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Using 是-sentences for events, news, or missions

19 April 2016 (later expanded)

I've already done two posts (here and here) on the way that it is possible in Chinese grammar to straightforwardly equate a noun to a sentence by using 是 shì 'to be', that is:

    Noun 是 [ sentence ]

In cases like this, English would require the embedded sentence to be wrapped in a grammatical structure of some kind. For example, the verb in the sentence could be transformed into a gerund using '-ing' (a nominal construction), or the sentence could be converted into a clause of time or manner.

I've since come across several other interesting examples of 是-sentence constructions in Chinese.

One is at an article about the repatriation to China of Taiwanese committing crimes overseas. The first sentence was:

近日最热门的新闻,是 [ 45名台湾人被从肯尼亚遣送到中国大陆 ]。
jìnrì zuì rèmén de xīnwén, shì [ sìshíwǔ-míng táiwān-rén bèi cóng kěnnìyà qiǎnsòng dào zhōngguó dàlù ]
Recently one of the hottest news topics, is [ 45 Taiwanese were repatriated from Kenya to Mainland China ]

In English, the content of the news would need to be expressed as:

    Recently one of the hottest news topics is how 45 Taiwanese were repatriated from Kenya to Mainland China (use of 'how' in a clause of manner is slightly colloquial)

    Recently one of the hottest news topics is that 45 Taiwanese were repatriated from Kenya to Mainland China (the sentence is converted into a noun clause, 'the fact that')

    Recently one of the hottest news topics is the repatriation of 45 Taiwanese from Kenya to Mainland China (the verb is converted into a noun)

Chinese does not need to fuss with the rather awkward mechanics that is forced on English by its need for 'structure'. It is possible to say "the hot news is 45 Taiwanese were repatriated", without converting into nouns or clauses.

Note the punctuation of the Chinese. The topic of the sentence, 'hot news', is isolated from the sentence by a comma.

Several more examples are from the science fiction novel 三体 sāntǐ by Liu Cixin. One sentence runs:

我们这次会议的任务,就是 [ 讨论行动方案,最后确定一至三个最可行的上报总部 ] 。
wǒmen zhè cì huìyì de rènwu, jiù shi [ tǎolùn xíngdòng fāng'àn, zuìhòu quèdìng yī zhì sān gè zuì kěxíng de shàngbào zǒngbù ]
Our task this meeting is [ discuss action plans, finalise one to three most viable (plans), and submit (them) to headquarters ]

This again equates a noun (任务 rènwu 'mission') to a clause or sentence. (Note again the use of a comma after 任务 rènwu 'task, mission'.) Unlike other sentences we've seen, however, the content of the sentence is not past events or actions, but future actions. This affects how the clause/sentence is translated into English. Normally it will be translated using the to infinitive.

    Our task this meeting is to discuss action plans, finalise one to three most viable plans, and submit them to headquarters.

Other possibilities are clumsier and less likely:

    Our task this meeting is that we should discuss action plans, finalise one to three most viable plans, and submit them to headquarters.

(For discussion of 上报 shàngbào 'submit', see Valency of 上报.)

Another example is:

我们要达到目标的唯一途径,就是 [ 全面占领和控制‘审判日’号 ] ,这中间最困难的,就是 [ 在攻击行动中避免敌人删除三体信息 ] 。
wǒmen yào dádào mùbiāo dì wéiyī tújìng, jiùshì [ quánmiàn zhànlǐng hé kòngzhì ‘shěnpàn rì’ hào ] , zhè zhōngjiān zuì kùnnán de, jiùshì [ zài gōngjí xíngdòng zhōng bìmiǎn dírén shānchú sāntǐ xìnxī ]
The only way to achieve our goal is [ fully occupy and control the 'Judgment Day' ] ; of this the most difficult is [ prevent the enemy from deleting three-body information during the attack operations ].

This sentence contains two examples. The first equates 途径 tújīng 'way' to the clause/sentence 全面占领和控制‘审判日’号 quánmiàn zhànlǐng hé kòngzhì ‘shěnpàn rì’ hào 'fully occupy and control the "Judgment Day"'.

The second omits the noun. The expression 最困难的 zuì kùnnán de 'the most difficult' can be understood as something like 最困难的事情 zuì kùnnán de shìqing 'the most difficult thing'. This is equated to the clause/sentence 在攻击行动中避免敌人删除三体信息 zài gōngjí xíngdòng zhōng bìmiǎn dírén shānchú sāntǐ xìnxī 'prevent the enemy from deleting three-body information during the attack operations'. As in the previous example, the events are in the future, not the past.

The best way to translate these into English is again to use the to infinitive.

    'The only way to achieve our goal is [ to fully occupy and control the 'Judgment Day' ] ; of this the most difficult is [ to prevent the enemy from deleting three-body information during the attack operations ].'

Other possibilities include nominalisations and gerunds:

    'The only way to achieve our goal is [ full occupation and control of the 'Judgment Day' ] ; of this the most difficult is [ preventing the enemy from deleting three-body information during the attack operations ].'

Another sentence is:

如果目标距离不明,整个舰队最终的结局就是 [ 坠入宇宙深渊 ]
rúguǒ mùbiāo jùlí bùmíng, zhěnggè jiànduì zuìzhōng de jiéjú jiùshì [ zhuì rù yǔzhòu shēnyuān ]
If the distance to the target is unclear, the final outcome of the entire fleet is [ be plunged into the abyss of the universe ]

This again is a future prediction, and the normal way to render it in English is to use the to infinitive.

What these cases all suggest is the difficulties that Chinese speakers might have in dealing with English. Where Chinese can use a simple -sentence, in which the object of 是 is a sentence (an embedded sentence), English requires the use of appropriate grammatical structures, which vary with the style, time setting, etc.

Examples at earlier posts were:

他最后一次“现身”据信是 [ 14日晨穿过边境从法国回到比利时 ]
Tā zuì hòu yīcì “xiàn shēn” jù xìn shì [ 14 rì chén chuānguò biānjìng cóng fàguó huí dào bǐlìshí ]
His most recent "appearance" is believed to be [ on the morning of the 14th (he) crossed the border from France back to Belgium ]

and

我记忆中最早的一件事,是 [ 提着家里唯一的一把热水瓶去公共食堂打开水 ]。
wǒ jìyì-zhōng zuì zǎo de yì-jiàn shì, shì [ tí-zhe jiā-li wéiyī de yī-bǎ rèshuǐ-píng qù gōnggòng shítáng dǎ kāishuǐ ]
The earliest incident in my memory was [ I carried our family's only thermos to go to the public canteen to fetch boiling water ]