I edit a manuscript for non-chinese-speakers. The writer was an expert in Chinese language and literature. I want to learn, but I am not a native speaker. So, I have difficulty in interpreting how does the word 'field' relate to tense (as in present tense, past tense, etc.) in the following sentence:

In the Chinese language "we can find out the tense of a verb or event from the inner and outer fields, or - in the case of contemporary spoken/written Chinese - from the particulate that denotes the degree of completeness [as in perfect or participle version] of the tense."

What would be your take on it? Could he have meant 'character field' or something else? And if it is about a field relating to how characters are written individually or in a sequence, what 'inner' and 'outer' fields mean do you think? Thanks heaps.

  • This is a very helpful book and I hope it can fulfil its purpose with your help even more. – ob's-stak Sep 18 at 18:46
  • Tense is a confused and muddled Western concept. Chinese is not confused or muddled. Don't try to apply the precepts of Western Grammar to Chinese. – Pedroski Sep 19 at 0:00
  • Hi Pedroski. Thanks for the comment, but I am trying the opposite. The writer was a noted scholar and fluent speaker and translator, not some greenhorn. The challenge here is to make concepts accessible to a non-chinese speaker who has little to go by for comparison. That said, you have not quite answered my question: how best to refer to those 'fields' to cover the meaning of the paragraph. Sadly, the writer has passed away. He hasn't left notes on this. So, because I'm not a good enough chinese speaker or reader, I am reaching out to experts. Was this a added info helpful to help in this? – ob's-stak Sep 21 at 5:03

I'm not sure if this is the case here, but in some theories of linguistics, 'field' is a technical term that refers to the way a text represents reality (or our experience of reality). I don't know what 'inner' and 'outer' fields would be, unless they could be referring to 'within the clause' and 'outside the clause'. If this is the case, the general idea is 'context', i.e. you can work out the tense from the context (e.g. 明天,昨天)

Who is the original author of the text? Knowing their background could be helpful in understanding what framework they were using.

Okay, based on further info it looks like this answer is completely off-base.

  • The full term used, actually, is 'field of writing' (or writing field). He writes that in Chinese, verbs do not denote time of action or event. The inner/outer field of writing or the particulates are what helpful for that. Note that he makes a distinction between 'context' and the inner/outer 'field' of writing, which could also mean 'zone' by the way. He says that "for determining the time of an action or event, in classical Chinese, mostly the context can be useful." The original author translated classical text for the public. He was a noted Chinologist, not a professional linguist. – ob's-stak Oct 6 at 20:39

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