would enjoy.

In the Wikipedia write-up, the contributor calls the violent act of throwing the frog against the wall, a means to undo shapeshifting.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Kai and natural English

I've been thinking about natural English, storytelling and translation. When I attended formal schooling I was taught that sentences starting with 'and' are not proper English. I don't think my teacher went so far as to say such sentences were ungrammatical, but just not proper.

One of the goals of a good translation is that it achieves a certain naturalness. The translation doesn't sound like the language it came from but the language into which it was translated. When reading the Christmas story in some new English Bible translations (not The Message) I was surprised to see that several of the sentences started with 'and' or 'but'. This is very common for the source language, Koine Greek - 'kai'. But how common is this for English? Does starting sentences or paragraphs with 'and' or 'but' mirror spoken English? Is the rule prohibiting using 'and' sentence initial specifically for written English? Is it a reflection of the difference between spoken and written language, or possibly a reflection of a regional variety of spoken English?

I thought I'd start listening to people telling their stories and how they begin major sections. Well, just yesterday was a good time to listen as we had a 2 hour meeting and the presentations were interspersed with stories. One presenter told a story, where after the introduction each section started with 'and' and the last section started with 'so'. It was in the last section where the significant action happened, marked by language like 'he was stunned'. The transition in these paragraph starters marked a significant change in the story to me as the listener.

What do you think?