Pinying Issues

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m planning a trip to Korea this year. After failing to find truly cheap airfare, I ended up buying from one of those online sellers where the price looks great and then you’re suddenly hit with a thousand kuai in “fees”. I’m still working through the bitterness.

It turns out there were still some issues once the ticket had been purchased. The flight I had signed up for didn’t actually exist. They were kind enough to email me and let me know though, offering an alternative flight at close to the original time.

The original flight I had was to land in Gimpo 김포, and the only other one I knew of was landing in Incheon 인천. Gimpo is in a better location but either would work. The problem was that the new flight was to land in Rengchuang.

Rengchuan? What?


The Sincerest Form of Flattery

I’ve just had a week on the road with a bunch of guys, a sports team, to be a little more precise. I’ve been coaching them for about eighteen months and we’re all on pretty familiar terms, but this is the first time we’ve all been away together.

We travelled from home in NE China, down to the South – 30 hours plus on the train. Plenty of time for everyone to get into the tour spirit.

Having played various sports for most of my life and having been on a number of tours, I ought to be pretty familiar with how these things pan out.  And sure enough, this tour was like most others; plenty of laddish humour, lots of card playing, a certain amount of drinking. People take up various roles in the group; the worrier, the flirt, the joker, the quiet one, the leader, the guy who can never find his stuff, the one who’s always last to breakfast.

Then there’s always tour language. Maybe someone says something really dumb on the first day and it becomes a catchphrase for the tour…

…or maybe one of the group has an unusual accent and this becomes much imitated.

And so it was. They all did their impersonations of me. Some just occasionally, some near incessantly. It was kind of amusing; sometimes flattering, sometimes pretty uncomfortable, but mainly just intriguing to hear how I sound to them. I only managed to capture a few phrases on the final day and here they are:




[Descriptions of above recordings added, 11 Aug 2010. Sima]

I’d love to pretend that I never say any of these things and that it certainly sounds nothing like me, but I guess the big question is…

Is this clear evidence of girlspeak?

But beyond that, does anyone have any experience of being mimicked? Is there a general comic accent which most people would recognise as the foreigner speaking Chinese? Would anyone care to describe what they hear in the above recordings that sounds foreign?

Disco-polo and a Polish transcription of Mandarin

In one of the most important Polish newspapers, Gazeta Wyborcza, I encountered an article about the introduction of disco-polo to the Chinese music market. In case you don’t know what disco-polo is (and I’m pretty sure you don’t, unless you are from Poland), check out this Wikipedia entry. Basically, it’s a music genre that had its golden age in the ’90s and that some Poles adore, but for others it’s a synonym for bad taste, kitsch and “redneckedness” (most of the bands originated from small villages where they played at weddings etc.).

I have absolutely no idea why someone would try to sell this kind of music in China. And while in Poland it is (or, hopefully, used to be) popular mostly in rural areas and among less-educated people, the Chinese target is “between 25 and 40 years old, higher education, big city resident, high professional and social position, incomes much higher than average”. At least that’s what the producer says.

In autumn a disco-polo band BayerFull (in Polish bajer is a slang word meaning gimmick or sweet talk) is going on a tour in China. Its leader says “We’re entering the Chinese market professionally. Everything is arranged legally. We’ve had our Chinese costumes tailored, our dragons are ready. Our image is going to get people interested. But we’re not deceiving ourselves, we know we’re going to be treated as an oddity.”

And finally comes the language part: Continue…

shuí yě bù zhīdào

Victor Mair received this message from a former student of his, and sent it in to us:

I just remembered one other question I’d been meaning to ask you. It’s about the character 谁. When I started taking Chinese years ago, my teachers and textbooks all told me to pronounce it “shei.” This spring, I was speaking to a visiting Chinese professor from Dalian who was teaching elementary Chinese, and she and her textbook teach the pronunciation of the same character as “shui.” When I asked her about this, she said that “shui” was more standard, and “shei” was a local variation used mostly around Beijing. Is that right? Among native speakers, who uses “shei,” and who uses “shui”?

This is a very interesting question. Continue…