Linguistically, China is extremely diverse. Some compare the linguistic diversity of China to that of Europe. It is not uncommon for children to grow up speaking one dialect/language at home, and another at school. If fact, certain schools are allowed to teach entirely in the local language. However, becoming educated in the national tongue (Putonghua) is considered standard for every child. Of course, even those who speak Putonghua have differences depending the region they are from. These accents are often discussed in terms of north versus south, and different accents are also connected to stereotypes about northerners and southerners. For example, northern accents are often described as ‘harsh’, and ‘serious’, whereas souther accents are ‘relaxed’ and ‘carefree’. Regardless, students studying abroad in China will have to become acclimated to the local variety spoken in their host city. This might mean developing an ear for a different accent, or learning pieces of a completely new language.
The Many Dialects of China (Center for Global Education)
North or South? What’s Behind China’s Linguistic Rivalry? (Sixth Tone)
Understanding regionally accented Mandarin (Hacking Chinese)
出租车司机的口音 Taxi Driver’s Accent
Context Information: Mae is an American student, and 如风 (Rǔfēng) is a domestic Chinese student. They are discussing a taxi driver’s southern accent from a recent ride they recently shared.
Mae: 可以啊，我这个模仿很好2，就是说， 我们去就是第一个出租车，我们去的时候，我们跟他说好像我们想去这个宾馆，这个街。他说 [imitating Southern Chinese accent] “什么？哪里？不知道。”3
Mae: “然后我跟，我跟，” 这有，好像名片可以给你看。
1. Mae is trying to say something like ‘the taxis here in Shanghai’. A clearer phrasing would be 上海这里的出租车 (shànghǎi zhèlide chūzūchē) or simply 这里的出租车 (zhèlide chūzūchē).
2. To say ‘I do X well’, Mae should include the grammatical word 得. For example, 我这个模仿得很好 (wǒ zhège mófǎngde hěn hǎo) ‘I can imitate this (accent) very well’.
3. Here, Mae is imitating a southern Chinese accent in which consonants such as zhi, chi, and shi become z, c, and s respectively. For example, 什么 (shénme) ‘what’ would be pronounced ‘sénme’ and 知道 zhīdào ‘to know’ would be pronounced zīdào. This accent difference may be difficult for students who are accustomed to textbook Chinese which is based on northern accents that retain this distinction between zhi, chi, shi and z, c, s.
4. 如风’s confusion stems from Mae’s use of the word 读 (dú). 读 means ‘to read aloud’. Since Mae is trying to say that the taxi driver could not read, 如风 might interpret Mae’s statement as ‘the taxi driver cannot read aloud’. Instead, Mae could use 不认识字 (bù rènshi zì), which means ‘to not be able to recognize characters’. This confusion continues for a few lines.
5. Mae uses 好像 (hǎoxiàng) ‘to seem like’ as a filler word similar to ‘like’ in English. However, most Chinese speakers would not use 好像 in this way.
6. Since Mae uses the word 是 (shì) ‘to be’, she should include 的 (de). This sentence should read 我们是这样认为的 (wǒmen shì zhèyang rènwéide).
7. 俩 (liǎ) would be a better fit in this sentence. It is an informal word used in spoken conversation to mean specifically ‘two people’. You might hear Chinese speakers say 我们俩 (wǒmen liǎ) ‘us two’.
- 司机 (sījī) Driver
- 口音 (kǒuyīn) Accent
- 本地人 (běndìrén) Local person
- 强 (qiáng) Strong
- 南方 (nánfāng) Southern region
- 完全 (wánquán) Completely
- 好像 (hǎoxiàng) To appear similar to
- 模仿 (mǒfǎng) To mimic
- 名片 (míngpiàn) Name card
- 送 (sòng) To send to; to take to
- 算了 (suànle) Forget it
- 带 (dài) To take to
- 故意 (gùyì) Intentionally; on purpose
- 国语 (guóyǔ) National language (Chinese spoken in Taiwan)
- 差 (chà) Bad