Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Zhège My Nàgè

Something about Mandarin was at first uncomfortable and still pricks my ear. I'm trying to write about it now and it is making me uneasy. But this is a blog read by mature people who do not make crude jokes or laugh about racial tension, so I think it's safe to proceed.

First you have to know about pinyin. Pinyin is a way to help Western people pronounce Mandarin Chinese words by using Latin letters instead of Chinese characters. Pinyin is also used as the input mode for computers and cell phones because a keyboard with all the characters would be enormous.

If you know how to read pinyin, you have a foot in the door and can at least pronounce words correctly. In this post, I'll teach you two words: this and that.

  • The translation for "that" is 那个. In pinyin those characters are "nàgè." With normal English pronunciation it sounds something like "nah geh."
  • The translation for "this" is 这个. In pinyin, you spell it "zhège." One of the peculiarities of pinyin, is that the "zh" sounds a little like the letter "j." So zhège sounds like "jeh geh."

Yes Ned, he diddly did
Still with me? Good, this is where it gets uncomfortable.....In day-to-day use, people pronounce those words as "nigga" and "jigga."

To make things worse, they often say "nàgè" repeatedly to fill space while they're thinking...sort of like stuttering or saying "uuuuummm." The result is disturbing to the Western ear and I hear it about 4-5 times per hour at the office. Even now I go on high alert every time someone says "nigga nigga nigga"

If you don't mind other offensive language, you can hear some great examples by clicking this link. This guy is spot on. Please make sure the children can't hear.

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