Monday, September 5, 2011

Mandarin Mondays: 家人

Hello little sister
Mèimei hǎo (妹妹)
After you learn how to use basic greetings in a foreign language, it it a good idea to learn how you should address or refer to the people you come in contact with. Just and in America, you don't want to say, "Hey Dude" when you should be saying, "Hello Mr. So-and-so." You don't want to address people in the wrong way in a foreign language.

Here it is very common to refer to everyone using family terms. This means that in general you would refer to everyone, unless it is a very formal situation, the same way you would refer to your family (jiārén, 家人). It is fine for me to refer to anyone who is the age of my grandparents by the names for paternal grandparents. For children especially, it is almost expected that they will call all adults, grandpa (yéye, 爷爷), grandma (nǎinai, 奶奶), uncle (shūshu, 叔叔), or aunt (āyí, 阿姨) based on the particular adults age.

Perhaps the first question asked about any child, besides asking if our boys are twins, is their age. And then if they can't figure out the gender (because the kid isn't wearing split pants, and/or hasn't gone to the bathroom publicly lately), they will ask if it is a boy (nánhái, 男孩) or a girl (nǚhái, 女孩). This is in part because here they have separate words for older sister (jiějie, 姐姐), younger sister (mèimei, 妹妹), older brother (gēge, 哥哥), and younger brother(dìdi, 弟弟), and usually children call all other children by the appropriate relational term.

This can take a little getting used to, because we don't usually refer to strangers as family in the US. However, it does have the advantage of not having to remember quite so many names. Which is really good for me, because I am having a horrible time remembering Chinese names.

Does anyone have a question about the language or culture here? Or a topic idea you would like to see for future Mandarin Mondays? I have a list of ideas started, but I'd like to make sure that I am writing about things that others would find interesting as well.

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