Travel Reference
In-Depth Information
As the most widely spoken language on earth, Chinese is hard to overlook. Mandarin
tematically promoted over the past hundred years to be the official, unifying language
of the Chinese people, much as modern French, for example, is based on the original
Parisiandialect.ItisknowninmainlandChinaas putonghua ,“commonlanguage”.All
Beijingers will speak and understand it, but note that working-class Beijingers have a
distinctive accent, adding an “r” sound to the end of many words - pronounced in a
manner similar to the “r” of Americans or Irish (or pirates), it's most noticeable with
older folk, particularly men who've been at the beer or bai jiu .
Chinese grammar is delightfully simple. There is no need to conjugate verbs, decline nouns
or make adjectives agree - Chinese characters are immutable, so words simply cannot have
different “endings”. Instead, context and fairly rigid rules about word order are relied on to
make those distinctions of time, number and gender that Indo-European languages are so
concerned with. Instead of cumbersome tenses, the Chinese make use of words such as “yes-
terday” or “tomorrow” to indicate when things happen; instead of plural endings they simply
state how many things there are. For English speakers, Chinese word order is very familiar,
and you'll find that by simply stringing words together you may well be producing perfectly
grammatical Chinese. Basic sentences follow the subject-verb-object format; adjectives, as
well as all qualifying and describing phrases, precede nouns.
From the point of view of foreigners, the main thing that distinguishes Mandarin from fa-
miliar languages is that it's a tonal language. In order to pronounce a word correctly, it is
necessary to know not only the sounds of its consonants and vowels but also its correct tone
- though with the help of context, intelligent listeners should be able to work out what you
are trying to say even if you don't get the tones quite right.
Travellers are increasingly using their mobile phones to counter linguistic difficulties faced
during their time in China. One of the most useful apps is the Waygo Visual Translator ( ) , which allows the steady-handed to scan Chinese characters, then trans-
lates them for you - particularly handy in restaurants with no English-language menu. Bet-
ter for word-to-word translation is the excellent Pleco app ( ) , which also has
scanning facilities if you're prepared to pay extra fees; the Dian Hua app ( dianhuadic- ) is similar, and nearly as good.
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