2

Given the following English:

"A woman's torso, its skin a deathly purple, sat atop an immense arachnid thorax."

It's possible to rearrange the prepositional phrases and still have a grammatically correct English sentence. For example:

"Its skin a deathly purple, a woman's torso sat atop an immense arachnid thorax."

Is perfectly fine, likewise:

"A woman's torso sat atop an immense arachnid thorax, its skin a deathly purple."

Is also correct (though in this case it might become a little unclear if the spider thorax is purple or the woman's torso, or the monster as a whole).

From a literary standpoint, this could easily be used if, for example, the author wanted to draw the reader's attention to different parts of the creature at different times, or, in this case, to create the sense that the viewer of the creature is noticing different features in a certain order.

For my example, it's the latter, with some added context:

"The hulking shadow finally came into sharp focus.
A woman's torso, its skin a deathly purple, sat atop an immense arachnid thorax."

In this case, the passage gives the impression that as the creature moves from the shadows into the light, the first thing noticed is a woman's torso, then the torso's color, then the fact that the torso is a part of a much larger creature with a spider body.

In translating this into Japanese, is it possible to preserve this literary stylization?

At first, one might think to write something like:

「死人のような真っ青な肌の女性の胴体が莫大なクモの体と結合された。」

But the problem with this is that it changes the order in which the creature's features become visible (first evoking the image of color, then the image of the woman's torso, then the monster body, rather than the woman's torso, then its color, then the monster body). So then, like in English, is it possible in Japanese to reorder the prepositional phrase "...[its/with] skin a deathly purple..." so that it comes in the middle of the sentence, perhaps something like:

「女性の胴体が、死人のような真っ青な肌で、莫大なクモ体と結合された。」

But, at least to me, this seems to give the impression that the color is the agent by which the female torso and spider body are joined, which is certainly not the intent of the passage. Perhaps the problem is the use of the particle で?

As an aside, I'm sure that the intent of the English could be preserved by breaking it up into multiple Japanese sentences, but the concern there is it could add too much "baggage" to the passage, possibly making it become purple prose.

  • 2
    I can suggest the following improvements considering your sentence: 1) Using the word 女性 instead of just 女 would sound much more natural for a native Japanese speaker in your case.「女」is more suitable for a living woman. 2) Native Japanese writer would apparently use the past continuous tense for state description (された->されていた) 3) You're right that で sounds odd here. It's better to use 「がして」instead. – vdudouyt Jul 24 at 5:09
  • Thanks for the input. I was concerned 女性 might give the impression of a young woman, but in reading some examples I'm less worried about that. Does されていた not give the impression of being in the process of being joined, rather than in a "completed" state, as in "...a woman's torso was in the middle of being joined to a spider body..." ? – stix Jul 24 at 14:54
5

In the usual sense, no. There isn't any way qualifying a phrase from behind in the Japanese grammar. I remember I've answered a similar question long ago (Rendering an appositive “which” clause in Japanese). Workarounds exist, though there wouldn't be finite ways to cover all cases.

女性の上半身、死体のように赤黒い肌をしたそれが、巨大なクモの胴の上に鎮座している。

It separates the first noun phrase from the sentence and links to it again using それ. This is more or less faithful to the original flow, but carries a hint of translationese.

女性の上半身が、死体のように赤黒い肌をして、巨大なクモの胴の上に鎮座している。

In this particular case, it works. Though it is grammatically tricky (being a dirty type of zeugma), it fully conveys the meaning of your English. Your ~肌で however does not work, because it'd mean something weird here: "by a method being a skin —".

女性の上半身だ。(それは)死体のような赤黒い肌で、巨大なクモの胴の上に鎮座している。

The safest way is to break up the sentence, like this example. それは within parentheses is usually not written, but for your reference and grammatical clarification.


PS

If you really care about literary effect of word order, be noted that well-tuned English ↔ Japanese translation often involves radical rearrangement with little regard for grammatical correspondence. For example, see the comparison between Japanese and English manuals of the video game Crazy Taxi. Most notably IMO:

enter image description here

  • In your third example with two sentences, you use で to join the two phrases, but in the second example, you confirmed my concern that で would give the impression of the colored skin being the method of joining the pieces of the monster. What makes the で in the third example work as opposed to the second (i.e. why is it that in the third it's clear that the woman torso has deathly pale skin, and that the skin isn't what's being used to join the woman torso to the spider body)? – stix Jul 24 at 17:44
  • Additionally, I'm not familiar with the word 鎮座, and looking it up only gives a definition of "enshrinement" with no example sentences. Can you explain the word? The original English is describing a monster that is essentially half-woman, half-spider, like a Centaur, so that "...sat atop an arachnid thorax..." doesn't mean an actual person sitting on top of a spider, but a creature that is made up of a woman's torso joined to the top of a spider body. How is 鎮座 better than 結合 in this case (where 結合 presumably carries the same kind of meaning you'd use in the case of conjoined twins)? – stix Jul 24 at 17:49
  • @stix I don't know the exact answer but I'm sure if you change は to が in my third sentence the same thing happens. In my (and your) second Japanese it's not able to convert が into は, so I have to change the で part. – broccoli forest Jul 24 at 17:52
  • @stix You used "sat atop", right? 鎮座 → dictionary.goo.ne.jp/jn/145716/meaning/m0u 「人や物がどっしりと場所を占めていることを、多少揶揄 (やゆ) の気持ちを込めていう語。」 – broccoli forest Jul 24 at 17:54
  • So I thought it's a good word to describe that a woman torso (disproportionately) grows from a spider hull. – broccoli forest Jul 24 at 18:00

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.