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How would you translate this?

Just curious.  I wrote up this scenario as part of another thread and I don't want to see it go to waste.

Imagine you have to translate this sentence. It's in Cantonese Chinese
because I'm a native speaker of it (and not Japanese), but from what I
can tell Japanese is actually relatively similar to Chinese, both in its
linguistic roots and in its present-day usage, such as I've described
earlier in this thread, and I'm mentioning Japanese here because I was arguing with someone about video game localization and most videogames needing localization into English are Japanese.

"Toung kui gawng du sai hey guh lah!" (NOTE: Inflection not included because I don't feel like digging up jyutping numbers.)

know, it's not Chinese characters, but that's because (1) Cantonese
uses a lot of spoken language that is rarely written as-is, and (2) I
could still try to look them up but I'm too lazy to do so since it's
past 3 AM here. (I can do it later if you really want.)
I'm copy-pasting myself.  But instead
I'll just tell you the meaning of each word:

* toung = with, and, accompanying
kui = he/she. basic 3rd-person singular pronoun. note that pronouns
are not declined in Chinese. (For the purpose of this scenario, assume
the person being referred to is male.)
* gawng = talk, speak, converse
* du = also, still, too, nevertheless
* sai = waste
* hey = air, gas, breath. "sai hey" is idiomatic, essentially saying that something is a waste of one's breath.
guh lah = these don't have a specific meaning, but are more so used to
indicate the tone of the speaker. In this case, it indicates an
informal, dismissive tone, with this being the last sentence of the
paragraph. (A calmer delivery, or a delivery suggesting more speech to
follow, would just have "guh".)

This sentence is spoken by one
person to a second person, referring to a third person. The first
person is clearly angry with that third person.

Tell me how you
would translate this sentence into English. Feel free to ask me any
questions concerning the nature of the language or idiomatic usage.


  • I'm guessing it says something like 'talking to her is a waste of breath'? I dunno, us not knowing Cantonese or the context or what's being said means we're going at this pretty much blindly.
  • I'm guessing it says something like 'talking to her is a waste of breath'? I dunno, us not knowing Cantonese or the context or what's being said means we're going at this pretty much blindly.

    Yeah, basically.  Sorry, this isn't particularly good since unfortunately I can't throw an actual Japanese line at someone and I can't come up with a better example in any other language.

    I made this example up late last night in order to show that literal translation doesn't really work.

    More incoming copypasta of myself.

    I'd translate it as "Talking to him's a waste of time."

    Instead of "waste of breath" (literally "wasting air"), it's
    "waste of time".  It's not completely the same meaning:
    wasting one's breath refers more to wasting one's energy and effort,
    while I referred to time instead. But, the phrase "waste of time" is
    similarly colloquial and common, and has nearly the same meaning.

    him talking" becomes "talking to him". Sure, I could have
    gone with "talking with him". But the choice of "talking with" or
    "talking to" is, admittedly, context dependent, and in this case it's
    referring to a person at a distance.  There's no such
    preposition difference in Chinese -- or rather, there is a "talking to",
    but that much more strongly implies a one-sided conversation (more like a rant) than it does in English.

    last two words, which indicated the tone of the sentence, are
    completely dropped. No verbal tic replaces them. Instead, the speed of
    the sentence is conveyed using a contraction, "him's" rather than "him

    The tonal suggestion that this would be the last sentence of
    a paragraph is completely lost, because English has no such feature.

    And an article was added, because English has articles while Chinese doesn't.

    the exclamation point is changed to a period. This is because this
    sentence in English doesn't naturally go with a exclamation point unless
    you want to make big point with its meaning, and in this case that's
    not the objective (rather, it's being dismissive and wanting to finish
    something up). The sentence in Chinese works with an exclamation point
    because the last two words let it be "thrown to the winds", and involve
    the inflection being raised, rather than lowered as it would typically
    be in the English sentence.

    If there were a hand motion
    making a dismissive wave to go along with this, it'd be near the
    middle/end of the sentence in Chinese, following "sai hey", but near the
    beginning/middle of the sentence in English, around "him's a waste".

    (And I haven't even gotten into lip flap synching.)

    more literal translation might be "Talking with him wastes effort" or
    "Talking with him wastes time". However, both of these sentences feel
    more formal and less curt and dismissive in English, which was the case
    in the original Chinese, not to mention that "wastes effort" (or "wastes
    your effort") is unusual phrasing. Also, "wastes" does not roll off
    the tongue easily for something that's said quickly and dismissively.
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