December 08, 2009, 12:23 AM posted in General Discussion

Last weekend we needed sand for our garden and I asked my driver to get us some 沙 sha1. He did not understand after me repeating it and showed him the character and het said OH you need SA! (no h). I told him it should be sHa etc. and he could not pronounce it!

A little later I had a Chinese class and needed to name a tourist spot in Nanjing and of course said Purple mountain (紫金山) and without knowing it  pronounced it myself as zi3jin1san1 in stead of shan1!

My teacher laughed and said this is Nanjing dialect. I must have picked this up from the (taxi) driver!  When I need to buy agate I oftern hear myself say maLao in stead of maNao! It surprise me a bit that you pick up on these things so fast!

Now I know Nanjing dialect has s in stead of sh, l=n, r = l: I was joking: "what are they doing to me?!" It is already difficult enough as it is and they are mixing up consonants?! Also the the confusion about 4 / 10 makes sense suddenly!

After 2 years, my ayi (from the North) has left the and have a new one (from Nanjing). I really need to get used to her accent and sometimes do not understand her at all! I have a feeling that the more I learn the more difficult it gets :-) On top of it my teacher says she can hear differences in accents IN Nanjing?!! Meaning they speak different within a range of a few km.!!!!! Sigh....

Anyone else has experienced this?

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December 08, 2009, 02:05 AM

I'm definitely affected by the Shanghai accents around me all the time. I find myself dropping the "h" from words like "shanghai" (上海)[sang-hai] or "shang ge xingqi" (上个星期)[sang ge xingqi], etc. I sometimes also say, "va" instead of "ba," like in "dui ba?" (对吧) [dui va]!

I wonder what people learning Chinese in other regions pick up? (Anhui/Sichuan: "hou di" for 好的?)

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December 14, 2009, 03:06 PM

Taiwanese people do the "sh->s" conversion, I think. So no, not standard.

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December 08, 2009, 03:20 AM

Ahhh you've reminded me of Shanghai with "De va".

There are so many accents that it gets hard sometimes. Everytime you meet someone new you have to come to terms with how they say things.

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December 08, 2009, 04:54 AM

Somebody tell me about the Guangdong dialect! Tal_? I'll be living in Foshan. Will my crisp and beautiful Mandarin be ruined?

It seems that most of the dialects are about removing information, that is reducing the amount of sounds (like 'sh' becoming 's'). Are there dialects that add information, too? That (still) differentiate between characters that sound the same in standard Mandarin (but sounded different in Classical Chinese)?

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December 08, 2009, 05:00 AM

On a related note, this seems like a good place to plug my friend, Kellen Parker's, blog. He's a complete 方言 nerd and he blogs about it. (Specifically Wu dialects.) It's a bit technical, but really interesting if you like the linguistic side of things. He's also got a bunch of recordings he's made of various dialects. Good stuff!

The Annals of Wu

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December 08, 2009, 06:14 AM

Sounds like there is some relationship between Kunming Hua and Nanjing Hua. It sounds like they are holding some marbles in their mouth when they talk.

Kunming has the 'sh' -> 's' difficulty like other southern dialects. I here "me de si" all the time here like Nanjing. I wonder if there are more.

'kè' = 去. 'nādi' = 哪里. When I first got in a taxi I heard "kènādiya?" I thought I heard "Claudia". Now it's part of my active vocabulary.

街 is often said as gāi. There is an area on the west side of Kunming call 马街 that every one says as mǎgāi.

'gè' can be used to create a simple yes or no qustion. for example: gèsì = 是不是 or 是吗.

'ga' is tacked on to the end of verious sentances or expressions. "xièxie ga" is one that I have started saying when before I just said "谢谢", I'm not sure what it adds or if there is some similarity to the 上海 'va'. I'm still trying to figure it out. No one's given me an explination I can understand.

As far as finals are concerned they are often shortend. Finals ending in "ng" often get shortend to "n", "n"s often get dropped, -ie final often becomes -i.


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December 08, 2009, 07:47 AM

Hi Guys (and gals),  thank you for your interesting posts and sharing your experiences!

This morning I was showing my wedding pictures to the new ayi: she pointed at my grandmother and she asked is this you lailai? :-). I will never get enough of Chinese! Aways something new to wonder at ;-)

I will practice the suggested 南京话 tomorrow!The 是啊  is too funny: yes I forgot about that one!

Something else: i often hear Kebie (特别) in stead of Tebie is this me or also an accent. Discussed this with my teacher but she doesn't have a clue... Anyone else have this? I even think I sometimes heard it Jenny say?

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December 08, 2009, 08:40 AM

Hi chanelle77

As you already know, what the new ayi said is "奶奶" (nai3nai, grandma), but in Nanjing dialect the consonant "n" in standard Mandarin changes into "l".

Both Nanjing and Yunnan (Kunming) dialects belong to the group of northern dialects, which also includes Beijing-hua and Sichuan-hua, for example. So, as JasonSch said, it's not so difficult to understand them if you can speak 普通话, perhaps.

For the record, the most standard Mandarin (官话) in Ming/Qing dynasty was not that spoken in 北京, but that in 南京, which was spoken mainly by Chinese bureaucrats in 南京. After all, Beijing was the capital city of Qing dynasty, which was established by Manchu, northern "barbarian".

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December 08, 2009, 09:21 AM

Thank you Changye! I read in my (new) book on Chinese history (written by Dutch sinologist) that they were doubting to make Nanjinghua the standard language during Ming dynasty If I remember correctly?!

Side note: that book is fascinating one reason being: the focus on the position of women during different dynasties....

And, there is also a very scary Eunuch picture :-).

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December 08, 2009, 09:44 AM

Hi chanelle77

I think what the author says has a reason, since in those days perhaps there was no clear concept of "standard Chinese" in the sense of today's 普通话. 

Ordinary people spoke in a colloquial local language, and bureaucrats had to speak in Mandarin (官话), which was perhaps made based on  classical written Chinese (文言).

To make matters more complicated, bureaucrats spoke in "local" Mandarin, which was deeply influenced by local pronounciations and vocaburary.

I still think 南京官话 was most influential at that time, but at the same time, it was possibly just one of those 官话 spoken all over China in Ming dynasty.

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December 08, 2009, 02:41 AM


I spent almost 2 years in Nanjing and learned a lot of my Chinese with 南京人.

As a joke, I used to tell Chinese people that I could speak 南京话 fluently. When they asked me how I learned, I would tell them, I realized that speaking 南京话 was simply speaking 普通话 but never closing your mouth all the way :) That always gets a laugh from the 南京人. Give it a listen. It really does sound that way sometimes.

As for different sub-dialects in 南京 there are in fact many. The main dialect spoken in the city-center is actually a very Mandarin-ized version of the original language spoken in Nanjing. For that reason, when young people speak ‘南京话' they're actually just speaking heavily accented 普通话 with a peppering of words substituted from the original dialect.

When you get outside of the city, or talk to older people, you get the real stuff and that is much harder to decipher. There are also some dialects spoken in the far south of the city (江南) that belong to the 吴语 dialectal family, which includes 上海,苏州,高淳,绍兴,杭州,无锡 dialects.

As for picking up an accent, I wouldn't worry about it. The Nanjing accent isn't very heavy (especially compared to some places in the south and out west) and is still mostly understandable. I definitely had a bit of an accent when I moved back to Shanghai, but like Catherine, I've already found myself accidentally picking up Shanghainese habits. Especially the 'va'!! It just rolls right off the tongue.

I'm fascinated by these dialects. There's just so damn many. And of course, it's fun to be able to speak a little yourself. Here's a few 南京话 phrases you can try out.

啊是啊 (which comes out sounding like 啊沙啊) is equivalent to 是不是 and can be put on the end of sentences to make a question. But, if gives a feeling more like, 'isn't that right?' rather than a direct question.

for example: 你四南进人啊沙啊? nǐ sì nán jìn rén a sha a(你是南京人啊是啊?)

么的四 means 没事 (and literally means 没有事) so, accordingly

么的 means 没有.

Finally, 我滴个鬼鬼, 'wǒ dī gè guǐ guǐ' means something like, 'Oh my god.' or 'oh my goodness.'

Then there's all the curse words, but I'll leave that for another time. :)



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December 13, 2009, 09:00 AM

Standard Chinese is the form of Mandarin that the Chinese government decided to call the standard.  This language is native to much of North-East China (in slightly different but basically the same forms).  I think part of the confusion arises from the fact that in English different dialects are generally mutually understandable.  In Chinese however, different dialects are different languages (as far as I'm concerned).  The reason Standard Chinese is the 'standard' is only because it was the language/dialect that ended up being used by those in power as a lingua franca due to various reasons, amongst which luck is one of them, I assume.

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December 13, 2009, 09:11 AM

Sorry simon, only just got round to reading this! The Guangdong accent is generally looked down on by northerners I understand, they really don't make the 'sh' sound at all (as far as I can tell) in words like 山 and 上, but thankfully they don't substitute n for l and vice versa.

Many people are quite sure though that their kind of Chinese is the right one. When I first came to China I would be corrected frequently when I spoke with my 'Pimsleur' accent, though I was often told (occasionally with awe -lol) that my Chinese was very 'standard'.

To be honest I think it's a personal decision one makes as to how much one 'goes native' with accents. Just to make people happy, I'll occasionally pronounce a word I know should be 'sh' as 's', but on the whole I try to maintain a 'Standard Chinese' accent, (which I suppose would be defined as the Beijing accent.)

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December 13, 2009, 09:18 AM

Thanks, tal_! That's gonna be tough on me. The "sh->s" phenomenon is the one that annoys me the most when I hear it! Maybe it'll grow on me.

Can one really say that the Beijing accent is the standard one? Standard Mandarin doesn't do much 儿话音.

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December 13, 2009, 09:19 AM

"Standard Chinese" is the Chinese spoken by newscasters and announcers in TV programs broadcast by CCTV (中国中央电视台)..............? hehe

You should learn "Standard Chinese accents" first because there is usually no positive reason you intentionally learn local/dialect accents. 

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December 13, 2009, 09:27 AM

Yeah, I remember meeting a Texan in Tianjin, who had a big southern drawl, but spoke pretty good Chinese, but when he was speaking to a Chinese person, the Chinese person said 'Your Chinese is not real Chinese, it's more like Hangzhou hua'? What? So Hangzhou hua is not real Chinese?

I've noticed 'standard' (标准)is a big word here. And the Chinese people (if I can make a sweeping generalisation) seem pretty 'obsessed' by it. Some in my office told me not to copy his accent because it is 'not very standard (he is from Hubei) and I, for one, on many occasions have been told that my chinese is '不标准‘。

I am currently residing in Beijing, which some consider to be the 'gold-standard' of Mandarin, but to my ears, I don't particularly like the ‘儿’ sound, but after living here a couple of months, find myself using it, kind of semi-unconsciously...


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December 13, 2009, 11:56 PM

I've seen reference to a "standard accent" on Chinesepod many times, but had never heard of it before. I've heard or read the Chinesepod team saying that the hosts' accents are "standard." Today, speaking to a friend from Taiwan, I told him that Chinesepod claims to use the "standard accent." He said "oh, Bejing?" I said that I didn't think so. There's not a lot of errrs on Chinesepod.

Is there a "standard accent"? If so, who defines it/recognizes it, and how is it defined? Or is it, as Changye writes, whatever is spoken on CCTV news?


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December 14, 2009, 01:58 AM

The standard accent is what is taught in school in China. One of my Chinese friends is from the south, and she can speak with both a southern accent and a standard accent (which she was taught in school). I suppose it's defined by the CCP. I don't know how to define it other than to tell you that it's what you hear on the news, CPod, etc, but there's probably a definition out there somewhere.

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December 14, 2009, 02:46 PM

Would the people in Taiwan have the standard accent?

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December 13, 2009, 08:47 AM

Um, this might be a stupid question(s), but what is 'Standard Chinese'? And why are certain accents/dialects more desirable than others?