Monthly Archives: March 2013


Mar 2013

Chinese Grammar Funnies


I saw an interesting Chinese forward called 小学生造句 (“elementary school students make sentences”). Obviously, the sentences produced are not exactly what the teacher was looking for. Here are some of the more amusing ones (some understanding of Chinese grammar may be required):

  1. 难过 [dictionary link] [grammar link]

    (There’s a ditch in front of our house that’s hard to cross.)

  2. 又……又…… [grammar link]

    (My mom is both short and tall and fat and thin.)

  3. 一边……一边…… [grammar link]

    (He took off his clothes while putting on his pants.)

  4. 天真 [dictionary link]

    (Today it’s really hot!)

  5. 先……再…… [grammar link]

    (Sir, goodbye!)

  6. 其中 [grammar link]

    (One of my left feet got hurt.)

  7. 况且 [dictionary link]

    (A train passed by: clanka clanka clanka clanka clanka clanka clanka.)

Photo by rbn_hu on Flickr.


Mar 2013

Classroom Culture Clash


photo by LeeTobey

A friend in Beijing recently reported an exchange with his Chinese tutor to me that went something like this (embellished by my own imagination and translated into English):

> Friend: So today I’d like to talk about the air quality in Beijing.

> Tutor: I really don’t want to talk about that. You foreigners come to China, and all you want to talk about is how bad the air is, or how the food is unsafe. There’s really a lot more we could talk about. China is an immense country with a long history and rich culture. We don’t even have to talk about China. There’s so much more we could talk about than just complaining about the air quality here.

> Friend: I’m hiring you to help me improve my Chinese, and I want to talk about Beijing’s terrible air quality. So that’s what we’re talking about today.

> Tutor:

Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t the greatest tutoring session. But just that little piece of dialog recounted by my friend contained quite a few layers of cultural expectations. (A thoroughly enjoyable exchange, from my perspective!)


Mar 2013

Gang gang gang gang gang

江江, 傻傻, 杠杠, and 岗岗

Although never studying it too diligently, I’ve always suspected that the syllable “gang” plays a prominent role in Shanghainese. Then I got this forward which proves it (see image at right). Don’t spend too much time trying to make sense of the Mandarin; it’s just a silly story about 江江, 杠杠, 傻傻, and 岗岗 calling each other dumb (). And yes, it’s pretty contrived. But the Shanghainese version is hilarious.

If you can read Chinese, you might be amused by the image (focusing on the latter half). But you’ll definitely want to hear the audio I had my Shanghainese wife record:

Ganggang.mp3 (1.1 MB)

Here are text transcripts (and keep in mind that the Shanghainese “transcript” doesn’t reflect any official way of representing Shanghainese in written form; it’s mostly just approximately phonetic characters chosen to exaggerate how ridiculous the Shanghainese sounds to non-speakers):

普通话版 (Mandarin version):

> 江江和杠杠说,傻傻刚才说岗岗说他竟然说他傻。

> 杠杠和江江说,江江你傻。

> 傻傻说岗岗傻,岗岗说傻傻傻。

> 岗岗傻傻都傻。

> 刚才傻傻还说你江江傻,岗岗也是这么说的。

> 江江说岗岗傻傻说什么?

> 他们说我傻?他们才傻。

上海话版 (Shanghainese version):

> 刚刚邦刚刚刚,刚刚刚刚刚刚刚刚一刚一刚一刚。

> 刚刚邦刚刚刚,刚刚侬刚。

> 刚刚刚刚刚刚,刚刚刚刚刚刚。

> 刚刚刚刚豆刚。

> 刚刚刚刚还刚侬刚刚刚,刚刚阿斯个能刚。

> 刚刚刚刚刚刚刚刚啥?

> 伊拉刚吾刚一刚?伊拉才刚。

Note: Both the Mandarin and Shanghainese texts have been edited slightly from the original image to correct for errors and inconsistencies (and in one case, to better reflect the audio version).


Mar 2013

Spot the Difference between these Identical Phrases

One of our star teachers at AllSet Learning recently shared this with me:

> 大学里有两种人不谈恋爱:一种是谁都看不上,另一种是谁都看不上。

> 大学里有两种人最容易被甩:一种人不知道什么叫做爱,一种人不知道什么叫做爱。

> 这些人都是原先喜欢一个人,后来喜欢一个人。

> 网友评论:壮哉我大中文!!外国人绝对看不懂~!

This is definitely a tricky one, and you’re not likely to be able to appreciate it if you’re not at least the intermediate level. So forgive me for not providing pinyin and translations for everything.

Like many jokes, this joke relies on ambiguity. Understanding the different sentences requires some understanding of semantic ambiguity, syntactic ambiguity, and lexical ambiguity.

Here’s what’s going on:

> 大学里有两种人不谈恋爱:一种是谁都看不上,另一种是谁都看不上。

谁都看不上 can be interpreted as either “doesn’t like anyone” or “isn’t liked by anyone.” You’re not normally going to see both meanings used in one sentence!

> 大学里有两种人最容易被甩:一种人不知道什么叫做爱,一种人不知道什么叫做爱。

This is a parsing issue, and revolves around the word 叫做 being a synonym for 叫: “叫做 爱” (“to be called love”) vs. “叫 做爱” (“to be called making love”). In spoken Chinese, you would definitely pause to verbally insert the “space” that I have typed above.

> 这些人都是原先喜欢一个人,后来喜欢一个人。

So 一个人 can be interpreted as both “a person” and “[to be] alone.”

> 网友评论:壮哉我大中文!!外国人绝对看不懂~!

You can’t really praise Chinese for having ambiguity; every language does. And what one human mind can encode, another can decode (native speaker or not!).


Mar 2013

Typing Chinese in Gmail (Google’s Web IME)

I was surprised to discover a new little dropdown option in the Gmail menu bar today, with the Chinese character on it (for 拼音, pinyin). After playing with it, it became clear that it’s an in-browser input method–a way to type in Chinese characters. Most people install Chinese IMEs at the operating system level (Chinese input is supported by Windows, Mac OS, and Linux now), but now Gmail is offering a way to type pinyin without the OS-level IME. It’s all in the browser. What’s more, it’s surprisingly fast. It’s pretty much exactly like using Google Pinyin for Windows, which I used to love, but gave up when I switched to using a Mac. This is very cool.

Google IME: Chinese Input in Gmail Google IME: Chinese Input in Gmail

It’s not only for Chinese, though:

Google IME: Chinese Input in Gmail

I’m not sure why it was auto-enabled for me, but if you’d like to try it out, just open up your Gmail settings. It’s right at the top:

Google IME: Chinese Input in Gmail

More info from Google here. (Thanks, Luke, for that link!)