Though it is often said that the most standard Putonghua (普通话, Mandarin) spoken in China is that spoken in Beijing, many of the locals born and raised here actually speak a dialect called Beijing dialect. It is known in Mandarin as 北京话 (běijīnghuà) or 儿话（érhuà) because of it’s frequent use of “儿” at the end of many words. In this blog I will explain some key pronunciation and vocabulary to get you started with the dialect. Let’s start with a few examples of words that deviate from official Putonghua:
Gemenr is one of the most iconic expressions of Beijinghua, indicating a close brotherly (or sisterly) relationship between two friends.
Zuótiān wǎnshàng, wǒ gēn wǒ de dàxué gēmenr hé jiěmenr yìqǐ qù kàn diànyǐngr, ránhòu chàng lǎogēr dào tiānliàng.
Last night I went out with my close college friends pals to watch a movie and then sang songs until sunrise.
No way, literally “there is no gate”, which means the gate is closed. Most likely, it harkens back to the days when Beijing had a massive city wall with a limited number of gates that were strictly regulated in terms of what kind of traffic could pass through and when. After a certain hour, all gates except Xizhimen (西直门) would close for the night. Unless you were near that particular gate, you were literally facing a 没门儿 situation.
我问收废品儿的人: “我的帽子一百块卖给你？” 他说：“没门儿！”
Wǒ wèn shōu fèipǐnr de rén: “wǒ de màozi yībǎi kuài mài gěi nǐ ?” Tā shuō: “méiménr！ ”
I asked the man who was taking discarded goods：“Would you buy my hat for 100 kuai?” “No way!” said him.
No way, as in there is no method available to resolve the problem.
Fùyìnjī huàile, méi fǎr yòng.
The copy machine is broken; there’s no way for me to use it now.
Nǐ de hànyǔ shuō de tèbié liúlì, bǐ dàshān hái lìhài!
You speak Chinese especially fluently; you’re better than Dashan (Canadian entertainer Mark Rowswell)!
You’re too much, that’s enough!
Láojià, dà shílanr zěnme zǒu?
Excuse me, do you know how to get to Dashilanr?
Xiǎo Li yíxiàbānr jiù diānrle.
Little Li left as soon as he is off.
Tā de lǎobǎn zěnme nàme kōuménr?
How can his boss be so stingy?
Most of the words used in Beijinghua are in fact standard to Putonghua, so in many cases all that is needed to convert it to the dialect (along with much of Dongbeihua for that matter) is to add the suffix 儿. However, there is a danger of going 儿 crazy and overdoing it. Not every word in Beijing can have an 儿 added onto the end. The suffix 儿 somewhat denotes a sense of something diminutive, so something grand like 天安门 or 颐和园 don’ t have the 儿 added on the end. In some cases, some words in Dongbeihua use the 儿 but some words in Beijinghua don’t and visa-versa.
It’s not all just about whether or not to add 儿 at the end of words. There are other words that are unique to Beijing due to it’s history of non-Han rulers over the centuries, such as the Mongols and Manchus. The word hutong (胡同, alley）, which is known universally in the city to describe it’s hundreds of old alleyways is originally from the Mongolian word for “town.” According to this website the word 麻利 (máli, hurry up) comes from the Manchurian word “lali”, which means “swift” or “fast.”
There are some sentence structures that are different from the official Putonghua. For example, instead of saying “你去哪里?” (Nǐ qù nǎlǐ?, where are you going?), Beijingers often say “你上哪儿去?” (Nǐ shàng nǎ’er qù? To where are you going?). Another popular way to ask the same question in Beijinghua is to say “干嘛去？”（Gànma qù？What are you off to do?). The following is a simple example:
Where are you off to do?
I’ve got a cold, I’m going to see the doctor.
In Beijinghua, some commonly used words can become slurred together; for example, 不知道 (bù zhīdào, I don’t know) can become 不儿道 (bùrdào). Instead of saying 地方 (dìfāng, place) they just say 地儿 (dìr). Something already as short as 不是 (bùshì, is not) becomes further whittled down to what just sounds like just 不儿 (bùr). Another one I hear a lot is instead of saying 我告诉你 (wǒ gàosu nǐ， I am telling you), it becomes blurred into 我告儿你 (wǒ gàor nǐ). You’ll hear that phrase repeated over and over by many a drunk laotour (老头儿, old man) late night in Beijing. On the other hand, I’ve also heard individual parts of words extended for emphasis. 我知道 (wǒ zhīdào, I know), becomes 我知儿道 (wǒ zhīérdào).
Learning Beijinghua will serve you well in Beijing and parts of Northeastern China. Some of the words that are unique to the dialect may not prove as useful in other parts of China or the Chinese speaking world. What I think many Chinese really mean when they say that Putonghua in Beijing is standard, is a combination of the Beijinghua accent with standardized Putonghua vocabulary.
Here is a starter kit of examples of standard Putonghua words that I’ve encountered that have the 儿 suffix:
好好儿 – hǎohǎor, well, thoroughly, carefully
好玩儿 – hǎowánr, fun
小孩儿 – xiǎoháir, small child
一块儿 – yíkuàir, together
一会儿 – yīhuǐr, a while
一下儿 – yīxiàr, once, at one time, in a while
一点儿 – yīdiǎnr, a little
没事儿 – méishìr, no problem
没错儿 – méicuò’ér, you’re right, literally “you’re not mistaken”
生词儿 – shēngcír, new word
鬼脸儿 – guǐliǎnr, grimace
老头儿 – lǎotóur, old man
瓜子儿 – guāzǐr, watermelon seed
果汁儿 – guǒzhīr, fruit juice
肉串儿 – ròuchuànr, neat skewer
拐弯儿 – guǎiwānr, turn the corner
绕圈儿 – ràoquānr, to go in a circle
电影儿 – diànyǐngr, movie
红绿灯儿 – hónglǜdēngr, traffic light
废品儿 – fèipǐnr, scrap, discarded items
破烂儿 – Pòlànr, Worn-out, junk
高鼻梁儿 – gāo bíliángr, high nose bridge (foreigner)
电线杆儿 – diànxiàngǎnr, wire pole (a really tall and skinny guy)
Now that you’ve learned some of the basics, take your Beijinghua to the next level with our blog on 10 Beijinghua Phrases.