The Bride of the First House (bride) wrote,
The Bride of the First House

What Kind of Chinese Do I Speak?

weather: mainly clear
outside: 13.4°C
mood: chipper
I did the "What Kind of American English Do You Speak?" quiz, but I think it's pretty pointless for me to post my results. Apparently, Canadian Vancouverites speak like they're from all over the continental USA.

But that, and a recent post in zhongwen asking for a Chinese dialogue companion with a certain accent, made me think of what kind of Chinese I speak.


I went to a Taiwanese-run Mandarin school for a year when I was five. The school was one of the first in a long string of education ventures of Dr. Cary Chien who is a family friend. I'm sure my teacher, Mrs. Gin, had a big influence over my accent whether I remember it or not.

I didn't speak again until highschool when I took Mandarin classes for credit. The teacher was from Beijing, I hated her and I hated the way she sounded. I tried very hard to not speak the way she did. I used to think her "tongue curl" was clowny and dumb.

Instead, I modelled my pronunciations after a girl in my class from Taiwan. I never did talk to her before we graduated, but I heard her when we got picked on to answer questions out loud in class. I thought she sounded very down-to-earth. Nothing was slurred, nothing was ambiguous, all the initials and finals were very definitive, clean and crisp. So I took to speaking like she did.

I would describe my Mandarin accent as Taiwan Academic or Southern China Coastal... like XiaMen, Fujian Province. Shanghai is about as far north as I've heard it. My parents have much more of a Beijing accent than I do.

I enunciate the difference between the z/zh, c/ch, s/sh as clearly as I can. Many in Taiwan don't make the distinction. I only mutter and blur it when I don't know which one it's supposed to be. But I don't roll my tongue nearly as much as Northern Mainlanders. I say "zhè lǐ" and not "zhèr" for "here". It's "hái zi" and not "hái'r" for "child". I say "bǐ jiào" and not "bí jiǎo" to express the comparative.

I also clearly distinguish in/ing, en/eng, an/ang. My userinfoHusband doesn't. He keeps mixing up 心 (xīn) and 星 (xīng). I think it's because my Mother-in-Law pronounces both approximately as "hseen", so the guys can't tell what's what. I don't know how much of that is her Hai-Lu KeJia background.


My Cantonese is between a Mainland/Guangzhou and Hong Kong Cantonese. My maternal grandfather spoke MeiXian KeJia (so I'm 1/8th Hakka), but my mother doesn't speak much Hakka. Some of the things I say are more Mainland, but even there, many terms that begin with the 'n' initial in formal pronunciation have become an 'l' initial colloquially.

I was taught to never compromise the 'ng'. "Bank" is "ngun hong" and not "un hon" (eew...); "beef" is "ngau yuk" and not "au yuk". But in my teens, I found myself sliding out of "ngo" for "I/me" and into just "o" sometimes. But I still insist it's a retracted 't∫' ("tsoi" for "vegetable") and not an aspirated 'ch' (more like "choy").

My mother has always been 媽媽 (ma-ma; which sounds like "Maman" in French) and my father, 爸爸 (ba-ba). They were never "Mommy" or "Daddy" in a Cantonese accent. My parents are not the Mommy and Daddy types. They are the Mother and Father types.

Sometime around age ten, my mother became "Mom" or "Maaaaaaaaaaaaa" when I was being loud, but never "Mum". My father became "Dad" only when I was speaking about him in the third person. 爸爸 encompasses "Daddy", "Dad" and "Father" to me.

I was, and still am, 嘉嘉 to them.

My brother was 弟弟 (which we pronounced "dee-dee") and he called me 家姊 ("ga-je") until his early teens, then we were on a first name basis in English.


I took French in all five years of Secondary school, from Grade 8 to 12. DO YOU KNOW HOW INCREDIBLY BLOODY DIFFICULT IT IS TO FIND SOMEONE TO TEACH FRENCH ON THE WEST COAST, EVEN WHEN IT'S ONE OF THE OFFICIAL BLOODY LANGUAGES OF YOUR BLOODY COUNTRY? For some retarded reason, they took French out of the public Elementary school curriculum. And my grade seemed to be something of a cut-off grade. The grade above me had to take French. I was all excited that maybe next year, I would finally start learning French. But they pulled it when we got there. >KO

I was talking to a co-worker way back when he was looking at enrolling his kids in Kindergarten. Apparently, it's the same kind of stupidness to try to get into a bilingual French/English school here. There is only ONE bilingual public Elementary school in Vancouver... in GREATER Vancouver... that I know of. Many of the English-only schools have a French Immersion program, but you have to happen to live in the school's catchment area. It's insane.

There is a large French cultural organization (Alliance Française) in Vancouver that offers Saturday morning French classes for children and adults, but my Saturdays were already taken up by Chinese school. =P

Anyway, I owe my French all to Jane Z. (French 8), Walter H. (French 9) and Fiorella H. (French 11 and 12). I loved learning with Walter H. He demanded accuracy to a very fine fine granularity, which is something I appreciate very much. He would bring the class to a screeching halt to correct things and wouldn't let it go until he was confident that it would stick. That, ladies and gentlemen, is teaching.

I had Walter C. for French 10. He taught Spanish as well, so his accent was very southern and sometimes, his pronunciation was plain wrong. I tended to stay away from some of the pronunciations he made. Sometime during French 11 (or 12?), there was a new girl in the class who had moved to Vancouver from Ontario or somewhere with a very Quebec French influence. She sounded different and I could hear it. Not bad-different, more like interesting-different.

We're taught Parisian French on the West Coast of Canada, which is the accent from the northern region of France. I pronounce "toute de suite" as a Frenchified "toot sweet" and not "toot-de swee-de" as they would in southern France, near Spain. And "oui" is "wee" and not "way", like they would say in Quebec.

I tried very hard to shake off my English accent and focus on what sounds and feels French when I was speaking. I did my best to make "nuit" ("nwee", meaning "night") different from "nouille" ("noo-wee" meaning "noodle"). I hated hearing classmates making them the same and I was near aghast when I heard it from a teacher. =P

"Car" is "la voiture" and not "le car". There were a pile of these differences between French French and Quebec French that were mentioned in class, but that I don't remember now.

So, if you've made it this far =D describe the accent and regionalisms of some non-English languages that you speak. =)

Tags: chinese, linguaphile

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