May 23, 2012

虚词"很":empty word "very"

The Chinese empty word (虚词) "很" means "very". This translation is straightforward and universally accepted. But there's one little subtlety in its actual usage: "很" is used more often in Chinese than "very" in English. This causes some descriptions using an adjective in Chinese not really "very" much so (if everything is very good, nothing is really that good). For instance, "He's good", "He's good at playing cards" may be translated as "他很好", "他很会打牌", although they can also be "他不错", "他牌打得[很]好". The sentence "他很好" is not likely to be changed to "他好", which sounds odd, and "他很会打牌" may be misunderstood if shortened to "他会打牌" ("He knows how to play cards"). The apparently superfluous "很" serves no purpose other than making the sentence sound more native. But translators may not realize this and tend to literally translate "很" to "very". This practice seems to be particularly widespread among the translators living in China. The correct way to deal with "很" is to review the context and ignore it if it does not really carry the meaning of "very".

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