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How do you say "there aren't people I can talk to" ? 没有对他们可以说话的人?or else "the person with whom I had a fight last week is now a friend" and all those sentences that require with/to/etc.?

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3 Answers

up vote 1 down vote accepted

(Adapted from Linguistics answer I gave)

Translating sentences like these can be problematic because you can't leave dangling prepositions. It used to really bother me because it wasn't hit on by grammar books, it's hard to google, and it can be difficult to convey to a person that "I want a general strategy for translating these kinds of sentences" and are not merely asking for a translation of a particular sentence. Here are some example sentences I've found along with various ways of fixing the ungrammaticality of the obvious translations:

  1. carry a bag for X

    I'm carrying this bag for him.

    我帮他拿这个包。 I help him grab this CL bag

    The person I carried this bag for is gone.

    我帮他拿这个包的人走了。 I help him grab this CL bag REL person leave PFV

  2. come back from X

    I just came back from France.

    我刚从法国回来。 I just from France return

    The country I just came back from uses the Euro.

    我刚从那里回来的国家用欧元。I just from there return REL country use Euro

  3. Call someone (literally hit a phone for X)

    I called Apple (the computer company).

    我给苹果公司打了电话。 I give apple company hit PFV telephone

    The company I called makes computers.

    我打了电话的公司是制造电脑的。 I hit PFV telephone REL company is make computer

  4. poke your arm with X

    I poked your arm with a chopstick.

    我用筷子戳你的胳膊。 I use chopstick poke you POS arm

    The chopstick I poked your arm with is on the floor.

    我用来戳你胳膊的筷子在地上。 I use-come poke you (POS) arm REL chopstick located floor-on

  5. sell my bike to X

    I sold him my bike.

    我把自行车卖给了他。 I OBJ-Marker bike sell give PFV him

    The person I sold my bike to also lives in China.

    我把自行车卖给(他?)的那个人也住在中国。I OBJ-Marker bike sell give (him?) REL that CL person also live in China

It seems there are a few different grammatical strategies:

  • Delete the preposition (as in #3); the meaning is still clear from the context.

  • Use a "dummy variable" as the object of the preposition (他 = he in #1 and #5, 那里 = there in #2)

  • Reverbalization of the preposition using 来 = come (e.g., #4)

Looking at Timothy's answer, his first sentence changes the verb and then deletes the preposition. The second uses the "dummy variable" approach.

Notes on glosses:

CL = Classifier, as in the measure words in Chinese (e.g., 个).

REL = Relativizer; the 的 particle which links adjectives or relative clauses to nouns.

PFV = Perfective; the 了 particle which marks for completedness of verbs.

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I received this answer notified only now, but thank you very much for your clear explanation –  Daniela Dec 24 '13 at 14:50
    
@Daniela No problem, glad to help. –  Stumpy Joe Pete Dec 26 '13 at 6:48
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I think the first sentence in Chinese can be said

我没有人可以交谈

and the second one can be said

那个上周我和他打架的人,现在我们成为了朋友

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"There aren't people I can talk to"

The translation varies, depending on what word is used to translate "talk to".

  • "说话", to get into a conversation

    找不到说得上话的人。

  • "倾诉", to pour out one's feelings

    找不到可以倾诉的人/对象。

    or simply

    找不到倾诉(的)对象。

With "倾诉对象", the sentence is starting to become idiomatic. Other variants are also possible. For example, you can replace "找不到" with "没有". If the context permits, you can also say "没有人可以/愿意倾听/聆听我的倾诉". This last sentence is closer to "Nobody could/would become my listener".

The key here is that you need to find a word that conveys the meaning of "talk to" instead of just "talk". In other words, it should emphasize the action on the subject's part. Otherwise the sentence will just become awkward because you need to make up for the missed meaning. This is why dictionary translations of "talk" like "交谈" and "谈话" will get you nowhere---these words can only mean "talk with", which give equal weights to both parties involved in talking. Structurally this is similar to the deletion of preposition mentioned by Joe. But I think that this is more absorbing the meaning of the preposition into the verb than implying that meaning through the verb.

"The person with whom I had a fight last week is now a friend"

I find this translation better than any attempt to simplistically duplicate the sentence structure:

上星期和我打(了一)架的那个人现在成了我的朋友。

The key here is that unlike in the original sentence, "the person" is now the implicit subject of the relative clause. This technique works trivially when the clause describes a reciprocal action with "with". Sometimes, even if the action is not reciprocal, you can also get it to work by replacing the verb of the clause with its antonym. For example, for

The person I sold my bike to also lives in China.

you can say

买了我的自行车(的)那个人也住在中国。

Comparing with a sentence using the "dummy variable" approach mentioned by Joe,

我卖了自行车给他的那个人也住在中国。

the former just sounds much more natural and less twisted.

How about "all those sentences that require with/to/etc."?

The two examples above show that you need to adapt the expression to the meaning of the preposition of the clause. But the way of adapting is different in the two examples. I doubt that general rules exist for all such sentences even though I am no linguist. But perhaps there exists this one technique that in many, even if not all, cases can at least make you sound less awkward and more comprehensible with little effort---use more than one sentence. For example, again consider the "sold my bike" example above. You can use these two sentences:

我把自行车卖给了一个人。那个人也住在中国。

which are totally fine and even easier to understand than "我卖了自行车给他的那个人……". This sacrifices on structural "信" in order to gain on semantic "达" and "雅" of Yan Fu's principles of translation. Sometimes, especially for complex sentences, this is probably the only sensible solution.

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Great answer! And welcome to the site. –  Stumpy Joe Pete Apr 29 '13 at 17:37
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