Translation:There are six birds in the tree.
Great example of the difference in space representation for English and Chinese. I've talked to Chinese speakers who find it quite curious that English represents this scenario as if the birds were inside (i.e. embedded in) the tree; for English speakers looking at the Chinese, I guess our first guess may be that the birds are at the top/apex of the tree.
Well, this makes it even more difficult for non-native English speakers.
In German, for example, the birds would also be auf dem Baum lit. ‘on the tree‘.
It's quite unintuitive having to translate the Chinese sentence that works much like it would in my native language differently to English.
In Greek as well. The birds are always "on the tree". If you say they are in the tree you imply they are trapped inside its trank or something.
It might be a different conceptualization of "tree." I.e., when we think of "tree" in English, we're focusing on the whole as one enfolding shape--not just the trunk but also the foliage. To be within the extension of tree branches is to be "in the tree," same as to be "in the bushes." So the birds are "in the tree" because they are within the spatial parameters of tree-ness.
could 木 be used instead of 树? (still trying to understand how single characters are used when they can have the same meaning as others)
I was also wondering about the difference between 木 and 树. Are they interchangeable?
While both can be defined as "tree" in dictionaries, on its own 木 usually means wood(en). When it's used in a compound (with another character) 木 can mean tree though. This page has some helpful info:
木 means wood. and even if you want to say there are six birds on the log, you would say 木头上有六只鸟。
yes, and it can be used as a counting word for other animals such as 猫 and 狗 as well!
Where are the birds now? On the tree ir in the tree? This very cinfusung when sometimes exact translation is required and sometimes not. Too ambiguous for my taste.
If we go with the English preposition of 'in' being correct, then 'In the tree are six birds' should also suffice.