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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:

    海外の競争から守る
    kaigai no kyōsō kara mamoru

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:

    海外の競争から保護する
    kaigai no kyōsō kara hogo suru

MongolianThe same applies to Mongolian:

    гадаадын өрсөлдөөнөөс хамгаалах
    gadaadin örsöldöönöös xamgaalax

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:

    从竞争保护 (從競爭保護)
    cóng jìngzheng bǎohù

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'):

保护环境, 防止污染
bǎohù huánjìng, fángzhǐ wūrán
protect the environment against pollution’
这样的法规可以保护消费者免受有害或者危险药品的威胁。
zhèyàng de fǎguī kěyǐ bǎohù xiāofèizhě miǎn shòu yǒuhài huòzhě wéixiǎn yàopǐn de wēixié
‘Such laws could protect the consumer from harmful or dangerous remedies’
问题是要保护遗址免受房地产开发商的侵占。
wèntí shi yào bǎohù yízhǐ miǎn shòu fángdìchǎn kāifāshāng de qīnzhàn
‘The problem was to safeguard sites from encroachment by property development.’
它可以保护免受风、太阳等环境因素的危害。
tā kěyǐ bǎohù miǎn shòu fēng, tàiyáng děng huánjìng yīnsù de wéihài
‘It protects against environmental hazards such as wind and sun.’
需要保护你的手臂和双腿免受玻璃反射光线的照射。
xūyào bǎohù nǐ de shǒubì hé shuāng tuǐ miǎn shòu bōlí fǎnshè-guāngxiàn de zhàoshè
‘Your arms and legs need protection from light bouncing off glass.’
已经派出部队保护援助工作人员免遭袭击。
yǐjīng pàichū bùduì bǎohù yuánzhù gōngzuò rényuán miǎn zāo xíjí
‘Troops have been sent to protect aid workers against attack.’
那么,女性怎样做才能使自己不得心脏病呢?
nàme, nǚxìng zěnyàng zuò cáinéng shǐ zìjǐ bùdé xīnzàngbìng ne?
‘So, what can women do to protect themselves from heart disease?’
许多厂家都购买了保险,以防遭到敲诈。
xǔduō chǎngjiā dōu gòumǎile bǎoxiǎn, yǐ fáng zāo-dào qiāozhà
‘Many manufacturers have policies to protect themselves against blackmailers.’
一件薄薄的羊毛长外套和一条紫色的头巾为她了风。
yī jiàn báo báo de yángmáo zhǎng wàitào hé yītiáo zǐsè de tóujīn wèi tā dǎngle fēng
‘A long thin wool coat and a purple headscarf protected her against the wind’

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.