Musings on Mandarin

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Querneus
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Musings on Mandarin

Postby Querneus » Mon Nov 22, 2021 7:53 am

And here I am, trying to start another log... Not that I found much worth posting in the last ones, but I can try again.

The goal: inspired by Dr Mack Rettosy's log, 500 hours of lone study, by the summer solstice of 2022, that is June 21st. This amounts to about 2.3 hours per day.

Of course, Dr. Rettosy's goal is to eventually reach 5000 hours, here I'm aiming at 1/10 of that for now. I find it a bit hard to study Mandarin partly because I enjoy studying Latin so much more, partly because being tired after work doesn't help. My current level in Mandarin is some vague form of intermediate. I'm much better at reading/writing than listening/speaking.

Reporting a bare number of hours done isn't very interesting, so I'll also be posting new things that I learn about Mandarin in every post, which may interest other Mandarin learners. I have a girlfriend from Taipei and often ask her questions about usage, and that has to be born in mind whenever I post about synonyms. The shades of meaning and nuances understood by her social entourage in Taipei may well be different from that of Beijing or elsewhere, or even from that of other speech communities within Taiwan itself. I'll usually say "in Taiwan, apparently..." but this should be understood as a subset of Taiwanese Mandarin.

Let's get started!

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I studied three hours today, after typing up the above.

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So, I learned about the negative connotations of the passive marker 被 bèi some time ago. Yeah, it often has an adverse connotation, similarly to "get X-ed" in English in some respects (get smacked, get hit, get broken...). As Yip and Rimmington put it in Intermediate Chinese (2009, 2nd ed.), page 18:
It should also be noted that the 被 bèi structure is often used to narrate an unpleasant event:

他被爸爸骂了一顿。 tā bèi bàba mà le yī dùn
He was told off by his father.

她让老师批评的哭了起来 。 tā ràng lǎoshī pīpíng de kū le qǐlái
She was criticized so much by the teacher that she began to cry.

花瓶叫小吴(给)打破了 。 huāpíng jiào xiǎo wú (gěi) dǎ pò le
The vase was broken by Xiao Wu.


This interestingly came up when I took the NTNU intermediate online test (just for fun) yesterday. One of the questions involved a passive sentence where 被 bèi and 由 yóu, both meaning 'by [a doer]', were among the possible answers to complete it. I selected 被 bèi, but the correct answer was 由 yóu. This was likely because 由 yóu is neutral, whereas 被 bèi has that negative connotation... Tricky exam question!

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On a whim, I wondered about the word for 'quiver' /ˈkwɪvɚ/ (i.e. the bag an archer uses to carry arrows). I found three terms listed in my dictionaries: 箭袋 jiàndài, 箭筒 jiàntǒng, 箭囊 jiànnáng. (Curiously, neither the online MDBG dictionary nor the LINE English-Chinese dictionary register a word for 'quiver' at all.) Girlfriend says she prefers the first one, after I asked her which one is more common. This made me wonder about the word in my other languages of interest...

Spanish: el carcaj /kaɾˈkax/ (you see it in videogames at least), la aljaba (rare, I'd say, unless that's what actual archers say), el goldre (pretty damn rare)
French: le carquois /kaʁkwɑ/
Latin: pharetra pharetrae haec, gōrȳtos gōrȳtī hic (also gōrȳtus, cōrȳtos, cōrȳtus)
German: der Köcher (pl. Köcher)
Arabic: جعبة dʒaʕba / dʒuʕba (pl. جعاب dʒiʕaab)

If you're interested in Spanish words ending in -j /x/, there's also el reloj 'clock' and la troj 'granary, food storeroom' (a damn rare word though).
Last edited by Querneus on Fri Apr 22, 2022 5:12 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Musings on Mandarin

Postby Querneus » Fri Apr 22, 2022 7:10 am

So, I'm halfway through the stated time period till June 21st, and as expected I've fallen behind the pace for the 500 hour mark. It was a lofty goal anyway, but at least I've been doing at least nearly an hour of Mandarin every day, even if I keep getting distracted by Latin stuff as always.

Since I am in dire need of improving my vocabulary, I've been especially focusing on that area. I have been partly studying by filling a "vocabulary notebook" that I keep quickly reviewing some days later. It's a tiny notebook with just pages and pages of things grabbed from my dictionaries at somewhat random, for example:

nánmiǎn - hard to avoid 難免
- jīngyàn經驗 bù zú, nánmiǎn huì yǒu shīwù: due to little experience, mistakes are hard to avoid
- bù nǔlì xuéxí, nánmiǎn luòhòu落後
- fàn cuòwù shi nánmiǎn de, rènzhēn gǎile jiù hǎo: ..., if you correct them consciously it'll be alright

cōngcù - in a hurry 匆促
- nǐ zǒu de tài cōngcù le
- cōngcù de xiě yì duǎn xìn

zhòuwén - wrinkle 皺紋【皱纹】
- láolèi shǐ tā de liǎn shang bùmǎnle佈滿 zhòuwén: tiredness covered her whole face of wrinkles

dīng - [for a mosquito] to bite 叮
- wǒ bèi wénzi dīngle


And so on and so on. I partly write the examples in mostly just pinyin to make it "harder" in some sense (since I find characters easier for grasping the meaning), and to help me imagine the sound more easily, but I do add the characters if I feel I have trouble remembering them (jīngyàn經驗, the Simplified form of 皺紋【皱纹】) or if they'd clarify the pinyin (bùmǎnle佈滿).

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One very interesting thing I finally learned is the expression of the weather. Was really surprised to be told the most natural way of saying the day is sunny is literally that the day is "good":

今天很好 jīntiān hěn hǎo
今天真好 jīntiān zhēn hǎo
今天不錯 jīntiān bú cuò...

A dictionary of mine also lists, literally with "clear":

今天晴好 jīntiān qínghǎo

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There are apparently two main forms of jealousy or envy in Mandarin: xiànmù 羨慕【羡慕】, which is apparently a "good" form of jealousy ("good for you! I wish I also had that"), and 忌妒 jìdù (also written 嫉妒), which is a "bad" or more severe form of jealousy ("I wish you didn't have that!").

This made me wonder about what the exact nuance is between English jealous(y) and envy/envious, and Spanish celos/celoso and envidia/envidioso. I feel like the English terms may possibly go along similar lines, with envy/envious being more negative than jealous(y), but I'm really not sure. And the Spanish terms seem equally bad to me.

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I've always been confused about the terms for the parts of the bed, due to all the regional variation, e.g. 鋪蓋 pūgai 'bedclothes, bedding, bedsheet' is not used in Taiwan (not to be confused with 鋪蓋 pūgài 'to spread something evenly'). For reference, these are the normal Taiwanese Mandarin terms:

床墊 chuángdiàn 'mattress'
床單 chuángdān 'bedsheet'
毯子 tǎnzi or 毛毯 máotǎn 'blanket'
棉被 miánbèi 'comforter, quilt'
枕頭 zhěntóu 'pillow' (reminder that the suffix -頭 has a full tone in Taiwan, -tóu not -tou as in China)
枕頭套 zhěntóutào 'pillow case'

While we're at it, 'handkerchief' in Taiwan is (一條)手帕 (yì tiáo) shǒupà. Not any of the other many regional terms you may find in dictionaries (手絹 shǒujuàn, 帕子 pàzi, 手巾 shǒujīn...).

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I continue to marvel at the many terms where Taiwanese input methods expect a pronunciation that's different from that of the standard Mandarin of China, and yet I'm told the normal spoken, colloquial pronunciation in Taiwan is the same as that of China regardless. E.g. zhuyin/bopomofo input methods (which allow entering tones for disambiguation, unlike pinyin methods) expect qiǎoqiǎo for 悄悄 'quiet(ly)', but the word is usually pronounced qiāoqiāo regardless, as in China. Another one is 突然 'suddenly', which zhuyin methods and some Taiwanese dictionaries report as túrán, but the word is normally pronounced tūrán anyway (again, as in the Mandarin of the mainland).

It has similarly been interesting to learn of terms which have a colloquial Taiwanese Mandarin pronunciation which differs from a formal one, e.g. 腋下 yèxià 'armpit', informally also yìxià, 括號 kuòhào 'parentheses, brackets', informally also kuàhào.

Yes, you read that right, 'parentheses, brackets'. The subtypes are encoded as "sizes":

小括號 xiǎo kuòhào (parentheses)
中括號 zhōng kuòhào [square brackets]
大括號 dà kuòhào {curly braces/brackets}

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I wish I knew of a good resource to look up nuances between synonyms. It was interesting to learn that 發光 fāguāng and 發亮 fāliàng, both generally translated 'to shine' in dictionaries, differ in that fāguāng is more used for entities that emit light from within themselves (so, literally what the compound says), while fāliàng is more for objects that reflect light, notably the 月亮 yuèliang 'the Moon'.

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I find the use of 道 dào 'road, way' as the classifier for 'rainbow' pretty cool: 一道彩虹 yí dào cǎihóng, a "road" of a rainbow.

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Translations of two very useful phrases:

¡Más te vale!
You'd better (do that)!
你給我小心一點!nǐ gěi wǒ xiǎoxīn yìdiǎn (lit. "be a little careful of me!")

¡(Solo) son bromas!
Just kidding!
開玩笑的啦!kāi wánxiào de lā
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Re: Musings on Mandarin

Postby Axon » Sun Jun 26, 2022 5:18 pm

How did things go by June 21st?

It's really interesting to get an insight into your vocabulary study experience. I'd never seen 皱纹 written before, but I sure have a lot of them so I've heard the word plenty of times. Do they really say 棉被 in casual conversation in Taiwan? I never really watch any media from Taiwan so to hear it as anything but 被子 is eye-opening to see the richness of vocabulary out there. Keep it up!
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Re: Musings on Mandarin

Postby Querneus » Mon Jun 27, 2022 7:18 pm

Axon wrote:How did things go by June 21st?

Certainly did not get to 500 hours, but it was alright anyway! I only wish I could find Mandarin as fun as I find Latin... Pretty sure I did over 500 hours of Latin in the same period of time, without even aiming to.

It's really interesting to get an insight into your vocabulary study experience. I'd never seen 皱纹 written before, but I sure have a lot of them so I've heard the word plenty of times. Do they really say 棉被 in casual conversation in Taiwan? I never really watch any media from Taiwan so to hear it as anything but 被子 is eye-opening to see the richness of vocabulary out there.

Okay, girlfriend now says 被子 is also commonly used, but yes, 棉被 is even more common.
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Re: Musings on Mandarin

Postby MaggieMae » Thu Jun 30, 2022 1:41 pm

Querneus wrote:This made me wonder about what the exact nuance is between English jealous(y) and envy/envious, and Spanish celos/celoso and envidia/envidioso. I feel like the English terms may possibly go along similar lines, with envy/envious being more negative than jealous(y), but I'm really not sure. And the Spanish terms seem equally bad to me.


Envious/envy is the wanting of something you don't or can't have. "I'm envious that you have better weather than me."

Jealous/jealousy can mean the same as envious ("I'm jealous of your good weather"), but is often linked with suspicion or possessiveness. "She has a jealous boyfriend." I would say that jealous is the more negative of the two.
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Re: Musings on Mandarin

Postby Querneus » Thu Jul 21, 2022 8:16 pm

MaggieMae wrote:Envious/envy is the wanting of something you don't or can't have. "I'm envious that you have better weather than me."

Jealous/jealousy can mean the same as envious ("I'm jealous of your good weather"), but is often linked with suspicion or possessiveness. "She has a jealous boyfriend." I would say that jealous is the more negative of the two.

Hmm, yeah, I think the way you explain the difference is much better than what I had in mind.

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Taiwanese computer terms!

滑鼠 huáshǔ 'mouse' (China uses 鼠標【鼠标】 shǔbiāo more)
游標 yóubiāo 'mouse cursor, pointer' (I don't know if Mainland China uses 光標【光标】 guāngbiāo or 指針【指针】 zhǐzhēn more, but yóubiāo is marked in two of my dictionaries as explicitly Taiwanese)
螢幕 yíngmù 'screen' (marked as Taiwanese too, Mainlanders might use 屏幕 píngmù maybe?)
印表機 yìnbiǎojī 'printer' (打印機【打印机】 dǎyìnjī on the other side of the straight)

Other parts, using vocabulary that's apparently common:

鍵盤【键盘】 jiànpán 'keyboard'
按 àn 'to press [a key]' (e.g. 按ENTER 'to press Enter')
主機 zhǔjī 'CPU box; server'
伺服(器) sìfú(qì) 'server'
顯示器【显示器】 xiǎnshìqì 'monitor'
訊息 xùnxī 'message'

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It amuses me how... there's many rather basic synonyms that I keep finding actually have some distinction between them.

For the longest time I thought 別 bié and 不要 búyào 'don't [verb]!' were basically the same, but apparently the former is really felt to be more abrupt, and often stronger or more imposing. 不用 búyòng '(there's) no need to...' is of course softer than those two.

I had no idea 比方説 bǐfāngshuō 'for example' is more typical of the spoken language compared to 比如 bǐrú and 例如 lìrú. Let alone 譬如 pìrú, needless to say.

A couple people tried to explain the difference between 證明 zhèngmíng and 證實 zhèngshí 'to prove sth' but I didn't really get it... Other than, in the context of a scientist proving a hypothesis or theory, 證明 zhèngmíng is "better".

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So far, I must admit, I keep accumulating synonyms in my head without worrying too much about what the differences are. I happened to come across 假設 jiǎshè '(explanatory) hypothesis' in an example sentence in a dictionary (這樣做的目的是驗證假設 zhèyàng zuò de mùdì shi yànzhèng jiǎshè 'The purpose of doing this is to verify the hypothesis', as an example of 驗證 yànzhèng 'verify'), but at least two of my English->Chinese dictionaries list 假說 jiǎshuō before 假設 jiǎshè, so maybe 假說 jiǎshuō is more common? I just don't worry about it. Better to just have words a bit stored, passively, somehow, leaving distinctions till later when more experience will tell me what's more common etc.

Oh, and dictionaries also list 假想 jiǎxiǎng, 假定 jiǎdìng, 推測 tuīcè, 猜測 cāicè, 猜想 cāixiǎng, 臆測 yìcè and 揣測 chuǎicè, because why not. Aren't 推測 tuīcè and 猜測 cāicè simply 'a guess' though (and 'to guess'), without any of the fancy connotations of 'hypothesis'? I swear I don't understand the decisions made in English->Chinese dictionaries quite often.

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Story time. A bit over a decade ago, someone asked in a forum what the words for basic cutlery (fork, knife, spoon) were in as many languages as the members could provide. I tried to give the Chinese terms by looking them up in a dictionary, and I gave 叉 chā for 'fork'. Which a native Mandarin speaker soon corrected to 叉子 chāzi. And it's true 叉子 chāzi is much better as a stand-alone term (as in a list of nouns), when 'fork' isn't part of a compound like 刀叉 dāochā 'fork and knife' (as a set), 叉車 chāchē 'a forklift'. Maybe you can say 一把叉 yì bǎ chā as a noun phrase on a pinch, with the classifier, but it wouldn't surprise me if even then 一把叉子 is more normal...

And of course, I just checked my three English->Chinese dictionaries at hand, and one gives 叉 chā, the other gives 叉 chā first followed by 叉子 chāzi after, and the other only gives the overly-specific 餐叉 cānchā. I swear I don't understand the decisions made in English->Chinese dictionaries quite often.

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And finally, here's the names of the basic Spanish tenses (時態 shítài) in Mandarin! Ever wanted to talk about Spanish grammar in Mandarin? Well here you go. The following terms were collated by checking two blog posts on Spanish tenses.

現在式 xiànzài shì - presente: amo
現在完成式 xiànzài wánchéng shì - pretérito perfecto (the term seems to calque English "present perfect", a common name for it): he amado

未完成過去式 wèiwánchéng guòqù shì - pretérito imperfecto: amaba
過去完成式 guòqù wánchéng shì - pluscuamperfecto: había amado
簡單過去式 jiǎndān guòqù shì - pretérito indefinido (a calque of the established English term "simple past", surely!): amé
(先)前完成式 (xiān)qián wánchéng shì - pretérito anterior: hube amado

未來式 - wèilái shì - futuro: amaré
未來完成式 wèilái wánchéng shì - futuro perfecto: habré amado
條件式 tiáojiàn shì - condicional: amaría
條件完成式 tiáojiàn wánchéng shì - condicional perfecto: habría amado

現在虛擬式 xiànzài xūnǐ shì - presente de subjuntivo: ame
現在完成虛擬式 xiànzài wánchéng xūnǐ shì - pretérito perfecto de subjuntivo: haya amado
未完成虛擬式 wèiwánchéng xūnǐ shì - (pretérito) imperfecto de subjuntivo: amara/amase
過去完成虛擬式 guòqù wánchéng xūnǐ shì - pluscuamperfecto de subjuntivo: hubiera/hubiese amado

命令式 mìnglìng shì - imperativo: ama

不定式 búdìng shì, 不定詞 búdìng cí - infinitivo amar
現在進行式 xiànzài jìnxíng shì - gerundio: amando
(過去)分詞 (guòqù) fēncí - participio ("(past) participle"): amado

The formula is pretty much:
initial name + (完成 wánchéng "perfect") + (虛擬 xūnǐ "subjunctive") + 式 shì

The blog posts of course didn't mention the future subjunctive (amare) and future perfect subjunctive (hubiere amado), historically common tenses that are now rare and restricted to legalese (unless you're a funny Venezuelan), but it's easy to guess their names should be 未來虛擬式 wèilái xūnǐ shì and 未來完成虛擬式 wèilái wánchéng xūnǐ shì.
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Re: Musings on Mandarin

Postby lichtrausch » Thu Jul 21, 2022 8:46 pm

Querneus wrote:Other parts, using vocabulary that's apparently common:

鍵盤【键盘】 jiànpán 'keyboard'
按 àn 'to press [a key]' (e.g. 按ENTER 'to press Enter')
主機 zhǔjī 'CPU box; server'
伺服(器) sìfú(qì) 'server'
顯示器【显示器】 xiǎnshìqì 'monitor'
訊息 xùnxī 'message'

The mainland prefers 服务器 for server.

Aren't 推測 tuīcè and 猜測 cāicè simply 'a guess' though (and 'to guess'), without any of the fancy connotations of 'hypothesis'? I swear I don't understand the decisions made in English->Chinese dictionaries quite often.

To me 推测 implies a more reasoned thought process than 猜测, so more like 'infer'.
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Re: Musings on Mandarin

Postby Axon » Sat Jul 23, 2022 6:12 am

Querneus wrote: ...vocabulary...


Excellent post! Your vocabulary notes always make me think about the words in them I know, the words I don't know, and the differences I've noticed between my experience and yours. It really goes to show how much variety there is.

I only know a couple of people who say 比方说 rather than 比如说, and I'm completely used to 比如说 for my own speech. I don't have any intuitive sense of any subtle differences between them. How about 截图 for "screenshot?"

I had a brief moment of terror as I read your bit on tenses, because in my English classes that I deliver in Mandarin, I always say 现在时 etc. instead of 现在式, and MDBG only has the latter. Baidu uses 时, and I think they're interchangeable anyway at least for my students. It looks like Baidu makes a distinction between the subjunctive mood and the concept of a tense in English: 虚拟语气 https://baike.baidu.com/item/%E8%8B%B1% ... /5949894#3
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