What follows …

I crave the help and wisdom of this excellent community of writers yet again … the last time was many years ago, as some may remember. I give here the first paragraph of a text. What I would like to know is what you would expect to follow this paragraph … where it is leading.

If you would like to suggest what you would write as the first couple of sentences of the next paragraph, that would be exceedingly helpful, and any other comments you care to make will also be welcome.

Many thanks.
Mr X (the Scrivenisto formerly known as Mark) :laughing:

But you can’t go ‘back’, old friend, because the ‘back’ you knew, has changed. It has changed, because you have changed. You must create your own 'back’.

That’s a lesson I learnt a long time ago.

Thanks Vic … first off the mark as usual! Let’s hope I get lot’s more responses.

Mr X

But what is back? And where is home? Is it the mix of minerals and sunlight that distinguish one village’s wine from another’s? The creak of a rocking chair, the scent of sad cabbage and weary beef boiling on the hob, the happy little tire swing hanging in a shade tree? The stalag of anonymous flats that smell of persecution and pee?

Yes–all these and more. Home is where you come from, where your people came from. Where they worked and loved and died and lie mouldering beneath mossy stones. It is, you millions of young people, who you are–saints and sinners, faceless and famous. People, going home to find Home.

But do they? I mean, really?

I agree with Vic that you cannot do it; home is no longer that home, and you are no longer that you. (See Ulysses and LOTR — the book, not the movie — and Thomas Wolfe’s You Can’t Go Home Again.) And like Vic, I learnt it long ago, and have several times had the lesson repeated, that not only have you and home changed from childhood, you also have changed from the last time you were there.

You wonder about the next couple sentences. But you introduced a second and possibly disparate element: “take your kids.” Suddenly the situation changes, because — implicitly — the focus changes. Is it you, or is it them, or is it your relationship? In my first-thought narrative, it becomes a story more about today’s family than about yesterday’s; a chance to learn from the past — real or imagined — but a story which arcs toward what is learned more than where it was learned.

But do not worry about that endless series of different pasts. All versions are true.


Initial response…

Nom reminds that, instead of answering your question, I tried to analyze it. So here’s a first-thought attempt to answer it.


Hmmm. I’ll have a go, though why I’ve trotted off in this direction I’ve no idea…

Note to self: Editing before posting saves a red face… :blush:

Beg to differ :wink: A thoroughly enjoyable thread. I’m off to Ireland in the morning for my daughters wedding, on Mon. Back on Tus. I shall look forward to reading more posts of similar quality. :smiley:
Take care

Thanks for your contributions, everyone. I began a posting with a bit more information last Saturday evening, following Nom’s post, as some responses were looking more at the philosophical issues in going back home, rather than suggesting how the next paragraph would start, but my battery died just before I finished. I will leave this thread open for a little while, without giving all the game away, in the hope that I will get more offerings.

But to provide a little more “intellectual carrot”, this is — of course, what else do you expect from me — a translation of a text from Chinese, a text which I have given my MA students to translate. Having looked at all the issues involved in translating this paragraph into English, I wanted to begin the study of the next by saying something along the lines of how, at this point, readers of this English version would expect the next paragraph to continue. However, I stopped myself, thinking it would be better to find out what readers of the English version with no knowledge of the Chinese actually expected. It would be too arrogant to claim that such people would expect what I think they would expect. Thereforee, I thought to appeal to you all to give me that information.

So thank you those that have contributed so far, not only the two sentences, which was all I hoped for, but much lengthier continuations.

As I say, I will keep this open for a little while, but will then tell you all how the Chinese continues, together with a little disquisition on the structure of Chinese texts; comparison between that and the way English texts are structured, and how an English text on a similar theme would be structured, is the question at the heart of the particular course I’m teaching.

Mr X

Phew. I thought the whole “it evoked the boundless love and longing for their parents of millions of young people” part was a bit of a stretch - more the hopeful optimism of a parent than a realistic reaction of a child. At least I can justify that to myself now as a cultural thing rather than my own cold insensitive heart.

My own efforts at following the passage do cheat a little by adding to the final line. Sorry about that.

Yes. I think the Chinese romanticise the relationship between children and their parents, at least in public or for public consumption. In reality, Chinese society is changing — not necessarily for the better — and so many of my students find their parents too domineering. I find myself reminding them that they have grown up in a completely different world from their parents. Their parents were growing up at the end of the Cultural Revolution and in the years before the “Reform and Opening-up”, a time when your life was organised for you … your “work unit” not only provided you with accommodation and with the necessities of life — rice, vegetables, the occasional live chicken or duck, washing powder …, known as the “welfare handout” (my first welfare handout was six litres of undrinkable, 45+º “bai-jiu” spirits, which would have served better as aviation fuel and tasted like it) — but also arranged your marriage, including selecting your partner for you. When their parents got married, personal possessions were the “Three treasures”, a clock, a bicycle and a sewing machine; now, before parents will allow their daughters to marry, the husband-to-be needs to have bought a flat and a car. A marriage where the flat and the car are not part of the deal is a “naked marriage”, frowned upon by parents and society.

But in spite of their frustrations with the demands of their parents, particularly demands that they get married quickly and have the child, even though they haven’t found anyone they can even contemplate sharing their life with, they still sing of the bond between child and parent. Cultural difference indeed.

I’ll leave Vic-K to deal with you for the cheating via one of his emanations! But although your addition to the final line means it is less easy to compare with the Chinese version, it does have its diagnostic value, showing that, for you at least, the paragraph is incomplete in terms of how you would want to continue with the text.

Mr X

As no one else has replied to this thread and it seems to have reached its quietus, let me tell anyone who can be bothered to read on a bit about the problem.

A friend of mine, Chief Editor of the “Common Talk” weekly published English language pages in the Xiamen Daily, gave me a most astute description of the fundamental difference between a Chinese text and an English text. She said, “A Chinese text is like a bunch of grapes; an English text is like a string of pearls”. The standard, Western text linguistics way of expressing it is that English is a “theme-rheme” language; Chinese is a “topic-comment” language. I think my friend’s description is more informative.

Firstly, the Chinese language has a feature which operates at all levels, pretty easily described in Universal Grammar terms, namely that it does not permit adjuncts after the head — and its complement if there is one; in other words, all adverbial constructs come before the main verb or the main clause in the sentence; what we know as relative clauses following their noun antecedent occur as attributive constructions preceding the noun; and so on.

Secondly, a Chinese sentence consists predominantly of a string of what I call “minor sentences” separated by what look like commas, and mostly not having any overt complementiser marking the logical relations between them — think of it like as follows.

A sentence can go on for several lines; minor sentences are simple structures; indication of logical relationships is rarely given; the subject is only given when it changes; tenses don't exist; final position is most important.

Translating a Chinese text into English is therefore a matter of creating a string of pearls out of a bunch of grapes.

The translation I gave you is one possible solution to translating the first paragraph, one which stays pretty closely to the concept ordering of the Chinese. The problem is then compounded when we come to the second paragraph. As I suspected, although all of you chose different ways of following on from that, none of them bears any relation to the content of the second paragraph of the Chinese, a more-or-less straightforward translation of which would be something like:

In the world, the most selfless love is that of a mother for her child; the broadest horizon is the mind of a parent; a parent’s love and concern for their child is for any language in the world impossible to express. 

In English, the first expression acts as the theme for the first sentence, which acts as a theme for the paragraph, “In the world” therefore has to be moved, but what to make the theme. It would normally be the link to the content at the end of the previous paragraph, yet that is:

To this day, whenever I hear it on the radio, it still moves me deeply and makes me yearn for my old home.

This Chinese text is a good example of the bunch of grapes metaphor. The next sentence following the “impossible to express” begins “I remember when I was little …” and after describing his innocence, he goes on to speak of how becoming a father himself opened his eyes to parental love.

The next paragraph begins with a sentence establishing that he’s now talking about when he was 10 years old and in 3rd grade of primary school; then a sentence saying his birthday is in the 10th month; then a sentence describing how hard life was at that time. It is only after that, as he begins to narrate the story of his birthday that year that a really coherent sequence gets established.

All of what precedes that narration does hang together around the theme of how much care and love parents have for their children and the sacrifices they make, but they do hang together like a bunch of grapes rather than evolve along a logical thread like pearls on a string.

So this text is a good example for my students (MA students of translation and interpreting) of a lesson they need to learn, that you are translating a whole text, not a string of words, not a string of phrases or clauses, not even a string of discrete sentences. How you translate the first sentence necessarily relates to how you translate the last sentence and everything in between.

Mr X

I think I followed the grapes and pearls analogy, but the bit about complementing the relatives constructing houses in adverbia while nuns were having accidents confused me. :blush:

I actually quite like the pearls and grapes analogy. I wonder if it may help me better understand the written assignments that some of my Chinese speaking students submit. I am sometimes perplexed by their grammar (although that’s not hard to do as grammar was not a prominent focus of pedagogy at my schools - but you probably worked that out from my previous paragraph).

Late to the game but if I might…

I likely miss the mark though.

Yes, sorry about the nuns and related constructed houses … as I’m sure you understand from your own field, it is hard to convey things succinctly, while avoiding the use of the appropriate meta-language.

I hope it will. Of course, translation is different from the written assignments you will be giving your students, as with a translation, the content is given to a certain extent — we won’t go into the question of what it is the translator translates and avoid any need to raise the spectre of Derrida et al. :smiling_imp: — but their basic thinking will be in that “bunch of grapes” manner of ideas that are related to each other within the general context, but without the logical thread of development that is natural to us.

In terms of their grammar, Chinese has no inflections — no singular and plural (except in personal pronouns, and one or two terms which only refer to humans, principally ‘comrades’, ‘colleagues’, ‘class-mates’ … I can’t think of any others … and those latter are only used when making a speech!), no past and present tenses, no infinitives or participles, etc.— in other words, there are no forms that mark those. That doesn’t mean they don’t have any way of expressing the concepts involved.

And of course, they are taught English in a very traditional manner — the main textbook series used throughout their school career is still the L.G. Alexander course, which in teaching terms was old-fashioned when I started teaching in 1970! — concentrating on the formal aspect. So they are told how to construct the “present perfect progressive” — as if that were a single indivisible tense — and given a few example sentences using it; but they are not taught the cognitive concepts are behind “present/past”, “perfect/non-perfect” and “progressive/non-progressive”, even though there are analogues in Chinese in the form of particles. But of course the non-teaching of underlying concepts seems to be the case in English language teaching everywhere, not just in China, though it’s compounded here by other issues.

So the whole English grammar thing is totally alien to them — in fact, this is taken to the extent in China, that Linguistics only relates to foreign languages, Chinese is taught in a different faculty and never the twain shall meet. So, your students will, almost certainly I believe, be writing their assignments sentence by sentence, struggling with the formal grammar of each in turn, without thinking about how any one sentence should connect to the previous one. So a bunch of grapes, where some of them are green grapes, some are black, some are seedless, some are wine varieties, others are varieties for turning into raisins …

I am a theoretical linguist and can read Chinese, yet these things are still perplexing from time to time … I’m asked to edit a translation and I have no idea of what some section is supposed to mean or how it relates to the rest … and the people whose work I’m editing are post-graduate English majors! How much worse it must be for you.

Mr X

Thanks, Jaysen; never too late.

And you missed me? … Aaaah! :wink:


  • You would have missed the mark if you had begun your contribution “In the world …” :slight_smile:

Believe it or not, I actually miss seeing Vic-k too. That one short trip was … altering. I think it is part of why I keep vanishing. Realizing that there are “realer” humans that are actually likeable behind the often phone internet personalities… Nom would probably have a field day with me.

Now that I have read the thread, I’m not sure how I did or didn’t succeed. The “pearls v grapes” thing didn’t help the missing grey matter either. Sorry.

No need to apologise, I get a perverse pleasure from reading phrases where I understand each word but not the clauses - at least where there is a rational sense to be made (hence, as you know, my aversion to anything citing Derrida).

I appreciate the explanation regarding Chinese grammar. Although my knowledge of formal grammar is distressingly slight, it does help me understand why some of the errors my students make may occur. I most frequently see issues with tense, but also with “creating a story” (the logical development of ideas in a sentence, paragraph or even essay).

That’s precisely how they seem.

That helps me feel a little better. I usually write something along the lines of, “I’m not sure what this means” but have often wondered about whether that is helpful or even appropriate.