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Translation Question - meaning of 也


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Dear community, 

 

I have a question on how to translate the particle 也 in the last sentence of the following excerpt by Mengzi: 

 

盆成括仕於齊。
孟子曰:死矣盆成括!
盆成括見殺。
門人問曰:夫子何以知其將見殺?
曰:其為人也小有才,未聞君子之大道也,則足以殺其軀而已矣。
 
Let me try and translate the explanation from my class held in German. So far, we have encountered 也 either as a marker in a nominal clause or as a marker of the predicate in a subordinate clause (e.g.: 黃雀不知彈丸在其下也). Accordingly, my teacher gave us the translation: "Given what he was like, he only had very little talent." 
 
I do not quite feel comfortable with this translation because adding yet another predicate (小有才) right after a subordinate clause seems wrong, also 為人 sounds a lot like a plain noun to me (perhaps I am biased because of my studies in modern mandarin here). 
 
Any thoughts on how to interpret this 也 here grammar-wise are highly appreciated!
 
PS: As for the disclaimer, I am new to this forum (Hi everyone!) and therefore hope that this post's nature is appropriate. My major is economics but going to China twice got me hooked on the language. After passing HSK 6 last July, I feel there's a whole new world to be entered via Classical Chinese. Seeing that I am not at all alone with this passion is somewhat of a relief! :)

 

 

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Let me try and translate the explanation from my class held in German. So far, we have encountered 也 either as a marker in a nominal clause or as a marker of the predicate in a subordinate clause (e.g.: 黃雀不知彈丸在其下也).

 

I do not follow your example here, since I do not think that 也 is used in nominal clauses (but rather after them), and have never heard of 也 particularly being used to mark the predicate in subordinate clauses.  I, personally, have an idiosyncratic understanding of much of Chinese grammar, 也 included, and so don't want to go done a path that might not match the explanations you are receiving in a class setting.  However, here are some quotes from Du's Handbook of Classical Chinese Grammar  that give a somewhat conventional explanation, including one that specifically deals with 為人:

 

In Classical Chinese, the use of 也 (yě) falls principally into two main areas: that of pause marker, usually after the topic, and that of final particle.

 

 

As a pause marker: (yě), in this function, often marks the preceding phrase or words as a topic.  The topic may grammatically be the subject or the object of the sentence; it might also be a time phrase or clause.  The (yě) acts as a pause-marker (rather like a comma).  Since topics are often nominalised phrases, they typically include nominalising particles such as (zhī) or (qí) giving the following grammar formula:

 

          /N (zhī) V [O] (yě), .../

 

This can be translated as 'as for N's Verb-ing of [O], ...' or 'if (or when) N Verb-ed [O] ...' etc., e.g  媼之送燕后也,持其踵為之泣 (ǎo zhī sòng yān hòu yě, chí qí zhǒng wèi zhī qì) 'when you send off Yānhòu [to be married], grab hold of her heel and cry for her', ....  It is also a feature of the common phrase /X 之為人也/ (X zhī wéi rén yě) 'as a person, X' or 'in character, X', e.g. 夫楚王之為人也形尊而嚴 (fú chǔ wáng zhī wéi rén yě xíng zūn ér yán) 'now as a person, the King of Chǔ looks dignified and severe'.

 

 

 

其為人也小有才 ....  Accordingly, my teacher gave us the translation: "Given what he was like, he only had very little talent."

 

If I were to nitpick, I would say that the use of "given" might be awkward here, though perhaps not impossible.  There is nothing really in the Chinese that suggests the sense of concession that "given" implies.  As a somewhat literal translation, I would give: "As for his conducting himself as a person, he was small of talent."  As a more polished translation, I might say: "As for his qualities, he had little talent."

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Not sure which 也 you're talking about but I'll do both.

 

其為人也小有才,未聞君子之大道也,則足以殺其軀而已矣。

 

其 is the subject here and 其為人 is the topic. What comes after 也 is the comment on that topic. The subject then becomes part of an AB也 structure with 未聞君子之大道 being B.

 

Disclaimer: I don't know everything and am often wrong.

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  • 3 weeks later...

It's both grammatical and literary. This usage of 也 often indicates a tone of the sentence.

Another example, 午也可 (midday will be fine). 午可 has exactly the same meaning, but its tone is much harsher.

If we rewrite the example of #4 into 楚王之為人,形尊而嚴, it sounds as if the speaker was arguing or criticizing etc..

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