I have been typing into Google Translate and Yabla all day (Yabla is basically a Chinese glossing tool), trying to get a sense at how simple English sentences with prepositions are translated into Mandarin Chinese, and for the most part, it strips the prepositions (and obviously removes the "the's"). I asked a similar question on the Chinese SE if that helps give context as to where I'm coming from: How do you describe Chinese words when you are learning Chinese? (I still don't know Chinese, speaking-wise, though I have read through a bunch of the sentence templates and such on that site).
My overall question is, how does Chinese convey "the same meaning" as English, with using so many fewer words? The obvious answer I have read everywhere is "context", you get the information from context. But not having invested the weeks/months yet into becoming a Chinese speaker (so many TODOs on the list!), I am hard-pressed to understand how this would work at a conceptual level.
Chinese doesn't have a word for "the" (denoting one or more people or things already mentioned or assumed to be common knowledge.). "The" is the most popular word in English. It focuses your attention on "the" thing. Asking ChatGPT about how to get by in Chinese without "the", it talks about possibly using "this" and "that" equivalents in Chinese (e.g. "this book" or "that book"). But that is not the same as "the" IMO. You can't say "walk the walk and talk the talk" in Chinese it seems like. It would be "walk walk talk talk" if anything. But these "the" workarounds don't capture the exact same essence as the meaning of "the" in English, so I feel like stuff is lost.
Then I move onto sentences with prepositions.
- "books about care": [to concern + to nurse + possessive particle + books]
- "the tree out beyond the desert": [desert + yonder + possessive particle + tree] (somewhat similar, but not the exact same meaning).
- "the bird above and beyond the clouds": [clouds + above + possessive particle + bird]
- "the cactus has a flower sprouting out from above the spikes": [cactus + possessive particle + point + thorn + on top + side + sprout + completion + a + flower]
That third one is missing "beyond", maybe these are all google translate errors? The last one is missing the subtlety that is included in the English sentence. It doesn't include the fact that the flower is above the spikes, or that it's sprouting "out from" the cactus (painting that vivid mental imagery), or even that the cactus "has a" flower. It has the what I would assume are "basic elements" of the sentence, but not the subtleties.
Is it possible to convey the subtleties of English across other languages (or to keep it focused, just even Chinese)? Or is it lossy sort of thing? Because Chinese doesn't have all the features of English (fewer than English's ~150 pronouns, and no "the", etc.), how can it possibly say what an English sentence says?
This probably comes down to a general problem of how to translate between languages, and capture the "exact meaning". Plus google translate it obviously probably flawed in what I'm using it for here. But it's hard to tell what you should be capturing if it is not possible to capture the exact same meaning.
Just looking for a high level answer to this conundrum, so I can being wrapping my mind around how a language lacking such features is able to "still convey everything English can". Obviously I am highly biased being a native English speaker not really able to think too much outside of the English box (at this moment, though I've been trying hard for a while).