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The phrase 順其自然 means trust nature to take its course in Cantonese, and every character makes sense except for 其. Can someone explain its meaning in the phrase? Thanks!

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順其自然 => 順 its 自然. – Stan Aug 18 '14 at 6:19
up vote 6 down vote accepted

其 is referred to 'it' as in your translation. However, 自然 here does not necessarily mean the literal meaning 'nature'. Instead, it refers to the natural tendency of any subject you're talking about. If you see a child growing as he/she prefers to be rather than pushing him/her to be, 其is the child and 自然 means 'without intervention'. If you let something develop without attempting to change its route, 其 is that thing. In old Chinese, 其 as a personal pronoun is only one of its many senses.

What's more, it's a Chinese idiom, not just Cantonese.

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cool, thanks so much! just learning canto idioms so no clue which ones translate into mandarin and which ones don't. do most canto idioms carry over into mandarin? like how about this one: 自知之明 – Crashalot Aug 18 '14 at 8:13
and yah, nature is probably not accurate. natural is probably the right translation. – Crashalot Aug 18 '14 at 8:14
Thanks for the reward. Although academically disputable, it still can be claimed that there is a uniform of written Chinese, which has been used for over 2000 years, regardless the dialectal varieties, which are mainly referred to spoken language. Although scholars initiated a parallel Cantonese written system in the early 20th century, catering to its unique spoken language, it is still regarded as an informal sub-written form. The idioms you're discussing are definitely not unique to Cantonese but passed down from classic literary Chinese. – woding Aug 18 '14 at 9:01
Therefore, the translation of these Chinese idioms into another language, for instance English, does not vary by their use in Mandarin or Cantonese or other dialects. If you use these idioms in writing, there is only one written form. If you speak them out in spoken language, I don't see any difference as well except pronunciation between different dialects. No word can be deleted from them and no word can be inserted into these idioms. 顺其自然or自知自明 would not be changed into 顺其叻自然or自知哋自明,lol. – woding Aug 18 '14 at 9:11

As Stan's comment goes, 其 here simply means 'it' and refers to the subject of the sentence where the word 顺其自然 is used. E.g.


For that matter let's just leave it to chance.

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thanks for the answer, but @woding offered a more comprehensive answer so felt compelled to reward his effort. but i will have more cantonese questions; don't worry :) – Crashalot Aug 18 '14 at 8:13

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