Studies of grammar in prose

The verb 保护

7 March 2016

After many years of struggling to translate English sentences like 'Tariffs are designed to protect industry from foreign competition' into Chinese, I recently decided to go back to basics and figure out the grammar of the word 保护 bǎohù 'to protect'.

Where identifying the danger from which protection is required, English uses expressions like 'protect from' or 'protect against'.

JapaneseWhen using the equivalent words in Japanese or Mongolian, there is no particular problem. For instance, a fairly uncontroversial Japanese equivalent of 'protect from foreign competition' is:

The postposition から kara is roughly equivalent to English 'from'. The Japanese 競争から守る kyōsō kara mamoru 'protect from competition' is thus almost a literal equivalent to the English. 守る mamoru could be replaced by 保護する hogo suru 'to protect', but this is used in exactly the same way:

MongolianThe same applies to Mongolian:

The Mongolian uses the case ending -өөс -öös, which is essentially an ablative meaning 'from'. The Mongolian is therefore also a literal equivalent to the English.

But using a direct Chinese equivalent results in a decidedly awkward, indeed virtually ungrammatical construction:

ChineseRecently I decided to take a look at Internet resources to figure out the correct usage of the Chinese verb 保护 / 保護 bǎohù 'to protect'. Unsurprisingly, I found that 保护 (保護) does not enter into this kind of construction.

Let's look at iCIBA (爱词霸 / 愛詞霸: àicíbà) to see what kind of construction is typically used as an equivalent to English 'protect from' or 'protect against'.

Examples of 保护, as an equivalent of English 'protect' in the kind of construction we are discussing, are as follows. There are quite a few. (We include some examples where English does not use 'protect'):

The common feature is that 保护 is unable to be directly used with an argument equivalent to English 'from xxx' or 'against xxx'. All Chinese versions use additional verbs to express this meaning. The most common one is 免受 miǎnshòu literally meaning 'prevent receiving', that is, to prevent being affected by something.

Others include 防止 fángzhǐ 'to prevent', 免遭 miǎn zāo 'prevent (from) meeting or encountering'.

Some are double verb constructions (保护免受 bǎohù miǎn shòu 'protect and prevent from receiving/being affected by'), others are used in separate clauses (保护遗址免受... bǎohù yízhǐ miǎn shòu 'protect relics to prevent being affected by...').

Other sentences use completely different verb constructions, such as 防遭到 fáng zāodào 'prevent (from) meeting or encountering' and dǎng 'obstruct', 使...不得 shǐ zìjǐ bùdé 'cause ... not to get'.

But none of them follow the English, Japanese, and Mongolian versions.

As a very preliminary generalisation, English, Japanese, and Mongolian all use a classical "ablative" form, whether expressed by case ending, postposition, or preposition, whereas Chinese is prevented from doing so because the usual equivalent to 'from', cóng, is semantically unable to fill the range of roles covered by the ablative.