Accent and geographical identification

My wife (Taiwanese) and I (not Taiwanese) had a Korean meal tonight (sublime). We’ve noticed that Korean food is very popular with Chinese exchange students, though it doesn’t seem to go the other way (Koreans think Chinese food is greasy and tasteless–there’s a smidgeon of truth to that).

We’re in Southern Ontario (not Toronto).

Tonight the young Chinese couple sitting at the table next to us were chatting away about this and that. A typical scene. However, their accents, and the manner in which they spoke, was not. In the last six years here in Ontario since having returned from Taiwan I’ve become accustomed to the “rounded tongues” of mainlander accents, as Taiwanese are comparatively thin on the ground. I’ve also gotten used to their coarser manners. But tonight the couple sitting next to us chatted in lower tones, and in a more refined manner, about the various languages people in their ESL class spoke, the nuances of Korean food, etc. I understood everything, and experienced a shock of familiarity that I hadn’t had in a while.

Why, why…they were Taiwanese!

There’s a pleasing, smooth lilt to Taiwanese Mandarin that you don’t hear from mainlanders, it seems. I think I’m finally beginning to understand why Taiwanese Mandarin is considered by many people in China to be kind of cool.

Although my mandarin sucks I much prefer listening to Taiwanese lilt than that of the Beijing Political announcement style. My 2 cents.

Funny you bring this up, Princess. In Hong Kong, I don’t hear much Taiwanese Mandarin, whether it be Taiwan Guoyu or something more “standard” sounding. I mostly hear Mandarin from southern province mainlanders and then from some northerners. Even after a few years of not living in Taiwan or having regular interactions with Taiwanese, I can still follow them better in a conversation. It is not just a matter of listeing comprehension, but more so the way that educated Taiwanese give and take in a conversation.

The other day my wife and I were having a sandwich in Dan Ryan’s. The family sitting next to us were chatting away in Guoyu. Their accents probably weren’t much different from better off folks in Xiamen, but the way they interacted was completely different. I knew they were Taiwanese in less than 30 seconds.

Now of course there are plenty of educated mainlanders who are quite articulate and easy to have a conversation with and there are plenty of Taiwanese who converse as if conversation is a blood sport. I’ve met lots of mainlanders who were just as “refined” in the way they spoke as the Taiwanese I described. However, when comparing the Taiwanese and mainlanders I’ve met outside of China, the Taiwanese are far and away the more articulate, civilized bunch. No surprise there.