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Linguists claim that subordination is universal across the world languages.

Subordination in English looks can be understood by looking into these examples:

I know a person who has a dog

I know a person who has a dog which barks at a cat

I know a person who has a dog which barks at a cat which lives in a house

I know a person who has a dog which barks at a cat which lives in a house which is located in a city which ....

You get the idea...

I would like to know how could we translate the longest English sentence from the examples into Chinese (with preserving the subordination), that is, leave everything in one sentence. like:

我知道一个的人。

我知道一个有狗的人。

I am no Chinese nor English native speaker, but my intuition is telling me that this sentence, however unnatural, sounds more naturally in English than in Chinese, is that the case?

I even have doubts if subordination really exists in Chinese...

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If I extrapolate what you are doing, it actually becomes "unnatural" to me, because the subordinate clause is inserted in front of the noun that is being modified, but after the original verb. Your examples can be translated like the following:

I know a person. 我認識某個人

I know a person who has a dog. 我認識某位有養狗的人

I know a person who has a dog which barks at a cat. 我認識某位養有會對貓吠的狗的人

I know a person who has a dog which barks at a cat which lives in a house. 我認識某位養有會對那隻住在屋裡的貓吠的狗的人

I briefly add/tweak some charaters so that it makes more sense to me.... I'll leave it up to you to see if you can just "get the idea". :)

If I "naturally" say these, it'll probably not be all subornate clause but shorter SVO phrases:

I know a person 我認識某個人

I know a person who has a dog 我認識某個人,有養狗

I know a person who has a dog which barks at a cat 我認識某個人,養的狗會對貓吠

I know a person who has a dog which barks at a cat which lives in a house 我認識某個人,那人養的狗會對貓吠,那貓還住在房子裡

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"I know a person who has a dog which barks at a cat which lives in a house which is located in a city which" taken literally seems to mean the cat lives in the house,... intended meaning seems to be that "has dog" and "lives in house" are both "subordinated" to person, therefore this seems not to be a chain with consecutive "subordination", thus splits into "person who has a dog which barks at a cat" and "person who lives in a house which is located in a city which", word for word translation may be: 我认识养对一只猫狂吠的一只狗的一个人,他住在位于(。。。的)个城市的栋房子里,but should likely be split up,

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  • "lives in a house" is referring to the cat, not the person. You can tell by the use of "which", rather than "who". – Curiosity Oct 1 at 12:57
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Linguists claim many things when the day is long! Look at what they say with a critical eye, not blind acceptance. You should not extrapolate from English and say 'all languages must be like that.' Chinese will not do that. Chinese has a superior logic.

First of all, the proposal, though it can be understood, and translated, after a fashion, does not spring from natural language. The longer a sentence is, the more likely it will be misinterpreted. It is therefore not desirable, even if you can, to build enormously long sentences.

The House that Jack built:

This is the cat
That killed the rat that ate the malt
That lay in the house that Jack built.

Chinese can use anything as an adjective. Chinese therefore has no need of Relative Clauses. Languages with Case cannot use anything as an adjective without contravening their self-imposed Case Rules.

The point of language is to transmit information. If the information is not clear, the language has failed in its purpose.

I know a person ([who has a dog] {which barks at a cat})
I know a ([has a [barks at a cat] dog]) person

In Chinese, I would not go much further than this, although it is possible.

I know a man, he has a dog, that dog likes to bark at cats.
我认识个人,他有一只狗,那只狗很喜欢对着猫叫。

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It is a bit of an over-statement to say that subordination is universal. Many linguistics academics agree with Chomsky that recursion is universal.

Subordinate clauses seem to be a feature of all Indo-European languages, but their popularity in English is based on their popularity in educated Latin, which was taught to generations of Europeans as the model for good grammar and fine writing. (Popular Latin was never as complex.) To this day, for speakers of English, French and German, it is a class marker to use multiple subordinate clauses, arcane conjunctions, and of course the subjunctive.

For even more generations of Chinese (but not so much these days), the model of good grammar and fine writing was the Classical Chinese of Confucius, Mencius, etc, which tends to be terse and gnomic rather than long-winded and prolix. In addition, contemporary Chinese is taught with firm rules about the temporal and logical order of clauses, whereas English speakers are happy to ramble their way through a string of clauses as they think of each one.

In particular, several English subordinate clause structures are commonly treated as a conjoined pair of parallel clauses in Chinese, e.g. 因为。。。所以 。。。, 如果。。。就。。。,除非。。。否则。。。. Other Chinese clauses are logically subordinate, e.g. 只要NP VP,NP VP 以前。Depending on context, structures of the type NP VP 的 NP can be interpreted as relative clauses or extended adjectival phrases, because Chinese verbs are not marked for finiteness.

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Subordinations are typical in synthetic languages such as English and a lot of Eu languages. However, Chinese is an analytic language, where subordinations are rare and can be ambiguous and confusing if used a lot. In Chinese, the function of subordinations is mostly done by stand-alone descriptive sentences, or decorators if short.

I recently did some translation work from English to Chinese. I found it very hard to translate sentences that are longer than 30 words. My goal was to reduce ambiguity as much as possible, so the solution is to make groups of subordinations into stand-alone Chinese sentences.

Example:

I know a person who has a dog which barks at a cat which lives in a house which is located in a city which is on top of a mountain which is beautiful.
我认识一个养狗的人,他的狗喜欢对着一只房子里的猫叫,这房子坐落在一座美丽的山上

But Chinese do have subordinations, for example:

《关于我转生后成为史莱姆的那件事》
about the case that I became a Slime after reincarnation.

The example above, which is the title of a real anime, is not a complete sentence. It is an "about + noun" structure instead. The 关于……的那件事 indicates the sentence in between is a subordination. But subordination-in-subordination is very very rare.

Ref

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  • You might find this amusing: 禁止禁止禁止套娃 – River Sep 30 at 1:13

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