Context Is Everything
07 Jan 2009
I was at a dinner, listening to the conversation of some Chinese acquaintances. At one table, two young women sat side by side. In the context of their conversation, one of the women said, pointing to the other:
The grammar of this sentence is so simple that any first semester student of Chinese can figure it out. But without the proper context, they’re probably going to conclude that one of the women was actually a transvestite: I’m female. She’s male. (She wasn’t a transvestite, and no one listening found her statement strange in the slightest.)
The two women were talking about their newborn children, when one of their friends asked what sexes the babies were. So 我是 and 她是 were easily understood to mean “my baby is” and “her baby is.” This is totally fine in Chinese.
(You also get lots of statements like this when people are ordering food… I’m beef noodles. You’re dumplings, right?)
Context is everything.