A list of seven names for the Chinese language in Mandarin, and decoding them all! I thought this would be a nice way to ease back into thinking (and writing) about Chinese language and linguistics.
In my last post I introduced THIRTY common words all pronounced “shi”. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that with so many homophones, Mandarin has some fantastic tongue-twisters. And by “fantastic” I mean “utterly impossible to recite”.
Today I’m going to introduce you to words pronounced “shi” – a great example of the wonderful confusion that is homophones in Mandarin. There are TWO HUNDRED characters for the sound “shi”and I use at least 30 of them. They are split up between different tones, but still that’s a whole lot of shi.
The phrase “I love you” is used very differently in Chinese than in English. For many people the phrase 我爱你 just feels/sounds wrong. Last year a video of Chinese young adults saying “I love you” to their parents – and the parents’ shocked reactions – went viral.
In Chinese certain numbers “mean” certain things. This makes phone numbers a bit of fun in China. Companies often try to play on numbers to make something memorable. Sichuan Airlines famously spent $300,000 on a phone number. The number string 5201314 means “I will love you forever”.
You might assume that as a language of pictograms, Chinese would have no acronyms. I always did. Turns out I was wrong. Chinese has a cleverly simple way to create standard abbreviations even with no phonetic alphabet.
I enjoy having an outlet for my thoughts and I am constantly surprised that many other people are interested in those thoughts. As this year comes to a close I’ve been looking back over this year’s overlap between what I find interesting and what you find interesting – the posts that received the most traffic in 2014.
I’ve been studying Khmer – the ninth language I’ve studied in a classroom. These days both English and Chinese grammar feel natural to me – neither is awkward. But Khmer falls so in between that I get confused. The feeling that I’m mixing two individually comfortable but different grammars gets me all turned around!
Of the three tonal languages I’ve studied Mandarin has the easiest tones to learn. What most English speakers don’t realise is that we also use tones every day! We use a rising tone to turn a statement into a question. One of the best examples I can think of to explain is the word “okay”.
To learn language well means going beyond translating English thoughts into Chinese, instead expressing myself in wholly Chinese thoughts – to see the world through that lens. To not be chained to “front” as “future” and “behind” as “past”.
Two of the first characters Chinese children are taught to write in school are 上 and 下. Both words are used all day, every day, in many different ways. 上 is on, over, above, up; 下 is under, below, down. But wait, there’s more!
Imagine you are at a party at someone’s house when suddenly a house plant starts talking to you. Perhaps you would ignore it, ask if the person next to you heard it, or try talking back while laughing at the situation. I am that house plant.