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Home Living in China Foreigners in China Foreigners in China 老外看中国:你们的方言实在是太多了
老外看中国:你们的方言实在是太多了
Foreigners in China

To Talk the Talk in China, You Have to Know Where You Are

  By Megan Panther

  During the first semester I taught in China (Fall of 2003), an American friend and I took advantage of a three-day weekend by heading north to Beijing. We arrived excited and exhausted from the 12-hour train trip (we wrongly assumed that our standing-room-only tickets wouldn't be too uncomfortable), only to realize that we could hardly understand the conversations swirling around us in the nation's capitol. Even minor interactions, such as asking for directions or ordering food, were confusing and at first, all I could pick out of the Beijingers' rapid sentences was a predominate "rrr" sound.

When we gave a taxi driver directions to the hostel we planned to stay in, our best attempts at Chinese were met with blank stares ... until we learned the secret. All we had to do to communicate was add an "rrr" sound at the end of most of our words. We were amazed at how quickly the driver understood the word for gate, "men," when we pronounced it as "mer."

  Of course, I've since learned that the Beijing accent is a lot more complicated than simply adding an "r" at the end of random words, but many words do end with the heavy "rrr" sound. I've been here nearly a month now, and the Beijing dialect is becoming increasingly comprehensible. In fact, as I have now learned, the Beijing language, Beijinghua, is very standard, quite similar to the main Chinese dialect, Mandarin.

  The written language is fairly standard throughout China, with characters possessing the same meanings and different pronunciations in different parts of the country. But, as many readers probably already know, the Chinese spoken language is made up of a wide range of regional dialects, many incomprehensible to each other. When Chinese travel to different parts of the country, they frequently have difficulty communicating with people who only speak the local dialects. After returning to the States last year, I was extremely disappointed to discover that I couldn't understand the Chinese spoken in most Chinese restaurants or on the street in Chinatown. Many Chinese in the United States speak southern Chinese dialects, most often Cantonese (China's second most common dialect, spoken in southern China and Hong Kong) or Fujianhua, a dialect spoken on China's east coast.

  My students in Wuhan often tried to baffle their roommates by speaking to each other in local dialects, attempting to guess the meanings of different sounds are words. One student told me that her roommate's local dialect sounded as foreign to her as French or German.

  China's official, language, Mandarin, is becoming more common in all parts of China. It is used in schools, from kindergartens to universities, all across China. Additionally, all college freshmen are required to pass an exam in standard Mandarin. Students from southern and eastern China often worry a great deal about the exam, preparing for months in advance in order to pass the difficult oral portion of the test. Certain marks are required on the exam in order to be considered for certain occupations such as television broadcasters, teachers, and other professional careers whose communication skills are of great importance.

  Fortunately, the Wuhan dialect wasn't extremely different from standard Mandarin, so I haven't had too much trouble communicating here in Beijing. I'm in class 24 hours a week, but my real classroom is Beijing. My interactions in restaurants, in shops, on busses, in taxis, and on the street are beginning to wash away my Wuhan accent and are gradually installing the "rrr" sound that so intimidated me during my first trip here.

  Megan Panther, a 1999 GHS graduate, is a graduate student at the University of Chicago doing language study and research in Beijing for one year.




老外看中国:你们的方言实在是多得数不过来
  Megan Panther(美国)/文 陈宜泽/编译

  在中国教学的第一个学期,我和一位美国朋友一起利用周末坐火车北上,到中国的首都北京游玩了一趟。我们只买到了站票,当时想当然地认为旅途不会有多疲劳。然而,我们错了。当我们坐了12个小时的火车到达北京后,我们真是又兴奋又疲劳。

  当置身于北京街头时,我们却惊讶地发现自己几乎听不懂身边的北京人所讲的话。即使是最简单的交流,比如问路和到餐馆点菜,也无法与当地人沟通。慢慢地,我发现,讲话很快的北京人都带有明显的儿话音。当我们告诉出租车司机,带我们去预先定好的旅馆时,我们费了好大的劲,他还是听不懂,换来的只是他的白眼。最后,我们找到了窍门,就是在讲话时要多带儿话音。这样,出租车司机一下子听懂了我们的话。

  当然了,从那以后,我也发觉北京方言根本不是只加上儿话音那么简单,现在,我又来到了北京,呆了有将近一个月的时间了,却觉得北京话越来越难懂。事实上,北京话还是非常标准的,非常接近中国的普通话。

  在中国,书面语言非常标准,在不同地区,汉字表达的意思都相同,但读音却千差万别。很多读者可能已经知道,汉语的口语由好多种方言组成,每种方言之间都很难听懂。即使中国人到不同地区旅游时,他们经常遇到的难题,也是很难与只讲当地方言的人进行交流和沟通。

  去年,我返回美国后,我发现自己还是听不懂在唐人街中餐馆里吃饭的人所讲的汉语,当时感觉非常失望。在美国的很多中国人讲的是中国南方地区的方言,大部分是广东话(粤语)和福建话(闽南语)。广东话是中国的第二大方言。中国的南部地区和香港主要讲广东话,中国东部沿海地区主要讲福建话。

  我在武汉所教的学生经常说方言来为难室友。一个学生曾告诉我,她的室友讲的方言听起来就像是外语,和听法语和德语一样让人摸不着头脑。

  中国的官方语言是普通话。现在,普通话已在中国的各个地方得到了推广和普及。在中国,从幼儿园到大学的所有学校都用普通话教学。

  幸运的是,武汉方言与标准的普通话之间的差距还不是非常大,所以我在北京与北京人交流时遇到的障碍还不算太大。我每周上课为24小时,但是我真正的课堂是在北京的街头巷尾。餐馆、商店、公交车、出租车以及大街上的对话和交谈,慢慢地冲洗去了我的武汉方言,不知不觉地在讲话时也带上了儿话音。

  (本文作者曾在武汉和北京进行过为期一年的教学和学习)

 

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