The triple 'dui'

24 Sep 2006
dui-dui-dui

The triple ‘dui’

Today on ChinesePod there was an intermediate lesson called Growing Affections. A commenter named Trevor Morley called attention to a linguistic phenomenon which he aptly dubbed “the triple dui” (that’s “triple ,” not to be confused with “triple DUI“). This “对对对” is something I’ve noticed myself, and I’ve been observing it for a while.

means “right,” and as English speakers, I think it’s pretty easy for us to understand how it could be used in triplicate. We sometimes say, “right, right, right” in conversation when we are agreeing with what another person is saying. 对 is a monosyllabic word, so the triple dui is actually a repitition of a monosyllabic word three times just as “right, right, right” is in English; it’s not like 谢谢, which is a disyllabic word composed of one repeated morpheme.

What makes it interesting (to some of us) is that the triple dui seems to be used in spoken Mandarin much more than you would expect if it were left up to chance. Furthermore, the majority* of Chinese words are bisyllabic, which might lead one to expect an underlying trend of “twos” in Chinese. In this case, however, the triple dui seems to be as popular as the double dui (if not more so).

I don’t have any hard data to back up any of these observations (even search engines put “对对” way ahead of “对对对”), and it might also be a regional phenomenon. Any thoughts and/or reports from other parts of China?

*This fact belongs to the realm of generally accepted linguistic knowledge about the Chinese language, but if you want more info, you might check out Stress and the Development of Disyllabic Words in Chinese (PDF file) by San Duanmu.

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John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.

Comments

  1. A thought on the 对对 vs. 对对对 thing — the triple-对 does indeed seem more popular than the double-对, and when spoken they both seem to take the same amount of time. 对对对 is generally spoken rapid fire, whereas (in my experience at least) 对对 is more like ” 对…对.” Could there be something to do with the length and how it sounds in conversation.

    Totally SWAG here, though, so it may be totally wrong, too.

  2. John B,

    That’s a really good point… I don’t think I’ve ever heard a “对…对…对” either.

  3. even search engines put “对对” way ahead of “对对对”

    But, wouldn’t a search for “对对” also return every single instance of “对对对”? The first two 对’s in the triple will count as a match.

  4. When I first encountered the triple 对, I mistakenly equated it with the triple “yeah” in English. I don’t think “right, right, right” is very common in English, but “yeah, yeah, yeah” is very common. But triple yeah usually means, “yeah, I’m completely aware already of what you are telling me.” or “yeah, i’ve heard all of this before — enough already.” Triple 对, on the other hand, is closer in meaning to “exactly” or “I completely agree.”

    As far as triples in Chinese, there is also a triple 不, said in the same rapid-fire manner as the triple 对. Also, the triple 不要 is also common in my wife’s hometown. I don’t know if that is a regional usuage or not, but I hear it constantly there in dialect and in Mandarin.

    Anyway, it is funny that you brought this up, because I have discussed this several times with some of my Chinese friends.

  5. Some of the more excited Chinese can fire out the 对对对 so fast it sounds like machine gun fire. I may have used it myself, but the fact that I can’t recall means I haven’t or I found it unremarkable.

    Maybe they say it three times to distinguish it from a two syllable word?

  6. dancingliquor Says: September 24, 2006 at 11:22 pm

    that reminds me of how many “dui”s i used in a conversation.Usually,more than triple.Like”对对对对对对对”,and then i would double it as well.Funny but weird.

  7. The triple dui is alive and well in Shandong.

  8. A girl from Hangzhou I met in Japan on exchange a few years ago said it too. And ANOTHER girl I met in a bus station in Canada, who was also from Hangzhou, said it and immediately told me to forget it as it was her regional way of speaking, she said!

    Guess not.

  9. @Mark: I think you can do a minus search in Google. Like “对对” -“对对对”, minus or NOT or something…

    I’ve definitely noticed the 对对对 more down here in Suzhou than up in Dalian. It was present there, but here it seems prevalent. The double-dui was (to my limited ears) a more common thing heard up in the Northeast.

  10. Like 88 said, there is also the triple 不 (not), and my impression is that 好 (good) used for agreement can also be tripled.

  11. While triple 对 means right, double 对 normally bears other meanings. People use triple 对 to show a strong agreement and also hint that he would like to support the other side by an example or his own understanding by saying triple 对 in a very fast speed. So people would expect you to go on after your triple 对。Double 对 often means couples of. This meaning comes from 一对, which means a couple of. For example: 对对新人 means several couples of new married. Double 对 can also be used as a verb. For example, 让我们对对数学答案。Let’s compare our solutions to the math problems. Here double 对 means comparing

  12. John,

    A few weeks after I got my folks to listen to CPod’s advanced lessons, my mom asked me about the Triple Dui thing. I told her that my mainland friends here in Chicago do the same thing. A day later, I thought about it and realized that all of my mainland friends in Chicago do the Single Dui. Then I thought that I got Jenny’ed because I had picked up her 对对对 subconsciously because I have been using them in conversations with my Mainland friends. China should do a survey on how laowais learned how to say 对对对, I betcha 9 out of 10 would say they learned it from Jenny. 😉

  13. To Ke,

    A double Dui with the same meaning of a triple Dui can be distinguished from the use (other meanings) you mentioned in 对对新人 or 对对答案 by observing that the former use usually is syntaxed as an independent sentence, that is, at least followed by a comma.

    Even an exclamatory verb can be tripled: 看看看,那不是他女朋友吗? 听听听,火车来了! 快快快,没时间啦。 瞧瞧瞧,搞坏了吧?!

    What’s more, some two-word phrases can be doubled or tripled. Examples include 坏了、好吧、不行、算啦、哎呀。

  14. I’ve picked up on this from my Chinese friends, and I ape its use. Never realized it was something to think about, though. Just thought it was the same as “ya ya ya” or what have you.

  15. Gin: how often are two-character phrases tripled? It seems to me that doubling is much more common. “不错” is one I hear duplicated a lot. “走吧” is a favourite with some people too.

  16. schtickyrice Says: September 26, 2006 at 10:11 am

    来来来, as in ‘get over here!’
    去去去, as in ‘get outta here!’
    没有没有没有 is hard to say, but I’ve heard it used with decreasing stress until the last meiyou is barely audible.

  17. Todd,

    Of course, tripling 2-character phrases is more challenging on the tongue so maybe it is less commonly done. And, as Schtickyrice has hinted, often this 3×2 usage is executed (or forced to be) with some blurring of the sounds.

    However, the reason I mentioned 3×2 is that their use is quite analogous to the triple Dui in that tripling is often rapidly fired and happens in emotional (surprise, excited, anxious, desperate, angry, or impatient) or quick-response situations, whereas doubling can come with a draw in the middle and show a thought process behind it. For instance, two chest players are going at it and one realizes that he’s just made a regrettable move. He could do a surprised 哎,不行不行不行,没看见你那个马 as a quick response. Or knowing that he needs to negotiate an about face, he could go 不-行—不行,你的马啥时候到那儿了?我这步得重走 as if he has all the reasons. And his opponent would fire out an excited and even faster 不行不行不行 (sounds like “乒乒乒”), 不能悔棋!

  18. Chess players, not chest players. My!

  19. Si, Si, Si. I get what you mean. REally I do. I understand.

    It reminds me of an Aswer that give to people: “No, I’m not Married, I’m not married, I’m not married”.

    Take care
    Talk to you later
    C’ya
    Greg, G, Paz

  20. Gin, I love your example! “你的马啥时候到那儿了?” Hilarious!

  21. Gin,

    Just out of curiosity, are you a chest player chess player yourself?

  22. I’ve heard 谢谢 tripled as well (“谢谢啊!谢谢谢谢谢谢!”). Taiwanese speaker; am pretty sure I’ve heard it from speakers of proper Mandarin as well, but can’t point to any other specific instances.

  23. John,

    Don’t you think that this is a more universal phenomenon? I seem to remember a triple ‘hai’ in Japan as well !! (But it’s been so long)

    Any Japanese readers here?

  24. I don’t remember hearing 对对对 very often when visiting my girlfriend’s family in 沈阳. That’s interesting, because it seems northerns talk faster than southerners (which may be true to say in the states, Germany, and possibly other countries). I do notice almost all of my Chinese friends in the states saying 3-对 very often, though, but I never really paid attention to who said it most from what region.

  25. Who loves the Land before Time? Yep,yep, yep!!!!

  26. John,

    But, why, of course I am used to be. And I never rarely 悔棋!

    I was a chest player too, working a summer job (child labor) in a factory warehouse.

  27. Faisal
    I don´t know if it,s a universal phenomenon, but i can tell you that here in Brasil there is a classic phrase by a T.V character that goes like these
    “Isso,isso,isso”
    it’s a perfect translation to the triple 对

  28. I’ve heard many a quint 对 here in Shanghai. A little over the top. But then, that’s Shanghai.
    Try it: 对对对对对

  29. Just the other day I was watching the news (I think CCTV9) and they were interviewing an English guy who was fluent in Chinese. A white person speaking fluent Chinese actually creeped me out a little by itself, but he kept saying the triple-对, and for some reason it really annoyed me. And now that I think about it, I’m not sure if people up here in Heilongjiang speak a triple-对 dialect… I’ll keep you posted – consider me the undercover 对对对 agent of the North.

  30. After much research, I’ve completed a theory:
    I heard many 对’s, many 对对对’s and also many 对对对对对’s. Two 对’s are okay if you’re going a bit slower, but try it fast: 对对. Or try saying “no!” two times and then three times. Two is in no way incorrect, but something about it doesn’t feel right. The odd numbers are just more natural.
    What a groundbreaking theory…

  31. This is my first comment here, tho I’ve been lurking for quite some time. I just had to comment on this one, ’cause I love this topic. I’ll bet it wasn’t more than one week after beginning a job requiring regular interaction with Chinese in the states that I picked up on their triple 对。 As an avid Chinese learner, I immediately fell in love. Unfortunately, my good-humored Chinese friends didn’t quite understand my passion for this oh-so-enjoyable word. Their looks carried a simple message they would have said had they thought I’d have understood it: “你疯了!”

    Ahh… this is the life. :- ) Thanks for sharing.

    -Brooke
    P.S. This is a great blog. Keep up the good work, John! Thanks!

  32. Among Sichuan folks a head is usually added to “dui” as they are famous for saying “对头” (dui-tou), but I can’t recall ever hearing my Chengdu friends use a triple “对头对头对头” (dui-tou dui-tou dui-tou)

  33. I can confrim this phenomenon. In fact, I have a Chinese-American friend who is fluent in Mandarin and when speaking English says “right, right, right” and sometimes even “right, right, right, right, right,” in rapid secession. When my other (non-Chinese-speaking) friend commented about it to me in private, I thought about it, and realized that it comes from Chinese.

    When I speak Chinese, there are contexts where anything but the triple dui is unthinkable.

  34. I have heard Ni Hao used in triplicate in Hangzhou also.

  35. I had a Chinese boss once who said “yeah yeah yeah” rapidly whenever I brought up something he didn’t want to talk about…like how the toilet in my apartment overflowed every time I flushed it. It seems similar to the triple dui but then of course the topic was changed and forgotten!

  36. I can attest to the existence of quintuple and septuple 对’s.

  37. Jhuconn4 Says: March 2, 2013 at 5:22 pm

    I hear it a lot. Also, have done some work in Tangshan in the past year. Local dialect there says zhong instead of dui. And they do often come with the rapid fire “zhong-zhong-zhong”. Exactly what character that is I’ll have to check next time.

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