Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Sheng Dan Kuai Le!

...which literally translates to Christmas Happy! When speaking Mandarin, tone is everything to get your meaning across correctly. There are 4 tones in Mandarin: a 1st tone that is high and level (like singing the note la), a 2nd tone that rises (like in far, Is it far?), a 3rd tone that dips down and goes up (like saying So? when you're irratated), and the 4th tone is a downward tone (like saying No! adamantly).

For beginners like myself, this means plenty of laughter from the tutor and those we test our Mandarin on. For the most part, saying something in the wrong tone will mean saying a completely different word. Sheng Dan Kuai Le or Merry/Happy Christmas is all said in the 4th tone. But sheng in the 1st tone and Dan in the 4th tone means "lay eggs." My driver couldn't stop laughing when I said to him this past weekend..."Lay eggs happy!" He then finally told me what I had said. It's tough learning a new lauguage -- a chuckle here and there is welcomed!


Derek said...

Sounds like I'll have another Chinese tutor when (if??) you guys return to the States. Elise, who turns 3 this Sunday, simply rolls her eyes at my feeble attempts at Mandarin and says, "Daddy, that's not the right way!"

Tone is very tough, especially learning from the other gender. I find that I have to match Eva's pitch to nail the tone, which leaves me speaking like a bad drag queen.

Shruti said...

I remember a story that when Coca-Cola first came to China, they tried to use the symbols for "Co" "Ca" "Co" "La" and essentially translated it to "Bite the wax tadpole" or something like that. Transliteration is great.