Lesson 3 comments

1. 美国人 Měiguórén (American person)

The Chinese word for America is 美国 Měiguó, which literally means "beautiful country" ("měi" is "beautiful" and "guó" is "country"). The Chinese system of naming foreign countries, places or people usually involves picking a character that has an agreeable meaning and that sounds something like the original foreign word. So, "měi" was picked as the name for America because it sounds like the second syllable of "America" and it has a great meaning. "Déguó" is the name for Germany and was picked the same way: "dé" sounds like "Deutschland" and the character has a good meaning: virtue. Sometimes, however, a name is created phonetically--using characters that approximate the sound of each syllable of the foreign word.

2. 哥哥 gēgē (older brother)

The system for naming relations (relatives) in Chinese is much more complex than in English. For example, the word for "older brother" and "younger brother" are different in Chinese. In English, of course, they are both "brother." There are many different terms, for example, for "uncle" (and "aunt") depending on whether the relation is through the maternal or paternal side; whether the aunt/uncle is older/younger than one's own father or mother; and whether the uncle/aunt is related by blood or marriage. The variety of names for relatives shows how important family is in Chinese culture!

3. 他 tā (he)

The pronunctiation for "he," "she" and "it" is the same in Chinese (tā), but the characters are different ("she" is 她; and "it" is 它).

4. 佛罗里达 Fóluólǐdá (Florida)

This is an example of a Chinese name for a foreign word that has just been chosen phonetically. However, "fo" means "Buddha" and "luo" means "logic." So, there is still some attempt to pick agreeable characters--or at least avoid characters that have negative meanings.

5. 我小的时候 Wǒ xiǎodeshíhou (When I was little)

The literal translation of the Chinese is: "I (was) little's time" (in other words, "the time when I was little"). In Chinese, "deshíhou" ("when" or "the time") goes after the word it is describing, and between it is a possessive "de" (的)--meaning that the time "belonged" to that stage. So, "when I was in China" would be structured as "I was in China time" (or, more exactly, "I was in China's time.")

6. 回不去 huíbùqù (can't go back)

In Chinese, the negating word 不 bù (no or not) often goes between the two characters of a two-character verb to mean that something can't be achieved or accomplished. So, 回去 huíqù means to "go back," but by inserting "bù" in the middle it means "can't go back." In contrast, putting "bù" in front of the verb ("bù huíqù") would simply mean "not go back." It doesn't carry the meaning of not being able to go back.

Lessons home