Chinese Corner

Full of Bean Curd

Tofu metaphors in Mandarin – by Liz Carter

Nothingburger. Pizza face. A bun in the oven. Food is ever present in our lives, nurturing us as well as our metaphorical expressions. It should come as no surprise that Chinese cuisine, with its different ingredients and techniques, has inspired very different spread of food metaphors. In particular, one category exists in Mandarin that is virtually absent in English: tofu quips.


Chinese Corner

Make China Great Again

China and America’s leaders use similar slogans – by Liz Carter

This week, Donald Trump will visit Beijing, sparking vigorous debate among China watchers. There are a lot of articles talking about how Presidents Xi Jinping and Trump may be at odds, but as they are both nationalists with despotic ambitions, it should come as no surprise that they rely on similar linguistic strategies to consolidate support and intimidate their enemies. Trump vows to “Make America Great Again” (MAGA for short), while Xi invokes “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” (中华民族伟大复兴, Zhōnghuá mínzú wěidà fùxīng).

Let’s compare their parallel slogans in more detail:

Chinese Corner

What About Tones?

How not to be tone deaf when speaking Mandarin – by Liz Carter

Many people are intimidated by the prospect of learning Chinese because it is a tonal language – the same syllable, pronounced differently, can mean a number of totally different things. Tackling Chinese may seem impossible, especially for the less than musically inclined, if perfect pitch is presumed to be a prerequisite.

However, tones are more of a speed bump than a brick wall. And the trouble with tones can best be tackled by breaking it down into three issues: whether it is feasible to learn tones; whether it is important; and how it can be done.

Chinese Corner

If You Sprinkle While You Tinkle

When Vulgar Meets Sublime in Mandarin – by Liz Carter

There is a special genre of Mandarin verse near and dear to my heart. I call it “admonishment poetry.” Like English poetry of the same kind, it appears most often as a rhyming couplet with a simple meter, not too long and not too complicated. The use of poetic devices drives home messages that others feel worthy of the reader’s attention - all variations of “don’t be an asshole.”

Bathroom poetry is one variety of admonishment poetry, and seems to be universal. The most commonly known bathroom poem in the English language is a four-line verse, made up of two rhyming couplets:

Chinese Corner

The Incision Point

The first of our weekly language column, ‘Chinese Corner’ – by Liz Carter

Most of us are acquainted with Mandarin, and by that I mean the predominant form of Chinese. We often use the labels “Chinese” and “Mandarin” interchangeably, but in fact there are at least seven major varieties of Chinese, depending on whom you ask. For now, let’s start with Mandarin, what you would learn in school.

There are a lot of reasons to learn Mandarin: it’s beautiful, useful in all sorts of business endeavors, and would enable you to communicate with an additional billion people on this planet. The main problem most people have with Mandarin isn’t deciding whether or not they’d like to study it: it’s deciding where to start.