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I got this quote from a journal an online associate writes. I provided the translation. Some of the wording in Japanese struck me as strange, so I am wondering about whether in fact this quote is a little strange in tone or is this just a normal way of expressing these kind of sentiments?

牛乳は牛の乳であるが、人間は牛の肉も食ってしまう動物なので、牛にはたいそう世話になっていると言える。

Not only do we drink cow's milk, but humans also eat the meat of cows; we could say that we are reliant on cows for our living.

I thought the use of 動物 to describe humans as animals was somewhat strange, and wonder if this emphasis needed to be included in the translation to be faithful to the original sentiment.

Compare:

人間は牛の肉も食ってしまう動物なので

Humans are an animal that consumes the meat of cows

or maybe

Mankind is just another animal eating the meat of cows

Is the aspect of man being "just another animal" something emphasized in the japanese, or am I reading too much into it?

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Did you notice that your "reading into it" is supported by the fact that it uses 食う rather than 食べる? –  Earthliŋ Feb 6 '13 at 2:41
    
@user1205935, I do not know the subtleties of 食う vs 食べる other than that I have heard 食う used in more informal "guy" talk. I guess it also implies to consume or live off of rather than just "eat"? –  yadokari Feb 6 '13 at 2:55
    
I would say that 食う is a cruder version of 食べる in the sense that it means just "putting food in your mouth chewing it and swallowing it". 食べる means more than that. It means eating in a more civilized sense. I think the choice of 食う goes hand in hand with referring humans as animals. Which they are, but it means more than just stating an objective fact... –  Earthliŋ Feb 6 '13 at 3:11
    
しまう actually corroborates your theory even further. しまう is, as I'm sure you are aware, used for something that happens regrettably. Here, it feels like the speaker is saying the humans consume cow meat without being very aware of their actions, again, going hand-in-hand with their being described as animals. –  Earthliŋ Feb 6 '13 at 3:16
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Note that tabe- did not originally mean "to eat". tabe- < tab- (賜ぶ) is a humble word meaning "to receive". Food that is humbly received is then eaten, which is how it derived this sense. The verb ku(w)- (食う) simply means "to eat". Whether you consider it vulgar or uncivilized, many men will regularly use this word in casual situations. –  Dono Feb 6 '13 at 4:33
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1 Answer

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Like you inferred, describing humans as animals is not a neutral statement here. Humans are described as animals, which, whilst drinking breast milk of cows, devour/consume cow meat.

This animalistic view of the humans is supported by the use of 食う instead of 食べる, which carries a more primal nuance.

The fact that they 食ってしまう implies that the humans are not quite conscious of their action, again emphasizing the animalistic view of humans.

世話になってる is "reliant on" but also carries a sense of "being indebted to" and would probably be the way to describe karma in a native Japanese way...

The translation you give is fine, but trying to cram in all the points above, one by one, one might get something more along the lines of

We get cow's milk from the cow's breast, but we also consume cow's meat like animals, which makes us owe a great deal to (the race of) cows.

(Now I feel like a high school student, just having finished a text interpretation exam.)

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In the quote牛乳は牛の乳であるが, do you think 乳 means milk or breast? I was thinking that here 牛乳 meant "milk consumed by humans" while 乳 meant animal milk. –  yadokari Feb 6 '13 at 17:09
    
乳 can mean both breast as well as (breast)milk. I think the speaker here chose 乳 here, because humans are in a sense not just drinking the shelf-product "milk", but are indirectly breastfed by cows. –  Earthliŋ Feb 6 '13 at 19:29
    
i appreciate your answer, but I would like to quibble with your translation, if not for more than to benefit my learning. In 牛乳は牛の乳であるが、 where do you get " from the cow's breast"? I am thinking that である is just a more literary form of です, but does it imply "from" here? I am thinking that you are extrapolating the meaning you provide from the end of the sentence. If i translate it literally, i would think 牛乳は牛の乳であるが = " Milk(as drunk by humans from cows) is milk from cows but,... " (here i take the "from" to correspond to の). thanks for your help –  yadokari Feb 7 '13 at 4:24
    
Yes, I was trying hard to provide a translation that contrasts the translation you have already. I got the "from" from "の" indeed. The Japanese is reading 牛乳 first as 音読み and then as 訓読み, so lit. "cow's milk is milk from cows", but the second "milk" here also means "breast(milk)". But "cow's milk is the breast of cows" doesn't work in English. Which is why I said "Cow's milk comes from the cow's breast". Now, the sentence talks about "us humans", which is why I ended up with "we" in the first part of the sentence, too... Hope that makes things more clear. –  Earthliŋ Feb 7 '13 at 10:08
    
ok thanks for the insight –  yadokari Feb 7 '13 at 18:10
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