Just a little mistake?

Hanyu pinyin is a pretty easy system of romanization to learn.  There are very few “rules” that stray from its connection with Chinese phonemes.  One of the rules is that the final iou is contracted to iu (unless there is no initial, in which case the i changes to y).  Other than for the sake of brevity, I’m not sure why this rule was adopted, but sometimes we can see the original pop through as a mistake.

My younger son was writing his journal today about Alice in Wonderland, which we saw yesterday, and after him telling me that he thinks it’s not good to write pinyin when he doesn’t know a character, and me telling him that that’s one of the best uses of pinyin, he wrote how Alice, after drinking water from a little bottle, “jiòu biàn 小了”.

Nèige (那个) disfluency and accommodation

In the States I once worked with a group of programmers who were all (mainland) Chinese. During one of their daily arguments over some point of software architecture, a colleague (with zero background in Mandarin) asked me: “So what does ‘nèige’ mean?”

As probably everyone reading this blog knows, it literally means “that” or “those” but it’s far more commonly used as a parallel to “uh” or “well”. In linguistic terms it’s a disfluency, a filler — something you say when you’re thinking about what to say next.

Since we use fillers a lot, it’s funny but maybe not all that surprising that nèige is one of the first individual words that a non-Mandarin speaker would pick out of a conversation that is otherwise, to them, just a stream of sound.

It makes me feel a little better about my own astounding disfluency. On my most recent Beijing Sounds post I noted that what I said during the first few seconds of speech with a cab driver seemed to contain a huge number of neiges. Now that I count them up, it’s even worse than I thought:

Total: 70 words (at least the way I split them up in the Pinyin)
Nèige: 10 instances (14%) Continue…