Learning Chinese enables you to gain an insight into the extraordinary way Chinese people view certain things, in turn helping to better understand their culture. Here are some examples of how learning Chinese will turn your world upside down and boggle your brain!
“You will think of dolphins as sea-pigs”
‘Sea pigs’; 海豚hǎitún, are what the Chinese refer to for dolphins. Picturing a pig diving and splashing around like a sea creature sure makes for great imagery!
大熊猫 dàxióngmāo meaning literally: ‘big bear cat’, also sheds some light into how the Chinese perceive their nation’s favourite animal, the panda bear. These cuddly monochrome creatures do have cat-like eyes and bear-like bodies after all (pandas have vertically slit pupils compared to bears with round pupils).
Other memorable animal names include ‘river horses’ for the hippopotamus: 河马 hémǎ, ‘change colour dragons’ for chameleons;变色龙 biànsèlóng, and ‘sand bag mice’ for wallabies: 沙袋鼠 shādàishǔ. Let’s also not forget the oh so creatively named giraffe, which is ‘long neck deer’, 长颈鹿chángjǐnglù in Mandarin, and 猫头鹰māotóuyīng or ‘cat head eagle’ for owls.
“You will think about olives the next time you play rugby”
The Chinese word for rugby is: 橄榄球gǎnlǎnqiú, meaning ‘olive-ball’; but this would not be so tasty on a pizza! Interestingly, the Chinese have kept the expression美式橄榄球měishìgǎnlǎnqiú, meaning ‘American-style olive ball’ for ‘American football’, which can be seen as a more accurate term when you think about it, using the expression for ‘rugby’ rather than ‘football’. We also have ‘slippery snow’ ’” when referring to skiing (滑雪huáxuě); ‘fist attack’ instead of boxing (拳击quánjī); and, ‘shoot arrow’ for archery (射箭shèjiàn). Other sport names include: 台球táiqiú, ‘table ball’ for billiards, and 曲棍球qǔgùnqiú, ‘crooked stick ball’ for hockey.
It kind of goes to show that if you have forgotten the Chinese word for something, sometimes guessing a word by its literal translation of the main verbs or objects involved can actually help! Of course this is not true all of the time though. In some cases, the Chinese have lacked inspiration entirely and just gone for a name that sounds like the foreign name after all, for example 高尔夫gāo’ěrfū sounds very similar to ‘golf’, and 保龄球 bǎolíngqiú which sounds very close to bowling(and qiú means ball).
“You will picture grapes and teeth every time somebody mentions the country Portugal”
The phonetic approximation of the country name Portugal translates to 葡萄牙(pútáoyá), meaning ‘grapes teeth’; this can also be seen as a reference to the country’s sweet grapes. Some names are translated literally such as ‘ice island’ 冰岛(bīngdǎo) for Iceland. The Chinese name for America is 美国 (měiguó) meaning: ‘beautiful country’, and England is 英国 (yīngguó) meaning ‘brave land’.
Yugoslavia is an interesting example that is half translated and the other half transliterated: 南斯拉夫(nánsīlāfū) where 南 nán means south and 斯拉夫 sīlāfū is a phonetic equivalent of Yugoslavia. And some names even have links to history, for example, 旧金山(jiùjīnshān) for San Franciscomeans ‘old gold mountain’, a name given by Chinese migrants who flocked over during the Gold Rush.
Well there you go, here were just a few examples how learning Chinese will change your way of seeing the world! You can find more examples on Hutong School’s website! Start learning Chinese and discover a fascinating language and the way Chinese speakers see the world!
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