Parataxis VS. Hypotaxis in Chinese and English

Parataxis VS. Hypotaxis in Chinese and English
2007级 英语翻译1班 蒋江海 200712500116

Abstract: Parataxi and hypotaxis is the most distinguishing features in linguistics between Chinese and English. Emphasis is laid upon the form in English texture while in Chinese upon the meaning. This difference in language expression is deeply rooted in the culture, geography and history of each country. This paper aims at explaining the difference with examples and finding the the reasons for the difference.

Key words: parataxis; hypotaxis; difference

1 Notion of Hypotaxis and Parataxis.
Hypotaxis and Parataxis belong to the language construction method. Hypotaxis is a method to realize the connection of words or sentences by language forms which include lexical forms or morphology. Parataxis means a language construction method that does not depend on such language forms but on lexical means or the logical relation implicated in sentences to realize some connections. The former stressed a kind of cohesion built on language forms and the latter emphasizes coherence within context in a certain language. (Pan Wenguo, 1997: 335) Hypotaxis and parataxis are means to connect sentences and paragraphs in all languages. Most linguists agree that English is more hypotactic while Chinese more paratactic. Nida has pointed out in his Translating Meaning (1983) that the most important difference in linguistics between English and Chinese is the contrast of hypotaxis and parataxis.
English is hypotactic in that the basic a tree hypotactic English is Structure of a sentence is subject and verb, and that all the other elements are added on via connectives. In other words, form is neededto convey meaning. The structure of English can be compared to a tree.
Chinese is paratactic in that it has no a bamboo paratactic Chinese is Inflections and does not need connectives for sentence organization. The meanings of different parts help indicate the relationship within a sentence. The structure of Chinese can be compared to bamboo.

2 The Difference of Parataxis and Hypotaxis in Chinese and English
To clarify the relations between words, phrases or clauses, English more often resorts to overt cohesion, frequently using various cohesive ties such as coordinators (e.g. and, or, but, yet, so, however, as well as, either… or…, neither… nor…),subordinators (e.g. when, while, as, since, until, so… that…, unless, lest), relative pronouns and adverbs ( e.g. who, whom, whose, that, which, when, where, why, how), prepositions and others. Here are some examples.

1. 姊妹三个,从小没娘,彼此提挈,感情很好,一家人都很勤快。一进门,清清爽爽,干净得像明矾澄过的清水。(《珠子灯》汪曾祺)
2. My sister, Mrs. Joe, with black hair and eyes, had such prevailing redness of skin that I sometimes used to wonder whether it was possible she washed herself with a nutmeg-grater instead of soap. (Charles Dickens, 1995: 8)
There are only two subjects in the first example and no formal words to connect short sentences. If a longer sentence is translated into English, the first step that should be taken is adding essential words to make it clearer:
(这家有) 姊妹三个,从小没娘,彼此提挈,感情很好。(因为) 一家人都很勤快,(所以)(别人) 一进门, (就会觉得到处) 清清爽爽,干净得像明矾澄过的清水。
The next step is to translate the paraphrased Chinese version into English:
There are three girls in the family whose mother died in their childhood. They help each other and get along quite well. Because the family is diligent, anyone who walks into the yard will feel everything is tidy and neat, as clean as water cleared by alum.
In this translation we can find what have been lost in Chinese version such as pronoun s or relative nouns are mostly be found in the English one, otherwise people can not understand.
Another famous example is the translation of《天静沙•秋思》


[English version 1]
Tune:Tian Jin Sha
Withered vines hanging on old branches,
Returning crows croaking at dusk.
A few houses hidden past a narrow bridge,
And below the bridge, a quiet creek running.
Down a worn path, in the west wind,
A lean horse comes plodding.
The sun dips sown in the west,
And the lovesick traveler is still at the end of the world.

[English version 2]
Crows hovering over rugged old trees wreathed with rotten vine——the day is about done. Yonder is a tiny bridge over a sparkling stream, and on the far bank, a pretty little village. But the traveler has to go on down this ancient road, the west wind moaning, his bony horse groaning, trudging towards the sinking sun, farther and farther away from home.
Comparing the English versions and the original one, we can see that the Chinese poem only use 5 fragments or phrases to present some natural objects but creates an beautiful artistic conception, which can be truly felt by readers. However, the English versions, no matter which, use complete sentences and present concrete objects, including their status thus the readers’ imagination is limited.
More examples:
a. 她们正打架,不巧被我撞见了。
I happened to be present when they were having a fight.
b. 好不容易才说服她照我的想法办。
With some difficulty I brought her round to my way of thinking.
c. 只见那个理发师俯下身,听小姑娘说,她要什么发式。
Leaning down to hear the little girl, the barber listened to her about the style she wanted.
d. 酒不醉人人自醉。
It is not that the wine intoxicates the drinker but that the drinker gets himself drunk.
It is not the wine that intoxicates the drinker but the drinker who gets himself drunk
e. 对人太苛求,没有什么道理,自己也容易失望。
You have little cause to make excessive demands from others and make yourself disappointed in return.
f. All was cleared up some time later when news came from a distant place that an earthquake was felt the very day the little copper ball fell. 过了一些时候, 从远方传来消息: 小铜球坠落那天, 人们感受到了地震.这一切终于得到了澄清。
g. We will not attack unless we are attacked.人不犯我, 我不犯人。
h. Let everybody share the food if there is any. 有饭大家吃。
i. Until all is over, ambition never dies. 不到黄河心不死。 (紧缩句)
j. 不进则退。(四字格)
He who doesn’t advance falls backward.
Move forward or you will fall behind.
k. 聪明一世,糊涂一时。(对偶)
Smart as a rule, but this time a fool.
l. 晒太阳 to bask in the sun 晒衣服 to sun one’s clothes
吃食堂 to have one’s meals in the mess hall 吃苹果 to eat an apple
还他的债 to pay someone else for him 还他的钱 to pay him back
住四人 four people live in… 住旅馆 to stay at a hotel
在家养病 to recuperate at home 闭目养神to sit in repose with one’s eyes closed

3 The Causes and Expressions behind Parataxis Hypotaxis
From all the examples above we can see that English emphasizes the complete structure of a sentence and pays much more attention to the grammar rules. It has the compact form; the sentence structure is relatively complete and the sentence is relatively rigid.
Comparing with English, Chinese is not restricted to the grammar limitation and its sentence structure is more flexible than that in English. Chinese grammar structure possesses the diffusive character, emphasizes function rather than form and as a result the rule of parataxis becomes the foundation to make a sentence instead of the rule of hypotaxis.
What causes this difference between Chinese and English?
The west world is a world of substance which emphasizes the concept of”Being”. The Chinese world is a functional world where “Non-being” and”Being” coexist. The further acknowledgement of substance is form which makes the world become richer and more meticulous. (Huang Yaomian, 1991: 37) In contrast with the formal principle of the west culture, Chinese culture intends to see everything as a whole. As early as the birth of Book of Changes, a very complete idea of the wholeness has been shown. This trend can be also seen when expressing beauty, strength and fantasy in Chinese traditional painting, operatic performance, calligraphy and the language which is always pursuing conformity in spirit instead of conformity in form. Even to a single word, different people can have different understandings. For example, the Chinese word “Yun shan” can be understood as “clouded mountains”, “mountain like clouds” or “mountains in the clouds”. Sometimes you may be puzzled at which meaning such words exactly are if not given a specific context. However, this is the spirit of real Chinese which emphasizes various understanding and reflection in the world. An individual’s spirit is dissolved with nature, free from any bond. The Chinese is so flexible, elastic and synthetic. On the other hand, English seems rather rigid and must follow the rules that morphology requires it.

1. Andrew Methven MA, A Comparative Study of Natural Word Order in Chinese and English and The Implications for Translation, 2007
2. DU Jia-li, YU Ping-fang, Cognitive deviation originating from the differentsystems between English and Chinese, 2008
3. Heng Guo, Reflections of Hypotaxis, Parataxis and the Implications in Translation, 2007
4. 冯虹, Distinction between Texture Cohesion of English and Chinese Caused by Hypotaxis and Parataxis, 2008
5. 殷召荣, 从形合、意合看古诗增译——个案分析《天净沙•秋思》, 2008
6. 赵善青, 汉英语言的意合与形合, 2009


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