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Phraseology in prose fiction

A literary author, depicting a reality of his or her own imagination, has recourse to the whole wealth of the national

standard language with its expressive means on different stylistic levels. The fictional world may be presented to the

reader in a quite realistic way, when the author uses direct speech to characterize a real situation and real figures

(dramatis personae).


(16)(a) 'Hello, old man,' he said. 'Long time no see.'

'We've been playing Box and Cox.' I said. 'When we came back from our holidays you went on yours.' (Braine

1957: 212)

(b)'It's lovely to see you both again,' she said. 'We've kept missing each other . . .'

' Box and Cox', Sybil said. 'Many happy returns, Susan.' (Braine 1957: 214)

This stretch of discourse contains typical conversational formulae at a colloquial level of discourse: formulae of salutation

(hello, old man; long time no see) and a congratulatory formula on the occasion of someone's birthday and the idiom Box

and Cox (ODEI, 'from a story -- also the theme of a short Gilbert and Sullivan opera -- of two lodgers named Box and Cox

who shared the same room unknown to each other, one occupying it by day, the other by night').

As an example of a very elaborated technique of the interior monologue (represented speech) which forms the artistic

principle of a whole novel, I have chosen the German author Christa Wolf and her book Kein Ort. Nirgends ( 1979). Christa

Wolf experiments with language and also taps the potential of idioms and phrases, as the following passages exemplify. I

refer to the English translation from the German by Jan van Heurck ( 1982). The translator has carefully observed Christa

Wolf's habits of style and has been able to offer a functional equivalent of the German phrase. The leading figure of the

quoted passage is the German poet and playwright Heinrich von Kleist, who committed suicide.

(17) (a) Gedanken nutzen sich ab wie Mьnzen, die von Hand zu Hand gehen, oder wie Vorstellungen, die man

sich immer wieder vors innere Auge ruft. (Wolf 1979: 11)

Thoughts get worn out, like coins which are passed from hand to hand, or like images that one calls to mind

over and over. (Wolf 1982: 7)

(b)Er hat die Wahl -- falls das eine Wahl ist -- das verzehrende Ungenьgen, sein bestes Teil, planvoll in sich

abzutцten oder ihm freien Laufzu lassen und am irdischen Elend zugrunde zu gehn. Sich Zeit und Ort nach

eigner Notwendigkeit zu schaffen oder nach gewdhnlichem Zuschnitt zu vegetieren. Recht hьbsch das. Die

Mдchte, die ihn in ihren Klauen haben -- durch Geringschдtzigkeit beleidigen sie ihn nicht. Das wird die einzige

Genugtuung sein, die er in seinem Leben erf?hrt. Und er wird sich ebenbдrtig zeigen. Kein anderer wird das

Urteil an ihm vollstrecken als er selbst. Die Hand, die schuldig werden muЯte, vollzieht die Strafe. Ein

Schicksalnach seinem Geschmack. (Wolf 1979: 43-4)

He has the choice -- assuming that it can justly be called a choice -either to systematically annihilate in himself

that consuming

dissatisfaction which is the best thing in him, or to give free rein to it and be destroyed by his temporary misery.

To create time and space in accordance with the necessity of his own being, or simply to vegetate in a run-ofthe-

mill existence. Really, a nice touch, that. The Powers who have him in their clutches do not demean him by

esteeming him lightly. This is the only compensation he will know in his life. And he is determined to show

himself worthy of it. No other than himself will execute judgement upon him. The hand which was fated to

commit the crime will carry out the sentence. A destiny after his own heart. (Wolf 1982: 29)

Christa Wolf's text of narrative and reflection has a remarkable density of idioms, phrases, and collocations which underpin

the rich imagery of this passage. The phraseological units can be grouped into various thematic fields. One of them is

characterized by dynamism (relating to Kleist's personal state of unrest, anxiety, and despair): von Hand zu Hand

gehen(to be passed from hand to hand);sich immer wieder vors innere Auge rufen(to call to mind over and over);freien

Lauf lassen (to give free rein). The second thematic field includes phrases referring to social status ( Kleist could not adapt

himself to the life style of Prussian feudalism): nach gewцhnlichem Zuschnitt(a run-of-the-mill existence);recht hьbsch

das(a nice touch, that) -- an old-fashioned routine formula used in polite conversation; sich ebenbьrtig erweisen(to show

oneself worthy of it). The third thematic field covers collocations of legal language. Kleist, through his administrative and

clerical work in the Prussian state, was familiar with them; Christa Wolf deliberately uses these phrases to describe Kleist's

stream of consciousness in interior monologue: schuldig werden(to commit a/the crime);das Urteil vollstrecken(to

execute judgement);die Strafe vollziehen(to carry out the sentence). The latter two are contextual synonyms and support

the effect of stylistic variation. The English translator has convincingly proved his understanding of the stylistic effect of the

phraseological units in the source language text and succeeded in conveying a similar impressive value in the target

language text. His translation amply reflects the mood of Christa Wolf's narrative.


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