This is a sentence taken from a textbook on translation:

(Original sentence) Aside from abnormally lazy people, there would be very few who would not want to earn more than the minimum.

The standard translation for this (translated back to English by myself) is

(Standard translation) Aside from abnormally lazy people, there would be very few who would want to earn barely more than the minimum.

Edit: An answer says this standard answer is hard to understand. I am not sure why it is hard to understand. Even harder than the original? The standard answer is given in my native language, and means exactly as written above. Anyway, please note that, in my native language the standard answer implies that "most people want to earn a lot of than the minimum", in case anyone else finds it hard to understand.

Questions: I think the original sentence could be ambigious because I can interpret it in two ways:

Aside from abnormally lazy people, there would be very few who would not want to earn (a lot) more than the minimum = most people want to earn a lot more than the minimum.


Aside from abnormally lazy people, there would be very few who would not want to earn (barely) more than the minimum = most people want to earn barely more than the minimum. (although this doesn't make much sense in the context)

  1. Is the original sentence correct? Does it make sense? Does it sound natural to native speakers

  2. What does the original sentence mean? Does it mean the same as the standard answer?

Edit: I've found the source of this sentence: The Sane Society by Fromm and Anderson. I guess this answers my first question automatically. Now, given this context, what would the original sentence mean, if explained in a less twisty way?


The "standard translation" version is not the same.

The original is quite twisty with "would not want to" and "very few." Let's try to make a somewhat more clear version.

First, let's just stop talking about "abnormally lazy" people. I have notions about why that's in there. But it's mostly a distraction here. Let's just look at the part after the comma.

It talks about "very few who would not" so let's try that in the other direction. If very few "would not" then presumably, almost everybody would.

Almost everybody wants to earn more than the minimum.

Note that it does not say how much more they would want. It could be they want to earn only a little more. Or it could be they are alarmingly avaricious. Or there could be a range.

Now let's look at your "standard translation" version. Simplifying that the same way gives the following.

Very few want to earn slightly more than the minimum.

Now notice that this does not tell us anything about the bulk of people. We only know about "very few." The people not in that "very few" might want to earn a large amount more. Or they might not care. Or they might even not want to earn anything.

So it's not the same as the original.

Moving on to your alternatives in the last half of the question. Neither of them is equivalent to the original. The original does not mention how much more people want above the minimum. Neither "a lot" nor "barely." Also, it can't be "most people" because "most" means more than half. So "less than half" is not the same as "very few."

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  • I believe the first half of the sentence is used to provide context. I just found the source of the original context (see my edited question). I believe the amount of "how much more than the minimum" is implied by the context; otherwise writing such a sentence would simply confuse the reader. – trisct Mar 5 at 0:46

I wouldn't call the original 'ambiguous', because it doesn't try to quantify how much more than minimum is meant. It is just non-specific about that. Your translation is hard to understand, because it removes a negation and adds a nuance not contained in the original, the word "barely".

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  • I don't know...it seems to me that being non-specific about something that is important in understanding a sentence is exactly what ambiguity is. – trisct Mar 5 at 0:53
  • To me, 'more than minimum' and 'barely more than minimum' are not important for understanding the sentence, so I don't find it ambiguous. YMMV. – Jack O'Flaherty Mar 8 at 2:24

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