温馨提示 = wēn xīn tí shì = Please note:
Hitting the right tone or getting lost in translation
The English equivalent to my Chinese? I wonder how often I say things that could be understood in many other ways than what I intended. Maybe my choice of words isn’t so much the problem, but I definitely have some serious tone issues!
Mandarin is a tonal language. It only uses a fairly small set of syllables but all of them come in up to 5 different tones and -of course- countless different meanings and written characters. Since this isn’t a blog for language geeks, I won’t go into many details. But here is a perfect illustration:
I once gave this story –Chinese characters only- to my good friend and linguist extraordinaire Melody: not only could she read it all using the correct tones, she also got the meaning of the story!
Before I let you giggle about my best Chinese to English translation finds, here are a few more Chinese words that only differ in the tones:
|xióng māo||熊猫||panda||xiōng máo||胸毛||chest hair|
|shàng hǎi||上海||Shanghai||shāng hài||伤害||to injure|
|běi jīng||北京||Beijing||bèi jǐng||背景||background|
|lǎo shī||老师||teacher||lǎo shi||老是||always|
|shǒu shì||首饰||jewelry||shōu shi||收拾||to tidy up|
|yán jiū||研究||research||yān jiǔ||烟酒||tobacco and alcohol|
|zhī dào||知道||to know||zhí dào||直到||until|
|gào su||告诉||to tell||gāo sù||高速||high speed|