Chinese Corner

Sober, My Favorite Kind of Beer

Mandarin malapropisms across the Taiwan Strait – Ash Henson

Words mean what they mean. Or, do they? Say you're an American on vacation in England. You go to a restaurant and ask the nice waiter for a “napkin.” You might get a look of horror instead of a cloth or paper to dab your lips with. That’s what a napkin is in American English, but in British English, it can also mean a sanitary pad. We may both be native English speakers, but your “napkin” isn’t my “napkin.”

Now imagine going to a pub in Taipei with your friend. We'll call him Harvond. When the waitress asks him what he wants to drink, he says, in perfect Mandarin, “Nothing for the moment.” Thirty seconds later, she puts a bottle of Carlsberg in front of him. He and you look at each other with that, “Wait. What?!” look on your faces. Are we speaking the same language?

Chinese Corner

Nine Tones of Hell

How to be toneful in Cantonese – Rosalyn Shih

If you are intimidated by the prospect of learning Mandarin because it’s a tonal language, you might as well give up on Cantonese right now. I’ve directed my share of hope-dashing hyperbole towards Mandarin-learning friends, but perhaps the exaggeration is warranted:

“There are tones that the Cantonese use only when they argue.”

“There are some Cantonese tones that only dogs can hear.”

Chinese Corner

Of Rice Bunnies and Grass-Mud Horses

Punning the system – Anne Henochowicz

How do you say  #MeToo in Mandarin? Not how you might expect: it’s all about the rice bunny.

This cute mascot is a linguistic response to a very uncute situation. The first Mandarin variations on the #MeToo hashtag to appear at the end of 2017 include the direct translation #Wǒyěshì (#我也是#) as well as #MeTooinChina (#WǒyěshìzàiZhōngguó #我也是在中国#). Of the many women who came forward to share their stories, one drew particular attention: a graduate student whose former doctoral advisor had tried to force himself on her posted her story anonymously to the Quora-esque site Zhihu in October. In the new year, she republished her story under her real name on Weibo. Shortly after Luo Xixi’s post went viral, her advisor, Chen Xiaowu, lost his job. Women were heartened and #MeTooinChina gained momentum, speaking out about the harassment they have suffered on campus and in the workplace and circulating petitions for their universities to address the issue head-on. Unfortunately, China’s party-state apparatus pounces at any hint of a social movement. Soon women soon found their stories and petitions had been deleted, while #MeToo posts disappeared from search results.

Chinese Corner

Smartphone Dialects

When tech meets heritage – William Sack

As a young Kentuckian, I once came home from kindergarten pronouncing my name, Will, as “Whee-y’all,” a three-syllable word – my mother was horrified. The correct pronunciation was learned before I left for school the next day. In China and the US alike, you speak your social role.

I recently went on a multi-month escapade to learn the Northeast dialect of Mandarin, also known as Dōngběihuà (东北话), literally the “speech” (huà) of the Northeast (Dōngběi). During that time I came across a surprising answer to a seemingly simple question: How are dialects passed on in China?

Chinese Corner

Love You to Death and Back

How to Romance in Mandarin – Liz Carter

Love is in the air, or at least all over social media and the candy aisles of your local convenience store. Valentine’s Day is occasion for many a confession of love or vow of faithfulness, including in most of the Mandarin-speaking world. So how do you woo in Mandarin?

The answer is, in much the same cliché way as in English. You can fall in love at first sight (yí jiàn zhōng qíng 一见钟情) or come to love someone over time (rì jǐu shēng qíng 日久生情). You can love for someone for the rest of your life (yī shēng yī shì 一生一世) or even to death and back (sǐ qù huó lái 死去活来).