Monthly Archives: January 2012


Jan 2012

Three Simple Uses of the Other “Ma” on a Bag

I recently wrote about my personal experience with the particle (not ), and how a dictionary entry helped me get a feel for how the particle is used. That dictionary entry, again, is from the Oxford Concise English-Chinese Chinese-English Dictionary (blog post here):

Oxford Concise English-Chinese Chinese-English Dictionary (2nd Ed.)

> : ma (助) 1 [used at the end of a sentence to show what precedes it is obvious]: 这样做是不对~! Of course it was acting improperly! 孩子总是孩子~! Children are children! 2 [used within a sentence to mark a pause]: 你~,就不用亲自去了。 As for you, I don’t think you have to go in person.

Not too long ago, I encountered this little coin purse/bag, which offers three very concise uses of our particle :

Money is for spending

The text is as follows (broken into three lines to make it easier to discuss):

> 1:

> 2:

> 3:

OK, now clearly, this is the same particle. But what does this actually mean??

First, “” means something like, “it’s money,” as in, “we all know what money is, and what it’s for.” This could also have been expressed more verbosely by: “” or even as: “就是” (“isn’t it just money”??).

Second, “” quite simply means, “it’s (made out of) paper (as we all know).” Duh. “It’s just paper.” This usage is basically the same as the first.

Last, we have “,” which is slightly different because it’s a verb. Still the idea is quite similar. It’s for spending. You might translate this into English as, “so just spend it!” Another way to put it in Chinese would be, “” (if you feel like spending it, just spend it).

The words on this bag strike me as a Shanghainese, female way of looking at money. But maybe that’s because the bag belonged to a girl I know…

Related Grammar Links:

Expressing the Self-Evident with 嘛 (Chinese Grammar Wiki link)


Jan 2012

Personal Experience with the Other Particle “ma”

I remember quite distinctly the way I learned the sentence-final particle . I had only been studying Chinese for a little over a year, and thus was quite familiar with the yes/no question particle , but not this new , which seemed a bit more complex. I might have studied it before and just ignored it, but once I was on the streets of Hangzhou and hearing it all the time, I knew it was time to start figuring out what this was all about.

So I broke out my trusty old Oxford dictionary (we still learned Chinese from actual books in those days), and looked up . Here’s what I found:

Oxford Concise English-Chinese Chinese-English Dictionary (2nd Ed.)

> : ma (助) 1 [used at the end of a sentence to show what precedes it is obvious]: 这样做是不对~! Of course it was acting improperly! 孩子总是孩子~! Children are children! 2 [used within a sentence to mark a pause]: 你~,就不用亲自去了。 As for you, I don’t think you have to go in person.

I know some people hate learning from dictionaries, and grammatical concepts especially can be difficult to learn that way, but for me this explanation was a revelation: used at the end of a sentence to show what precedes it is obvious.

I think a lot of us have personal experiences in which we acquire a new word, and the memory of those specific vocabulary acquisition experiences stay with us long after we internalize the words themselves (one of my own personal examples is my attempt to buy a bug zapper light). This is quite natural, and it’s also one of my key misgivings about SRS. The way we naturally acquire language stays with us and reinforces the entire process, tightly binding words, meaning, and real-world experience. SRS (or simple word lists in general) can’t really offer this deep of a connection.

But back to my dictionary example… How is this any different from an SRS learning method, divorced from a real-world connection? Logically, I feel like looking up a word in a dictionary isn’t much different from being presented a word electronically. Sure, there’s the tactile interaction with the book, and the effort involved in getting out the book in the first place, and the act of physically flipping to the appropriate page, then locating the appropriate headword with my finger. How much “momentum” do these behaviors actually amount to, in a learning context?

Although I can’t think of many compelling instances besides my example, I definitely feel that there are words which I learned (and not just “learned,” but developed a strong connection to) largely due to a dictionary. This leads me to two important questions:

How many of you out there have clear memories of really learning a word or expression through a dictionary? What was it that made it so memorable?
How many of you out there have clear memories of really learning a word or expression through SRS? What was it that made it so memorable?

For me, I think the dictionary’s explanation struck me so poignantly because I had actually already expended a significant amount of mental energy on the use of but I had not yet been able to express the ideas concisely, and the entry did just that, right when I needed it.

Please share some of your own personal learning experiences in the comments. I’m very interested to hear what you have to say.

Related Grammar Links:

Yes/No Questions with 吗 (Chinese Grammar Wiki link)
Expressing the Self-Evident with 嘛 (Chinese Grammar Wiki link)

A New Resource for Chinese Grammar


Jan 2012

A New Resource for Chinese Grammar

It’s hard to believe I’ve been working on this project for a whole year, and also thinking about it, in some form or another, ever since founding AllSet Learning. Today, I’m quite happy to finally release the AllSet Learning Grammar Wiki.

What is it? Well, in a nutshell, it’s a mini-Wikipedia devoted entirely to Chinese grammar. Think comprehensive, think interlinked, think referenced. I’ve felt for a while that Chinese grammar has needed its own champion online, and since forming AllSet Learning, I’ve finally got both the need and the means to make it happen and keep it going.

I won’t say too much here; there’s a blog post on the AllSet Learning blog introducing the features and concepts behind the Grammar Wiki. Obviously, you can also just go straight to the wiki and check it out.

There’s not yet any public forum on the AllSet Learning websites, so if you’ve got feedback, feel free to leave it in the comments here. Please do read the AllSet Learning blog post first, though, as it may answer some of your questions. I’d also like to reiterate that the Grammar Wiki is not finished, and I’m not sure it ever will be, but with 500 articles and a good juicy set of grammar points it’s now at a point where it’s clearly useful to learners, so it’s time for it to emerge from its cave and be exposed to the rest of the world.

Finally, I’d like to thank the AllSet Learning interns who, over the past year, have helped make the Chinese Grammar Wiki a reality: Lucas, Greg, Hugh, and Jonathan. You guys were an immense help. Thank you also to all bloggers and friends who help spread the word by linking to the Chinese Grammar Wiki. Please help spread the word!

That’s all for now… Happy Chinese New Year!


Jan 2012

2012, Year of the Dragon

Well, it’s almost Chinese New Year, and this new one is the year of the dragon. It didn’t escape too many Chinese designers’ notice that it’s pretty easy to turn a “2” into a dragon, so lately we’re seeing a lot of designs like these:


2012, Year of the Dragon


Here’s one that’s a little different:


Not as fun as last year, though! I’m still not a huge fan of this holiday, and it’s getting harder and harder for this country’s residents to go home to it celebrate it properly, but it’s still an interesting time of year.

Happy Chinese New Year! 新年好! (The new year starts Monday.)


Jan 2012

Shanghai’s “Fake Collars”

I’ve been living in Shanghai a while now, but it wasn’t until just recently that I ever heard of Shanghai’s “fake collar” shirts (假领子). Technically, the collar is not fake at all; the collar helps to create the illusion that the wearer has on a full shirt under a sweater, when in fact he/she does not. They even have little straps on the sides to keep them in place!

Naturally, this calls for pictures:

fake-collar-2 fake-collar-1 fake-collar-3

According to this website, these “fake collars” are a Shanghai creation. My mother-in-law (a Shanghai native) proudly explained to me that they were invented to preserve a well-dressed appearance in a truly Communist age when neither clothing nor fabric were cheap. “We all wore them,” she said. “We could buy quite a few jia lingzi for the same price as one shirt.” When worn under a sweater, they create the impression of full, proper attire. Quite innovative! (Reminds me of all the ways I used to fake having taken a shower when I was little.)

These things were common from the 60’s through to the 80’s, but have long since fallen from favor, now that ordinary people actually have a little bit of money. Apparently you can still buy them in Shanghai, somewhere on Sichuan Road. I’ve gotta get my hands on one of these. (They also just might make for an interesting souvenir!)


Jan 2012

Dashan on Why Foreigners Hate Dashan


After reading this post on Quora, I’m now quite convinced that no one has given the question of “why (western) foreigners hate Dashan so much” as much thought as Mark Rowswell, the man behind Dashan (大山).

I should warn you: the entire answer is quite long, but it’s worth a read. Mark breaks it down into these parts:

  1. Overuse – People are sick and tired of hearing the name “Dashan”;
  2. Resentment (Part A) – Dashan’s not the only Westerner who speaks Chinese fluently;
  3. Resentment (Part B) – Being a foreign resident in China is not easy and Dashan gets all the breaks;
  4. Political/Cultural – People wish Dashan had more of an edge; [I found Mark’s reasons for Dashan’s lack of an edge especially interesting, since they relate to a Chinese tendency toward sensitivity to foreign criticism]
  5. Stereotyping – The assumption that Dashan is a performing monkey.

Looks to me like people can quit asking this question. That’s the answer. But I also feel like we’re getting this definitive answer at a time when all the hubbub about Dashan has finally started to die down.


Jan 2012

Punning in the New Year

My friend Andy (the guy who did the WordPress Sinosplice Tooltips plugin) wished me a happy New Year in the following way recently:

> Happy New 一二!

At the risk of spoiling the joke, allow me to explain…

1. Pinyin “yī èr” sounds remarkably like “year.”
2. This is 2012, so the characters for “1 2” are singularly appropriate.

Good job, Andy! You only get to use this pun once every 100 years, everybody, so get on it!

Last year, the punny wish was:

> Happy Chinese New Year you!

1. Pinyin “tù” sounds nearly identical to “to.”
2. 兔子, sometimes abbreviated to , is the Chinese word for “rabbit.”

This year (year of the dragon), friend and ex-co-worker Jason made the following punny wish:

> Wishing you a and prosperous New Year!

1. Pinyin “lóng” sounds reasonably similar to the English word “long.”
2. (simplified: ) is the Chinese word for “dragon.”

Jason also added the following variation for Star Trek fans:

> Live and prosper this New Year!

Finally, I’d like to give props to my dad, who always liked the following pun. It wasn’t until recent years that I could actually verify that this pun really does work in Chinese:

> How Long is a Chinese name.

The pun doesn’t work so well when written. The joke is to say it in such a way that it’s perceived as a question, when in fact, it’s a statement:

> 郝龙 (Hao Long) is a Chinese name.

(This “joke” doesn’t work nearly as well in China, where everyone knows that Chinese names are typically 2-3 characters/syllables, and as many as 4 on rare occasion, and everyone would easily recognize 郝龙 as a Chinese name anyway.)

OK, I better shut up now before I lose all my readers.

Happy New Year!