Mandarin shibboleths among foreigners Beer.
Class has just begun for me. Another fun year of too many credit hours and too many papers to write at the end. The good news is with the amount of exposure I’m getting, I damn well better be mistaken for Dashan’s (大山) Southern kid brother by the end of the year.
To jump start that exposure I’ve been listening to the BBC’s Mandarin broadcasts. There’s a podcast for it that you can find on the iTunes store if you’re interested. One of the things that threw me off is when they give the website address or email address, some people are saying 点 dian and some are saying 点儿, which sounds more like “deer” or “d. r.”. I hear people say “diar” often enough, but “deer” was new to me. Keep in mind I live in an erhua-free zone, and have made it a point in my own speech to never utter a single “-r” be it a 本儿 or a 块儿 or even telling him to stop 在这儿. The first time I heard it I thought they were saying
b. b. c. d. r. c. o. d. r. u. k.
This reminded me of hanging out with Syz and listening to his Beijinghuar a while back. It’s not something I hear too often. This, along with the comments on a post over at ChengduLiving got me thinking about shibboleths, specifically among foreigners.
A shibboleth is any distinguishing practice that is indicative of one’s social or regional origin. It usually refers to features of language, and particularly to a word whose pronunciation identifies its speaker as being a member or not a member of a particular group.
In my home town we don’t say soda. We say pop. I say soda, so when I’m there people sometimes think I’m a waidiren, an outsider.
In Shanghai you won’t hear 左 zuǒ or 右 yòu for left and right when in a taxi, at least not usually. Rather than taking a left turn you take a “big turn” (大拐 dà guǎi) or a small turn (小拐 xiǎo guǎi) to go right. I’m not sure how widespread it is, but it’s constant in Shanghai and it’s what I say 90% of the time. Nanjing has “啊是啊 a shì a” for “对吧 duì ba” while Shanghai has “对勿了 tɛ vəˀ lɑˀ”. But again I’m not talking about the local dialects as spoken by locals. I’m talking about local phrases that have made it into your Mandarin that, when travelling outside of your town marks you as an outsider. My 对勿了 tɛ vəˀ lɑˀ is not well received in Henan, just as 啊是啊 a shì a doesn’t get you far unless you’re with Nanjing transplants.
What’s more, I make great efforts to avoid 儿化音 erhuayin in my speech, never willing to say 冰块儿 or 本儿书. I soften my sh and have said 对 dui as dei since day one.
What do you say that you think is characteristic of your part of China? Do you do it on purpose, or is it just what you think good Mandarin sounds like? I for one find the Jiangnan dialects of Mandarin to sound better, but then this is the only place I’ve lived.