If you recognize the gentleman in the photo, you probably already know why understanding a little of the Northeastern dialect (东北话 Dōngběihuà) can be important for Chinese comedy fans. If you don’t know, he’s Zhao Benshan, one of China’s most famous comedians. And when he takes the stage — which he does during nearly every New Year’s gala, in addition to his frequent appearances in TV and movies — he’s almost always playing a Northeastern farmer. And he’s almost always speaking the language they speak in the far reaches of the Chinese north: Dongbeihua. So if you want in on the joke, you’re going to have to learn to speak a little, too!
Today we’ll focus on question words, because if you don’t understand the questions someone is asking, you’re not likely to understand the answers:
What? You probably already know the word shénme (什么), which means what in standard Mandarin. But up north, they tend to replace this word with shá 啥, as in:
What does that mean?
Why? Wèishénme (为什么) is the standard way of saying why in Mandarin. But as we’ve already seen that in Dongbeihua, 什么 is replaced with 啥, you might have already guessed how they say why in the Northeast: wèishá (为啥).
How? Similarly, how is also shorted in Dongbeihua. Zěnme (怎么) becomes zǎ (咋), as in:
How come you’re not going?
Nǐ zǎ bú qù?
What are you doing? A favorite admonition of annoyed parents nationwide, “Gànshénme?” (干什么?) is a Mandarin classic. This phrase, too, takes on its own special flavor in the Northeast where, as you might have guessed, it becomes gànshá (干啥). But in practice, Northeasterners often squish the expression down even further, saying gàhá (嘎哈).
Are you interested in learning more words from various Chinese local dialects? Leave a comment and let us know whether you’d like to see more of this kind of stuff. And while you’re here, check out today’s new magazine article, Eerie Expo Visions. Did Chinese writers predict the Shanghai Expo a hundred years before it happened?
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