ALLEGRO FORMS IN PEKINGESE.

Victor Mair had a recent post at the Log in which he discussed some bits of spoken Peking Chinese that have been mashed into unintelligibility (if you’re not part of the in-group):

This afternoon I passed by a group of high school kids from China going down the street outside of Williams Hall, the office building in which I work. One of the girls said merrily, “Bur’ao”, by which she meant Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM) bù zhīdào 不知道 (“[I] don’t know”).
The retroflex final -r is well known for northern varieties of Mandarin, but in Pekingese it seems that the mighty R has the ability to swallow up whole syllables, as in the example quoted in the previous paragraph.

He provides a number of other examples (not all involving -r), and in the comments he adduces the English parallel “sup,” which he heard in a bar full of sailors: “They were all giving high-fives to each other and saying that. I had absolutely no idea what it meant. I knew that it must be something very common in their English (in fact, it was the most frequently uttered expression in that bar), but I felt so silly not being able to figure out what such a common expression meant. [...] It took me several tries before I found someone who was patient enough to explain to me that it meant ‘What’s up?’”
I suppose most languages must have such forms; in Russian, for instance, there’s “чё.”

Comments

  1. Well, living in Beijing, you learn not to speak like an outsider or you’ll get ripped off. And one of the first expressions you learn is būrdào (I personally feel you can still hear the ‘d’ in there).
    Another feature of Beijing (or perhaps modern Mandarin in general) is the disappearance of the final ‘n’ in many syllables. People say míngtiē instead of míngtiān (unless, of course, they are speaking ‘Pekingese’, in which case they might say mír with some nasalisation).

  2. I’m very envious of you people who can live there in Foreign and learn the everyday abbreviated forms. This is something I’ll never be able to learn satisfactorily from books.
    (“satisfactorily” is a funny word.)

  3. Actually, when emphasised it becomes bù rdào. But when spoken normally I think it’s būrdào or bùridào — it’s not very clear.
    It’s good to envy people who live in foreign parts and have a chance to pick up the language from the air around you, but in fact even living in a foreign country doesn’t mean that you’ll do so. Even while it’s easier, if you don’t work at it it won’t happen! (Lots of expats live here and don’t pick up much at all. Others, like me, manage to coccoon themselves rather nicely from reality :) )

  4. I agree with Bathrobe. Some bits are easier to understand (and therefore pick up) than others: seeing something written down helps, of course. You don’t pick up the other bits unless someone points them out to you. Knowing the problem, I’m surprised at how well non-English speakers pick up English contractions – do they have a secret method?

  5. michael farris says:

    “in Russian, for instance, there’s “чё.””
    Which is short for ….. ?
    A few random (never written AFAIK) contractions in Polish I’ve noticed
    chciaem piedzieć (instead of chciałem powiedzieć)
    a bunch with numbers like szesiąt (instead of sześćdziesiąt)
    I’ve also heard (the middle of a sentence ‘niem’ (with either lengthened vowel or some syllabification of m for ‘nie wiem’ (I don’t know).

  6. Which is short for ….. ?
    Чего.
    I’ve also heard (the middle of a sentence ‘niem’ (with either lengthened vowel or some syllabification of m for ‘nie wiem’ (I don’t know).
    I suspect “I don’t know” (dunno, d’no) is one of the most commonly mashed phrases in many languages.

  7. Secret method = popular songs, Hollywood movies etc?

  8. The way to learn from movies is to cross-reference the sound with the subtitle. Just thought I’d mention that.

  9. That’s so only when the subtitles are reliable renderings of what is being spoken. They often abbreviate drastically.
    For “advanced learners” even low-fat subtitles can be of assistance. German subtitles to French films help me with the stray French noun or verb that I don’t know or didn’t catch as it just whizzed by.
    Language of romance my foot – I suspect half the time the French can’t understand each other in everyday, carelessly pronounced, breathy-flow-of-indistinguishable-vowels-without-consonants speech. But that’s unimportant because they don’t care what the others are saying anyway. Each person is waiting the max 5 seconds before he interrupts the others so as to have his say.
    I suspect “I don’t know” (dunno, d’no) is one of the most commonly mashed phrases in many languages.
    German nichts often becomes nix, as in davon weiß ich nix = “don’t know nuthin’ about that”.

  10. nix is pronounced “niks”. The “ch” and “t” sounds are elided.

  11. Stu: French is a Romance language, whether it is a language of Romance is a subjective matter I suppose, but I assure you we francophones do understand one another (even without subtitles!)
    Also, NIX is also found in Dutch, with the same meaning as in standard German (standard Dutch NIETS): I suspect that, being shared by both languages, this non-standard feature is quite old.
    Hat: I quite agree that “I don’t know” seems very liable to radical reduction in many languages: I remember native speakers of English in the American South whose (ordinary!) realization of “I don’t know” was /aono/ (I never noticed any other instance of intervocalic /d/ deletion).
    Closer to home, one reduction I have noticed in Montreal French is one whereby JE (NE) LE SAIS PAS is reduced to schwa + /lsepa/. That is to say, the initial J of the subject clitic is wholly deleted, a remarkable phenomenon I haven’t noticed with any other verb.

  12. komfo,amonan says:

    “I don’t know” can be reduced even further. In an extremely reduced form, it is recognized by its tone profile (low-high-mid), and can be articulated as a nasalized mid-central vowel or an extended [m]. <IANALinguist />
    As a kid (USA – Mid-Atl.) in the ’70′s, this would be my evasive, mendacious response to inquiries concerning my responsibility for some bad act. I’ll probably still use it now when tired/lazy.

  13. John Emerson says:

    One of the best English learners I’ve known was a Moroccan who’d learned entirely orally, from TV and people he met when he was out and about. He’d already done Spanish and German that way and worked very systematically, asking his friends to correct him, etc. I can vouch for his English.
    Don’t know about his literacy, but since he started orally, the uncontracted forms were what he needed to learn, not the contracted forms.

  14. John Emerson says:

    My brother remembers the day when he realized that “Ok, see you, bye” wasn’t the single word “kaySIyubye”.

  15. Morocco is probably still a multilingual society. In 1970 I was usually addressed in French and met a few who had learned some English from travelers (they called us hippies). When I visited last in 1976 I was astonished to hear what I thought was Brooklynese and Cockney, not to mention Swedish and German. I don’t know how extensive their ability was. They all had good ears and mimicry.

  16. But Leonardo, you DO live in Foreign!
    Obligatory contribution: in Japanese, /ohayo: gozaimasu/ (“good morning”) can, in certain social circumstances, be abbreviated to /Qsu/, which owing to vowel devoicing is basically just a hiss.

  17. Personally, I think the way with movies is to watch them several times over. What sounds like gibberish the first time gains greatly in clarity the second, and the third time allows you to concentrate on details. Of course, you want to be sure it’s a movie worth watching more than once.

  18. In Germany it’s sometimes to hard to distinguish between elision and dialect. In Southern Germany/Austria you often hear “hamma” for “haben wir”, “simma” for “sind wir”, “song” for “sagen”, “a” for “auch”, etc. In dialect those are all regular forms.
    Spoken French takes elison so far that I suspect it is in the process of developing into a tonal language like Mandarin.

  19. Spoken French takes elison so far that I suspect it is in the process of developing into a tonal language like Mandarin.
    eleison = “Lord have mercy !”, is my reaction to that. It’s plausible, though: it would have been easier to learn Chinese first and then go on to French.

  20. In Germany it’s sometimes to hard to distinguish between elision and dialect.
    Zong ! I’d never thought about spoken French in that light. I really must rid myself of the gripy feeling that they’re doing it merely to make life hell for furriners.

  21. In my brief visits to Japan, I always heard /ohayo: gozaimasu/ (“good morning”) as o-hai goz-I-mass. To my ears, that seemed the way it was usually said (or shouted, as you entered a small eatery). Just my 6d (in old money).

  22. To my ears, that seemed the way it was usually said (or shouted, as you entered a small eatery).
    I always heard “Irasshaimasu!” in that context. In any event, you were a foreigner being treated relatively formally and would not have heard the extreme syncopations Matt is talking about (or rather, would have heard them only as part of an unintelligible stream of speech emitted by passersby).

  23. Hat: I believe you heard “Irasshaimase!”–the polite imperative of the verb irassharu ‘to go, come, be, etc.’.

  24. Charles Perry says:

    This kind of shortening happens very occasionally in Arabic, where it seems somewhat shocking because of the rigorous derivation of words from roots. In Cairo I’ve heard “mumk” for “mumkin” (“it’s possible”).

  25. I ‘unno if this is really the same process, but it seems to have happened quite a lot in Moroccan dialect, just comparing it with what little I know of Modern Standard. For example, courtesy Wikipedia, “good morning” is “sbah al-khir” instead of “sabah al-khayr” and “where are you from?” is “Mnin nta?” instead of “Min ayna anta?”

  26. John Emerson says:

    Spoken French takes elison so far that I suspect it is in the process of developing into a tonal language like Mandarin.
    I’ve read that French is tonal in the sense that your sentences don’t sound natural if you don’t get the tone right. That’s not too different than English, though. The difference between “Right?” and “Right!” is mostly tone.
    What Chinese has is word-tone, though, which means that you can’t use sentence-tone. That was a problem I never solved — at the ends of sentences I would always use a falling intonation, as in English, but if the final Chinese word isn’t in the 4th tone a falling intonation is wrong. Likewise, if there’s a fourth tone in the middle of a Chinese sentence, to me it sounded like the end of the sentence.
    In

  27. J.W. Brewer says:

    I think John McWhorter somewhere uses as an example of French elision the name of the 8th month of the year which in Latin was Augustus (at least 7 distinct phonemes) but in French is now spelled Aout but in pronunciation has been reduced to a single phoneme (approximately “oo”).

  28. Hat: I believe you heard “Irasshaimase!”
    Yes, of course; my bad.
    I ‘unno if this is really the same process, but it seems to have happened quite a lot in Moroccan dialect
    It’s not really the same, it’s a matter of stress getting distributed differently in Maghrebi than in the standard language and thus causing different syllable forms. But I know nothing about it; hopefully someone who does (Lameen?) will drop by and explain further.

  29. [août] in French is now spelled Aout but in pronunciation has been reduced to a single phoneme (approximately “oo”)
    Or “oot”, as SPOTs say (Superior Persons On Television) and Petit Robert confirms. This is one I have kept a feverish eye on for a long while. My source is the talking heads on ARTE. In general they do a lot more “t”s than you would expect.
    By the way, the French names of the months are not capitalized.

  30. In
    In what, John?

  31. John E: Lexical tone is superimposed on sentence intonation in Chinese: a first tone (high level) is lower at the beginning of a simple declarative sentence than at the end.

  32. It’s like uptalk [?].

  33. Bosnian: “djezba?” = “Gdje si bolan?”. In English: “Where are you man?” a greeting on meeting an acquaintance or a friend.

  34. Gassalasca says:

    Yes, that would be something like
    [ˈgdje si ˈbolan] -> [ˈdʑezbaː]

  35. Something similar in colloquial Swedish (at least in the Stockholm-Uppsala region; it seems to be fairly unknown in Gothenburg): “jag vet inte” (‘I don’t know’) becomes shortened to “vene”.
    Two more examples: the greeting “(jag förbliver eder) ödmjuke tjänare” (‘(I remain your) humble servant’) was reduced to “tjenare” (in traditional Stockholm dialect, /e:/ and /ä:/ merge), then “tjena”, and in the 1980s finally “tja”.
    The proto-Norse phrase “ne wait ek hwariR” (‘I don’t know which’) was in Old Norse reduced to “nokkvur”, which in the neuter gave Classical Old Swedish “nakot” (‘something’), then Early Modern Swedish “någhot”, reduced to “nåt”, and finally in everyday East Central and Northern Swedish speech simply “nå” (when used attributively: “de e nå fel på bilen” = “there’s something wrong with the car”).

  36. Well, dropping whole words is no longer phonological reduction, but if you want to go there, how about the reduction of late Latin non rem natam ‘no thing born’ to French rien and Spanish nada?
    An exact parallel to tja is ciao, which is short for schiavo ‘[your] slave’.

  37. John Cowan: I’m afraid you’re wrong on both counts.
    1-CIAO isn’t a reduction of SCHIAVO: both are phonologically regular outgrowths of a Late Latin *SCLAVUM (itself borrowed from the Slavs’ autonym). SCHIAVO is the phonologically regular reflex found in Tuscan (the basis of standard Italian), whereas CIAO is the reflex in Venetian dialect (where loss of intervocalic /v/ and the reduction of initial /skl/ to a palatal affricate are both phonologically quite regular), which was later borrowed by Italian and other languages.
    2-French RIEN goes straight back to REM, and Spanish NADA to NATA: in the latter case it is true that its meaning was probably due to its having originally been used elliptically, with the NON REM being understood to be there. But this is quite unlike the instances of allegro phonological change which have been discussed here.

  38. Etienne:
    On your #1: thanks, and I’ll stop propagating this dysmeme.
    On your #2: I think we aren’t really in disagreement. I was saying that the reduction of ödmjuke tjänare to tjenare, like the reduction of non rem natam to rien, is not phonological, though its further reductions surely are.
    On typography: You can get proper italics by wrapping a phrase to be italicized in <i> and </i> tags thus: <i>the word</i> is displayed as the word. Using “poor man’s italics” by capitalization is perceived as SHOUTING by many Internet users, a species of learned synaesthetic reflex. (Victor Mair drives me CRAZY by doing this at Language Log.)

  39. John Cowan: my apologies on number 2, I really should have read you more carefully (coffee, then comments, Etienne, now that isn’t too difficult, is it?)
    As for emphasis, thank you very much for the tip: I do agree that italics are quite preferable to CAPITALIZATION.

  40. Terry Collmann says:

    Inni’

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