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Thread: Translating prepositions

  1. #61
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    Default Re: Translating prepositions

    Quote Originally Posted by Eric View Post
    Where would most of you use "at" when referring to place? With time it's pretty clear, but "at the door" is not the same as "by the door". And "at Reading" is not the same as "in Reading".
    After speaking English for almost 50 years and doing so second-naturedly, I'm still puzzled as to the proper usage of prepositions and at, in, on and by referring to a place are the most mysterious to me. I think it all boils down to intuition.

  2. #62
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    Default Re: Translating prepositions

    Well, Stiffelio, you needn't worry, even between the USA and the UK there are differences, such as "in school" (USA) and "at school" (UK). If you use "at" with a place name, at least in UK English, you mean at the university in that town or city. "He was at Oxford" (university, as a student) versus "in Oxford" (to visit someone or do his shopping in the centre). "At table" or "at the table" means sitting round the table, as opposed to wandering round the room at mealtimes. But there are various less obviously logical usages such as "at best" and "at worst".

  3. #63
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    Default Re: Translating prepositions

    The last posts made me think about the difference between, for instance, "at school" and "at the school" (it has to do more with articles than with propositions, but I don't think there's a thread about translating articles): in the first case it would refer to a boy who regularly goes to school to study, in the second one it would refer to someone else, for example a parent (and in this case the primary function of the school is not involved). Anyway, I used to consider this difference weird, but I've realised that that's exactly what we do in Italian as well: "il ragazzo va a scuola" (the boy goes to school, no article), "il genitore va alla scuola a parlare con l'insegnante" (the parent goes to the school to speak to the teacher).
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  4. #64
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    Default Re: Translating prepositions

    As far as I know, the English-language school thing is roughly as Loki suggests:

    British English has "at school" meaning "not at home ill, or on holiday". The Americans tend to say "in school" for this, as far as I know, but you would have to ask an American. "At the school" for Brits would be more geographical than institutional. So, for example: "Parking facilities at the school were not ideal". Or: "The fire at the school was quickly put out".

    One thing of Loki's comments that is important is: if you think some other language does it weirdly, examine your own language, and you may be surprised to find that the foreign langauge has the same way of using a preposition or article as your own.

  5. #65
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    Default Re: Translating prepositions

    Sometimes a preposition appears to somehow get in the way in English syntax.

    For axample, if you start out with the idea that someone fought for, or over, a city meaning that people fought to gain it, you could say:

    "The city that was fought for" and "The city that was fought over".

    But much rarer and slightly poetic or stilted is "The fought-for city" or "The fought-over city". Whereas that construction is quite common in quite a few European languages.

    So you get increasing oddness in English with these three sentences:

    1) He went down the street.
    2) The street was gone down.
    3) The gone-down street.

  6. #66
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    Default Re: Translating prepositions

    I'm helping a student perfect his English and prepositions are indeed the worst things, often got wrong in other languages, not least when people have an agglutinative language as their mother-tongue.

    In how many languages do people, for example, say "on the bus / train" (as in English), and how many the equivalent of "in the bus / train"?

  7. #67
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    Default Re: Translating prepositions

    Quote Originally Posted by Eric View Post

    In how many languages do people, for example, say "on the bus / train" (as in English), and how many the equivalent of "in the bus / train"?
    I can only tell about Japanese and Romance languages, but, in most of them, being inside/riding a vehicle is expressed by the equivalent of the English preposition "in":
    Port. no/na (no trem), Fran. dans (dans le train), Span. en (en el tren), Jap. no naka/ni (kuruma no naka/densha ni noru).

    It is my general impression that the equivalent to the English preposition 'on' is used mostly for things/beings placed 'on top of' and not contained/enveloped inside, in which case the equivalent of the English preposition 'in' is used.

    By the way, there is this classic Haggard the Horrible strip where, while in France and being a Viking, he demands 'Wine on the house', which is translated as 'Vin sur la maison' and he ends up drinking on the roof.
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  8. #68
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    Default Re: Translating prepositions

    Quote Originally Posted by Cleanthess View Post
    I can only tell about Japanese and Romance languages, but, in most of them, being inside/riding a vehicle is expressed by the equivalent of the English preposition "in":
    Port. no/na (no trem), Fran. dans (dans le train), Span. en (en el tren), Jap. no naka/ni (kuruma no naka/densha ni noru).

    It is my general impression that the equivalent to the English preposition 'on' is used mostly for things/beings placed 'on top of' and not contained/enveloped inside, in which case the equivalent of the English preposition 'in' is used.

    By the way, there is this classic Haggard the Horrible strip where, while in France and being a Viking, he demands 'Wine on the house', which is translated as 'Vin sur la maison' and he ends up drinking on the roof.
    As in every rule, there are exceptions. You described the 'in' preposition in Romance languages. In Italian you would say "sul treno", which would be the equivalent of 'on' the train...and I've also heard 'sur le train' for French but, alas, 'dans le Métro'. I think you only get prepositions right in a given language if you are born and raised speaking that particular language.

  9. #69
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    Default Re: Translating prepositions

    As for the train / bus thing, I know no Japanese or, indeed, any non-European language (unless it is an originally European language that is now also spoken very widely outside Europe, such as English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese). But within Europe, the preposition, postposition (i.e. preposition put after the word instead of in front) or ending (in the case of Hungarian, Finnish, Estonian, Turkish, Basque, etc.) cannot always be translated with the same word. With buses and trains you have the "on" languages anmd the "in" languages:

    English (British): on the bus, on the train
    Dutch: in de bus, in de trein (in)
    Swedish: på bussen, på tåget (on)
    German: auf dem Buss, im Zug (mixture: on, in)
    Russian. na poezde, na avtobuse (on)
    Finnish: bussissa, junalla (mixture: in, on)

    And so on. Stiffelio also points out the French situation. Even if you're only talking about buses and trains, you cannot guarantee that the same preposition will be used for both (hence the word "mixture" above. And those are only two expressions of thousands requiring a specific preposition.

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