Thursday, May 3, 2012

Chapter 45: Language Blunders - Part 2

Last time I mentioned how I inadvertently called a Chinese coworker a sleazebag.

Today's post comes from a conversation I had with another coworker. I'm learning different kinds of animals (some relevant and others not so much. For example, I can now say: cat, dog, cow, pig, horse, chicken, bird, panda, ostrich, moose, dragon, and penguin). I like to practice using the new words that I learn as soon as possible.

So I'm talking with my coworker about pigs - in Chinese, they're called zhu (first tone). But as we're talking, I recall something I learned a few lessons ago; if you put fei (first tone) in front of a word it makes it fly. For example, chuan is boat/ship. Feichuan is a spaceship. I think I'll make a funny joke about flying pigs, so I ask if she has seen a feizhu. She looks at me strangely, asks if I mean feizhou (Africa). Nope, I'm trying to be funny. So I explain the expression, "when pigs fly."  She lightheartedly tells me that I'm ruining her language.

And as this conversation is continuing, we change topics to talk about what The Book is called in Chinese, what the Fellowship is called, and what the King is called. Turns out His name is Zhu (second tone) Yesu. Zhu meaning lord.

Notice anything strange? Can you see where this is going?

That's right. After a brief moment, I was no longer saying Lord Jesus, but rather Pig Jesus (Zhu(2) Yesu compared to Zhu(1) Yesu).

Why those words are so close sounding in Chinese I have no idea, but it illustrates the difficulty a lot of foreigners have with the tonal nature of Chinese. The four tones have just as much influence on the meaning of the word as the actual words you're forming with your lips. And it's just unfortunate when my Western tongue ignores the tones and instead pronounces something slightly blasphemous.

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