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Quand on l'a tiré à la carabine as translated in 'The Little Prince'
Chinese versions


Je sentais battre son cœur comme celui d'un oiseau qui meurt, quand on l'a tiré à la carabine.

The last part of this sentence, quand on l'a tiré à la carabine, literally means 'when one has shot it with a carbine'. In the English versions, it is variously translated as 'shot with someone's rifle', 'brought down by a rifle shot', and 'that's been shot'.

Looking at our 51 Chinese translations, we find three ways of translating this fragment. The most interesting are the first two, which reflect the difference between Westernised modern Chinese on the one hand, and the lingering effects of the laconic Classical style on the other.

TYPE 1. A passive construction using 被 bèi, used by a total of 29 translators. This is very close to the structure of English, although somewhat different from the French, which uses the indefinite pronoun on. Overall, translations from the English (18 occurrences) are more likely to use this than those from the French (11 translations).

The sentence pattern comes in four flavours, depending on whether the agent or instrument is expressed. 'Instrument only' is predominant. 'Agent + instrument' is also fairly common.

These four sentence structures may be shown as follows:

Passive marker
'with' (using rifle as example)
Agent and Instrument bèi rén 用槍 / 用枪 yòng qiāng 擊中 / 击中 jízhòng / jīzhōng
Agent only bèi rén -- 擊中 / 击中 jízhòng / jīzhōng
Instrument only bèi -- / qiāng (includes 人的槍/) 擊中 / 击中 jízhòng / jīzhōng
Neither bèi -- -- 擊中 / 击中 jízhòng / jīzhōng

(Note that the pronunciation of the simplified characters 击中 is standardised as jīzhòng on the Mainland; the traditional characters 擊中 are pronounced jízhòng).

In addition, there is one translator who adds 受伤 shòushāng 'wounded' after the above sentence to yield 被枪击中受伤 bèi qiāng jīzhòng shòushāng 'shot by a gun and injured'.

There is quite a bit of variation within this pattern. In particular, translators use a variety of words for 'gun' and for 'shoot'. The following table summarises them:

Passive marker
Aspect particle


擊中 / 击中
jízhòng / jīzhòng
'shoot and hit'


    來福槍 / 来福枪
'shoot and hit'
        卡賓槍 / 卡宾枪
'shoot and hit'
'hunting rifle'
'shoot and hit'
lièrén de qiāngzhī
'hunter's rifle'
'shoot and wound'
        槍彈 / 枪弹
        子彈 / 子弹

The greatest variety is found in the 'instrument'.

Shot by a gun

Twenty translations talk of a bird shot by a gun. Among the different words for 'gun', the five who use 来福枪 láifú-qiāng 'rifle' are translating from the English; the three who use 卡宾枪 kǎbīn-qiāng 'carbine' are translating from the French.

The semantics of gun types is rather confusing. Using Wikipedia and its linguistic cross-referencing:

Language Type of gun
French Carabine militaire Carabine de chasse
English Carbine Rifle
Chinese 卡宾枪 kǎbīn-qiāng 'kabin gun'
马枪 mǎqiāng 'horse gun'
骑枪 qíqiāng 'riding gun'
步枪 bùqiāng 'walking gun'
來福槍 láifú-qiāng 'laifu-gun'

The carabine militaire ('military carbine') or carbine is shorter than the carabine de chasse ('hunting carbine') or rifle. As the name suggests, it is mainly for military use. Chinese names identify the carbine for use by cavalry. The hunting rifle, on the other hand, has a longer barrel and the Chinese name suggests use by infantry.

Since the carabine referred to by Saint Exupéry is used to shoot birds, it is presumably a hunting weapon, not a military one. In that sense, the use of the translation 卡宾枪 kǎbīn-qiāng by several Chinese translators is off the mark. This is a cautionary example against being misled by form without considering meaning.

Shot with a bullet

A further six translators speak of being 'hit by a bullet' (槍彈 / 枪弹 qiāngdàn 'bullet'). (By the way, translations using 'bullet' don't mention an agent. That is, there are no sentences that go 'shot by a person with a bullet'.) The relative popularity of 'shot with a bullet' is interesting. Perhaps it is related to the existence of the expression 中彈 / 中弹 zhòngdàn (see below).

All of the verbs used in this phrase are resultatives. In resultatives, the first verb indicates the action, the second indicates the result (see Resultative Complements and The Complement of Result). For the most common form, 擊中 jízhòng / 击中 jīzhòng, the main verb is or 'to hit, attack'. zhòng 'strike, be on target, hit' is the resultative. Similarly for the other verbs.

TYPE 2. Use of the verb 中 zhòng 'be hit by'. This is passive in meaning but not in form. This sentence pattern is classically Chinese in its structure. It is used by 17 translators. Translators from the French use it more often (11 instances) those from the English (5 instances). There is one translation source unknown.

zhòng is a concise and elegant way of translating the clause. The actual occurrences are:

中彈 / 中弹 zhòngdàn 'be hit by a bullet' 11
中槍 / 中枪 zhòngqiāng 'be shot with a gun' 2
中了枪弹 zhòng le qiāng-dàn 'be hit by a bullet' 2
中了步枪 zhòng le bù-qiāng 'hit by a rifle' 1
中了來福槍彈 zhòng le láifú-qiāng-dàn 'be hit by a rifle bullet' 1

In the first two, 中弹 zhòngdàn and 中枪 zhòngqiāng appear to be single words, but the last two examples show how hard it is to identify words in Chinese. In these examples, the verb zhòng appears to stand alone as an independent word.

A good number (but not all) of the translations with 中弹 zhòngdàn or 中枪 zhòngqiāng use it in combination with 垂死 chuísǐ, 濒死 bīnsǐ, or 临死 línsǐ, all meaning 'on the verge of death'. This condenses the French form qui meurt, quand on l'a tiré à la carabine into a succinct four-character expression meaning simply 'shot and dying', e.g. 中弹垂死 zhòngdàn chuísǐ.

TYPE 3. Receive a wound: The third sentence pattern is used by only five translators, four translating from the French, one from the English. It involves expressions meaning 'receive a gun wound' or 'receive a gun shot':

遭受槍傷 / 遭受枪伤 zāoshòu qiāngshāng 'receive a gun wound'
遭受枪击 zāoshòu qiāngjī 'receive a gun shot'
受到枪弹射击 shòudào qiāngdàn shèjī 'receive bullet shooting'


For reference, the following is a list of translations of quand on l'a tiré à la carabine.

0 Original quand on l'a tiré à la carabine  
1 Woods 1943 shot with someone's rifle  
2 Cuffe 1995 brought down by a rifle shot  
3 Testot-Ferry 1995 shot with someone's rifle  
4 Wakeman 1997 (dying of) gunshot wounds.  
5 Howard 2000 that's been shot  
1 Shī 1991 中了來福槍彈 E
2 Sòng 1992 中彈 E
3 Yáo 1994 遭受槍傷 F
4 Chén 1998 被槍擊中受傷 E
6 Wú 1999 被槍擊中 E
7 Lǐ & Yè 2000 被來福槍擊中 E
7 Mǎ 2000 被卡賓槍射中 F
8 Máo 2000 被猎枪击中了 F
9 Xuē 2000 被枪击中 E
10 Zhōu 2000 中彈 F
11 Translator unknown 2000 被枪弹击中 F
12 Ài 2001 遭受枪伤 F
13 Chén 2001 中槍 ?
14 Mǎ 2001 中彈 F
15 Wú & Dǒng 2001 被人用卡賓槍擊中了 F
16 Zhāng 2001 被人用槍擊中了 F
17 Dù 1998 被人用槍擊中 E
18 Lǐ-1 2002 中槍 E
19 Lǐ-2 2002 中了枪弹 E
20 Zhōu 2002 被枪弹击中 F
21 Chéng 2003 被人射中 E
22 Dài 2003 被来福枪击中 E
23 Lín 2003 中弹 F
24 Xū 2003 中弹 F
25 Zhèng 2003 被子弹打中 E
26 Bái 2004 给猎枪射中了 E
27 Cāo & Féng 2004 被枪打中 E
28 Liú 2004 中枪 E
29 Lóng 2004 被枪弹击中 F
30 Lǚ 2004 被枪击中 E
31 Táng 2004 中弹 F
32 Wú 2004 被枪弹击中 E
33 Yáng 2004 被來福槍打到 E
34 Ài 2005 遭受枪伤 E
35 Guō 2005 中弹 F
36 Huáng 2005 中弹 F
37 Xiāo 2005 被打伤 F
38 Bā 2006 被来福枪击中 E
39 Chén & Huǒ 2006 被击中 F
40 Dà 2006 被来福枪射中 E
41 Hóng 2006 被猎人的枪支击中 E
42 Liǔ 2006 中弹 F
43 Mǎ 2006 被人用枪打中 E
44 Zhōu 2006 中了枪弹 F
45 Zǐ 2006 遭受枪击 F
46 Wáng & Qián 2008 被枪击中 F
47 Wú 2008 受到枪弹射击而垂死的 F
52 Yì ND Not available F
53 Translator unknown ND-1 被人用卡賓槍擊中了 F
54 Translator unknown ND-2 Not available E
1a Chéng 2002 -- ?
2a Zhū 2004 中弹  
4a Dòu & Liú 2005 -- F
5a Fù 2006 被枪弹击中 F


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