Is this natural?

Anyone who has read the preface to the second revised edition within “Beginning Chinese” by John DeFrancis will, hopefully, understand what I am asking…

Example 1: I heard a Chinese mother tell her daughter, “Bu4 xing2 bu4 chi1!” It seemed that the English equivalent would be, “You have to eat!” (right?) But notice how the Chinese used the adverbial “bu4”, while the English situational equivalent had no negatives?

If I were thinking in the MT and tried to make the above sentence, it would likely sound very unnatural.

Example 2: Also, if one said, “Ke3 bu4 shi4 ma5!” (sort of “Yes, indeed!”) they might be met with blank stares as I’ve never knowingly heard the expression while being here in Taiwan.


Q1: Will a language learner eventually begin to understand how to form correct phrases/sentences in their target language and bypass any mother tongue interference?

Q2: How can we weigh what we say and know whether or not what we are saying is a “natural” form of expression used by native speakers? (Are there any shortcuts?)

Many thanks…

jwar, I’ll give a shot on your ??

“Bu4 xing2 bu4 chi1!”; As a native speaker, I tend to hear this more often “Bu4 neng2 bu4 chi1” neng2 is more like “able to” in English, in fact, I’ve never heard people using “Bu4 xing2 bu4” - have to, most of time, “xing2” is used in more imperative phrase like “Bu4 Xing2!” only - “You can’t”. Xing2 literally means feasible.

“Ke3 bu4 shi4 ma5!”; just say “bu4 shi4 ma5!”, which means “isn’t it?”

Q1 and Q2 - listen to what others say and practice, I got hang of bloody Spanish verb conjugations this way by using it on almost daily basis, eventually you’ll be able to speak fluently.

I think the mother must have said

There’s nothing wrong with

No, there are plenty of native speakers of Mandarin. The “variety” “spoken” in Beijing (in which all teachers of Mandarin here in Taiwan believe as something akin to the Rosary) is not the only variety. To say there are no native speakers of Mandarin outside Beijing would be like saying there are no native speakers of English outside Washington, DC (for example). Very prescriptive, and precisely one of the major problems plaguing Chinese teaching.

Yes, a person, given sufficient comprehensible input and enough time, will learn to form grammatically acceptable utterances, even to the comprehension and formation of sentences he has not heard previously. However, most teaching methods and courses and textbooks ignore these principles (enough comprehensible input and enough repetition/time) in favor of “covering” more and presenting more information, most of which is only “learned”, not internalized.

In “learning” a language, we have to build actual neural connections, and foster habits of automatic response. We want the successful student to be able to process an utterance in the new language and respond without thinking about the structure and vocabulary – just thinking about the situation and the meaning. This is completely against the philosophy of most texts, which stress memorization only, and totally against the whole “ting xie” thing (don’t get me going again!!)

“Bu chi bu xing” would likely be more acceptable in most varieties of Mandarin because of the topicalization thing…the “bu chi” is the topic and th “bu xing” the comment. It seems to correspond with subject/predicate here but I think topic is very, very strong in Mandarin, and the more I work with and analyze spoken texts as a part of my interpreting work the more I believe it (which is not to say it emerges naturally from my mouth, unfortunately!) :cry:

[quote=“00Scott”]There’s nothing wrong with

[quote=“daltongang”][quote=“00Scott”]There’s nothing wrong with

Well, now I’m not sure if I heard the mother say, “Bu4 xing2 bu4 chi1!” or if it the words were “Bu4 chi1 bu4 xing2!” :unamused: The main idea was that the little girl had no choice - she must eat her lunch! (She was being very naughty at the time - and it was at school.)

I appreciate the feedback. Really.

Yet I only mentioned the “Bu4 xing2…” incident because we English speakers wouldn’t typically use a “no/not/don’t” form of speech to get the idea across that a person must do something (without a consequence of not doing so added).

With that in mind, I was interested if those sort of sentence formations are something you gradually get accustom to after learning Chinese for a while. (I should have said this in the original post. Sorry. )

Consider me odd, but I actually like the sound of Bei Jing Mandarin as compared to typical Mandarin spoken here (no offence to any Tawainese viewers of this post is intended - my Wife is Taiwanese!). There is a distinction between differing sounds** (as there should be), a more noticeable emphasis on tones, and, well, it just sounds more interesting.

**You’ve all probably noticed the frequent initial switches:’“sh/s”, “zh/z”, “c/z”…

Being born, raised, and mis-educated from a section of the uS known for heavy accents, I’m forgiving of not-as-clear-as-it-could-be pronunciation. So, I’m not saying those who speak that way are wrong (“bu biao zhun”), but I do wonder how the pronunciation became so apparently muddied after children had intially learn zhu4 yin1 fu2 hao4 (for convenience and speed, probably).

Ironlady, you are right on target contrasting learning with internalization.

Juba, my Wife agrees with your girlfriend. Also, why do you have “Shalom” written in Hebrew under your name?

Many thanks…

Ironlady, the Mandarin that I have been taught here and in the Mainland I have yet to find spoken as a native language anywhere, though the Beijing dialect seems closest. So, yes, Mandarin as it is taught – to foreigners and to school kids throughout Chinese speaking countries – is very prescriptive. But that, I understood, was the point of the language: to provide a standard that could cut across regional variants and facilitate communication in the big rice bowl.

If someone is only interested in learning a regional variant then perhaps you are right and worrying overmuch about the precribed form is a waste of time. The fact remains however that most learners of Mandarin are interested in precisely that form, and precisely because it prescribed and so understood to one degree or another throughout China. The business person or teach geek who knows he or she will only work in Taiwan can probably dispense with Standard Mandarin; but most students who have yet to pick their province are better to learn their zhs, chs and shs.

That and the standard accent sounds better. :wink: My opinion, of course, but one shared by most Mandarin speakers I’ve met, including many in Taiwan, who have been trained to think it indicative of higher class and education. The linguistic can rightly say this is the nonsense and that too much attention to the prescribed form rather than the spoken language is bad habit of Chinese pedagogy but the student would be the poorer for overlooking it.

I think there’s a whole lot more to it than just zhs, chs and shs…

A cursory glance at “Practical Audio-Visual Chinese” makes one wonder what they were THINKING about…especially for a book taught primarily in Taiwan. The poor students memorize like crazy, then go out on the street and are not understood, because between their mispronunciations (caused by too-early reading especially of Romanization or bopomofo, equally) and the crazy usage espoused by that learned tome, they don’t have a chance in heck. There’s stuff in that book I haven’t heard used in 20 years dealing with Chinese from both sides of the strait daily.


I have no problem teaching a somewhat “homogenized” form of the language, but I think there are actually more folks than you might imagine who are learning here, now, primarily or only for Taiwan usage. I’m even thinking about whether the migrant workers in my (very Taiwan) Mandarin class might not benefit from a dose of Taiwanese (Minnan)…

[quote]There’s stuff in that book I haven’t heard used in 20 years dealing with Chinese from both sides of the strait daily.

Any examples?

I never used the ‘new’ book one (the old green book was horrible outdated), but book two seems to me to reflect current Taiwan usage very well. You are talking about the Shida books aren’t you? I still think they’re good books.


I’m talking about book 1, but I definitely don’t think they’re “good books”. Maybe for the 1960s, they would be, but we’ve come a long way in textbook design since then, at least in other places.

(Woo, I’ll NEVER get a job at Shita now!) :unamused:

So what’s wrong with them?


People will use the Shida books until something better comes along. Why not write your own book and foist it on them if they won’t give you a job and you’ve nothing else to do?

Yeah, but Shita will use the Shita books until something else comes out of Shita. They’re a bit, well, internally-focused. :laughing:

As for having nothing better to do, that depends on how you look at it, I guess. For now I’m not having much problem keeping myself off the streets.

Search the archives if you want to see what I think about these books. I know I’ve written it before in a moment of boredom. :stuck_out_tongue:

I remember you saying that you didn’t like Shida’s teaching methods - too much tingxie and emphasis on learning the characters. But I don’t think you explained what was wrong with the books themselves.


Q1: Will a language learner eventually begin to understand how to form correct phrases/sentences in their target language and bypass any mother tongue interference?

[color=blue]Yes, as evidenced by the countless number of highly successful language learners. At the same time, everyone passes through a period of “interlanguage” where their use of a new language will suffer from native language interference. The degree of interference depends on a number of things that are difficult to characterize “scientifically,” but certainly the relative distance between the two languages (native and target) is a big factor. Because English and Mandarin are soooo different, adult second language learners of one language will have major struggles achieving near-native fluency, though it’s not impossible.[/color]

Q2: How can we weigh what we say and know whether or not what we are saying is a “natural” form of expression used by native speakers? (Are there any shortcuts?)

[color=blue]In the end, only your native speaking interlocutors are the judge. However, standards of what is right and what is wrong are not hard and fast, as any person who has studied Mandarin from a textbook has learned. Not only are pronunciation, expressions and vocabulary items different from region to region, but even syntax.

“Ni buxing qu”
“Wo bangmang ban dongxi.”

in Taiwan are considered ungrammatical in the standard language, since in the first case “xing2” is not equivalent to “neng” “hui” or “keyi” etc., while “bangmang” (comprised of a verb and object) is not like “bangzhu” (a disyllabic verb). [/color]