Why Andrew Yang’s name sounds weird to Chinese speakers
How do you pronounce the surname of the US presidential candidate Andrew Yang? Does it rhyme with “gang,” as in “Yang Gang”?  While this pronunciation may be intuitive to Americans – it’s how the Democratic hopeful says his name – it might sound a little off to Chinese ears. In the video above, we explain the difference between how Mandarin speakers pronounce the popular Chinese last name and how most Americans say it.
China’s 2022 Olympic mascots have unusual names
This article was updated on Sep 19, 2019 to include comment from the Beijing Organising Committee for the 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. Ever been stumped by how to say Xi Jinping? You’re not alone, and China’s Olympic organizers have acknowledged recognized the problem. The organizers chose an unconventional way to name their new 2022 Olympic mascots: a panda and an anthropomorphic lantern.  Instead of using Pinyin, the romanized spelling system used by more than 1 billion Mandarin speakers, both mascots have names spelled in ways that make it easier for non-Chinese speakers to pronounce.  Follow #BingDwenDwen and #ShueyRhonRhon on their adventures! See you in #Beijing2022! pic.t
Why almost everyone calls their dad ‘papa’ (it’s not always been that way)
No matter what language you speak, chances are you know what “mama” and “papa” mean when you hear those words. They are “māma” and “bàba” in Mandarin, “mama” and “tata” in Bosnian, “maman” and “papa” in French, and “nana” and “tata” in Fijian. Some linguists say that with rare exceptions, those words for mother and father need no translation across language families and cultures because they’re the easiest sounds to make for a baby. When you learned to say the vowel sound in “ma,” all you needed to do was to open your mouth and make noise. And “m”, “p” and “b” are consonants you can sound without having to move your tongue. But as ubiquitous as “mama” and “papa” and their variations are, Chi
US-China trade talks are at the stage where people haggle over every word
As negotiators from the United States and China grow closer to clinching a deal to end the trade war, both sides will be wary of the complications that can arise from issues of language, interpretation and translation during negotiations. While both sides are negotiating in their native tongues with the help of simultaneous translation, the subsequent text will be translated into both English and Chinese. These translations will then be “scrubbed” by lawyers and technical translators in an effort to reach a final text that both sides are happy with. But history shows that this is rarely straightforward. Ambiguity is hard to avoid in international trade deals, while experienced negotiators ha
The tales Chinese last names tell us about immigration
Apart from being badass martial arts icons, Bruce Lee, and Jet Li have one more thing in common – they share the same last name. In English, Lee and Li are two different last names, but in Chinese, they’re written as the same character – 李. It is one of the most common Chinese last names. The distinction in English is the result of two different transliterations. “Lee” comes from a system of romanization of Chinese characters common among Cantonese speakers in southern China, whereas “Li” comes from Pinyin, the standard system of romanized spelling used by Mandarin speakers in mainland China. If you want to get your head around China’s vast regional and cultural differences, Lee and Li is a
From ‘fight America’ to ‘poetic rain’: what naming trends say about a changing China
Chinese given names are mostly two or three characters long, but they can be packed with history. Consider “fight America.” Or “help North Korea.” Or “build China.” These are literally what countless Chinese parents named their children in the 1950s in the years following the founding of communist China. But Chinese naming trends have changed over the decades, reflecting a country that has undergone dramatic political and cultural transformations. In the 60s, some of the hottest baby names were “Cultural Revolution,” ”Red Guards” and “learn from the military.” But most Chinese children today no longer bear names that hark back to any political campaigns launched by Chairman Mao. Instead, th
Before I was Viola I was Amy. And Easy
At the end of one English class in third grade, I became Amy. My teacher – a young man we called “Mister Wang” – handed every student a card that held the English name he had chosen for us. I found on my card a picture of a cute anime character and the handwritten word “Amy.” So that became my English name, the first of several more to come that would go on to define me and lead to strange conversations. But first, “Amy” accompanied me when I was learning to sing the alphabet, the words for fruits and animals, and the most basic conversations: “How are you, Amy?” “I’m fine, thank you. And you?” A bigger vocabulary later enabled us to get more creative with our English names. My peers picked
Do ethnic Chinese have a moral obligation to know their language?
A young Chinese Singaporean recently posted on social media that a mainland Chinese tourist he was trying to help in Singapore verbally shamed him for not being able to speak Mandarin properly. In retaliation for her rudeness, he gave her the wrong directions, which isn’t a nice thing to do to a guest, no matter how nasty she was. The attitude that informed her scolding of the young man is typical of many Chinese, as well as a segment of Chinese Singaporeans: that people of Chinese ancestry have a moral obligation to know the language. Even though the argument isn’t very convincing (we don’t expect Irish-Americans to know Irish, for example, nor British people of German ancestry the German
Learning English is an overrated ‘trash skill,’ says Chinese writer
English is a mandatory subject in China, from primary school to college. The nation’s students spend hour upon hour studying English grammar, memorizing vocabulary and practicing their writing skills. But not everyone finds the investment worth it. Hua Qianfang, a nationalistic writer with a large online following, said in an online post this week that most Chinese people had no reason to learn English, calling it a “trash skill.” The post has gone viral, leading to heated debate online. “For the majority of Chinese, English is a trash skill. It has wasted countless manpower and money, and has cost children their precious childhoods,” Hua wrote on the Twitter-like Weibo. “Those who defend le