The Rerendering of Verbs of Deontic Modal Semantics in English translations of “The Knight in the Panther’s Skin”

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Maguli Ghambashidze


Deontic semantics is one of the types of the category of modality which expresses the need for actions to be performed by morally responsible agents at the level of possibility (Lyons 1977: 823). F. R. Palmer considers deontic modality as “discourse-oriented” because, in the author’s view, deontic semantics implies both the speaker and the addressee at the same time (Palmer 1999: 36). In addition, the direct issuer of an obligation or permission in Deontic Modal Semantics sentences may not be the interlocutor at all. An obligation or permission may be related to another person, institution, law, moral code, etc. (Han 2005: 109).
Deontic modality is semantically very diverse. It implies various nuances such as order / prohibition, permission / disobedience, right / lack of right, obligation, persuasion, coercion, threat, request, warning, direction, instruction, advice, etc. (Lyons 1977; Coates 1983; Palmer 1999; Portner 2009).

According to the variety of deontic nuances, it is not surprising that languages have a number of grammatical and lexical means for expressing these semantics. In the Old Georgian language, special formations were used to convey various deontic contents with grammatical means: imperatives I and II, constructions created by different screeves, and particles. Among the lexical expressions of deontic meaning are both complex verb forms (xel-eċipebis, ʒal-uʒs/uc, ǯer-ars, zeda-ac, tana-ac) and simple ones (xams, šuenis, šehgavs, martebs, egebis, ġirs, uplied, šeuʒlia, šeiʒlebis/šeiʒleba, unda, evaleba; Ghambashidze 2022: 6). At this stage, the subject of our research is the complex and simple verbs expressing deontic semantics in The Knight in The Panther’s Skin and their correspondences in the English translations of the epic.

Modality is a functional-semantic category that expresses the relation of the content of an expression to reality. Clearly, the expression of attitudes towards reality is more contextually found in the monuments of secular literature, which is headed in Georgian by the epic The Knight in The Panther’s Skin, not only with respect to the content but also from the linguistic point of view; a fact that has been repeatedly discussed in the scientific literature. Therefore, it was interesting for us to find out which modal verbs are attested in The Knight in The Panther’s Skin and how they are transmitted in English translations.

In general, forms of analytical and synthetic structure are equally used in both translated and original texts in Old Georgian (Kavtaradze 1964: 165), However, there is a tendency to replace analytical forms with synthetic ones. From the 10th–11th centuries onwards, analytical formations begin to be replaced by synthetic formations (Kavtaradze 1964: 162).The preference for simple verb forms begins already in Old Georgian and the expressive power of complex verbs expressing modal semantics is gradually weakened in Middle Georgian (Ghambashidze 2020: 29). This is evidenced by the fact that in The Knight in The Panther’s Skin, there is only one complex verb used to express deontic modal semantics and this is used only once:
čven did-vač̣arta zeda-gvac darbazs miġeba ʒġvenisa [Rustaveli 1122:1].
“We great merchants are bound to take presents to court” [Wardrop 1101:1].
“We great merchants are bound to take rich presents to the king and queen” [Coffin 1130:1].
“We great merchants are bound to take presents to court” [Kiziria 1100:1].
To match the Georgian complex verb (zeda-gvac), the English translations of The Knight in The Panther’s Skin convey the deontic content descriptively. The big English-Georgian online dictionary21 translates the participle bound by “valdebuli” (“obliged”, “imposed”),22 so we are dealing with an adequate translation according to both form and content.

The process of substituting simple verbs continues and takes a very interesting look in Middle Georgian, which is reflected in the language of The Knight in The Panther’s Skin. In the epic, we find different deontic modal semantics expressed by the different verbs:
Tu moq̇vare moq̇vrisatvis ṭirs, ṭirilsa emartlebis;
Siaruli, marṭooba hšvenis, gač̣rad daetvlebis [Rustaveli 31.2]
“If the lover weep for his beloved, tears are her (? his) due.
Wandering and solitude befit him, and must be esteemed as roaming” [Wardrop 31.2]
“If the lover cries and weeps for his love, tears are the lover’s due Solitude suits him,
the roaming of plains and forests suits him, too” [Coffin 32.2]
Vit egebis, raca gċaddes, rome ḳaci ar mogtmindes [Rustaveli 1525.1]
“How could it be that man should not grant thee whatever thou desirest” [Wardrop 1501.1]
“How could it be that whatever you desire, I should not grant? ” [Coffin 1532.1]
“How could it be that man should not grant thee whatever thou desirest” [Kiziria 1501.1]
q̇maman utxra: ‘Aġar-ċasvla ar egebis čemgan aros’ [Rustaveli 767.1]
“The knight replied: ‘It is wholly impossible for me not to depart’ [Wardrop 749.1]
“The knight replied: ‘It is impossible for me not to depart’ [Coffin 775.1]
“The knight replied: ‘It is wholly impossible for me not to depart’ [Kiziria 749.1]
Mas čemtvis sulni ar hšurdes šezġva xams šeuzġvelisa [Rustaveli 733.3]
“He would not grudge his life for me; what is due must be paid” [Wardrop 715.3]
“What I owe him must be paid now” [Coffin 739.3]
“what is due must be paid (i.e. I owe him courtesy)” [Kiziria 715.3]

Asre unda moxmareba, gahvidodes visca visi [Rustaveli 773.3]
“Thus should service be, as much as lies in one’s power” [Wardrop 754.3]
“Thus should one help those who touch our hearts when suffering on them preys”
[Coffin 781.3]
“Thus should one help those whose troubles touch his hear.
service be as much as lies in one's power” [Kiziria 754.3]
Ese ambad ar egebis, rome sparsni gagvixasdnen [Rustaveli 540.4]
“This shall not be said, that the Persians hold sway in our court” [Wardrop 524.4]
“This shall not be said allowed that the Persians (i.e. Khvarazmians) hold sway in our court”
[Kiziria 524.4]
xams miǯnuri xanieri, ar meʒavi, bilċi, mruši [Rustaveli 25.1]
“The lover must be constant, not lewd, impure and faithless” [Wardrop 10.1]
“The lover must always be constant, always pure and never crude” [Coffin 25.1]
xams, tu ḳacman ġonierman ʒneli sakme gamoagos [Rustaveli 215.3]
“If a wise man would compass a difficult deed” [Wardrop 212.3]
“He needed to approach the task at hand the way a wise man might” [Coffin 220.3]
Odes ḳacsa daeč̣iros, mašin unda ʒma da tvisi [Rustaveli 773.3].
“When a man is in trouble then needs he brother and kinsman” [Wardrop 754.3].
“A man turns to his brother and kinsman when he knows troubled days” [Coffin 781.3]
“When a man is in trouble then needs he brother and kinsman” [Kiziria 754.3].
To sum up, deontic modality has quite diverse semantics and means of expression in The Knight in The Panther’s Skin, so we gain a variety of translations in which, as a rule, deontic modal semantics are adequately conveyed, sometimes with the same modal verbs, sometimes with synonymous equivalents. We rarely find cases where modal semantics are overshadowed in a translation; such examples are met with in Lyn Coffin’s rather than Marjorie Wardrop’s translation. This may be caused by the fact that Wardrop’s translation is prosaic and the translator chooses an exact contextual equivalent without any problem; Lyn Coffin, however, even tries to maintain the textual measures, but using the exact modal verb or construction probably does not always allow her to do so.

Published: Dec 20, 2023

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