Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Beginning Chinese

Here are my observations, after several weeks of "beginning Chinese":

1. The most common word in Mandarin is sh. Depending on inflection, this means "is" (sh.), the number 10 (sh!), or "to eat" (sh-), or maybe "to go" (sh) unless it occurs at the end of a word like -shi, meaning a master of something. Practice this.

Note: This is easily confused with the word s! which means "four".

2. The most common sound in Mandarin is /tchzz/. This is spelled ch, ts, z, zh, j, x, or q. I am not making this up. As a word, for example, j means "to eat" or "know" (with dao). I know I said sh means "to eat". It's the same thing.

3. You should not confuse the word ma (horse) or ma! (mother) with the word ma , which is a question word like the Candian eh? Questions in Chinese always sound Canadian, like "You are American, ma?"

4. You should always be sure to distinguish zhong! (the center of something) from zhong! (clock) and Zhong- (Chinese), not to mention zhong! which is the sound made by a gong. Gong however means "work".

5. You should always respond to comments about your excellent Chinese ("Knee pooting whah shoot the hen house!") with the modest statement, "Why, shoot the blue cow!", which means "I do not speak well."

6. It is rude to interrupt someone and say "Gesundheit" if they say cashew, which is a conjunction, "but"

7. Ta means he, she, or it. It's obvious if it's written.

8. Zi! Nar? means "Where?" Zi! Nar! means "Over there." Zi! Jar! means "Rat cheer."

9. Wo? means "I" but it can also mean "me", "my", or "mine". Women means "we" but it also means "us", "our", and "ours".

10. The number "two" is pronounced are? but you don't use it for people or beer.

11. If you have a Western name, you might be given a phonetic equivalent by combining Mandarin words to yield roughly the same sound. From the Chinese translation of the Bible, then, "John" naturally becomes Yue Han which seems to mean "monthly check" but sounds vaguely like "Johann". Likewise, "Caleb" becomes Jia Lei which appears to mean "Lord Buddha strangles" and doesn't sound like "Caleb" at all.

More helpful information to follow as we learn even more useful Mandarin phrases.

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