Monday, April 5, 2010

A (flowery) connection between Chinese & English

There are a number of reasons why I find learning Mandarin a bigger challenge than the other languages I have learned. Basically, Mandarin and English are just so damn different.

There is almost no overlap in how words sound in English vs Mandarin. (Just open up a Spanish-English dictionary to a random page, and see how much similarity there is!). Also, sentence construction is very different.

And yet, every now and then, I come across something which links the two languages, but it is difficult to explain how that came about.

I'm not referring to words like 'microphone' (麦克风) - which is pronounced "mài​kè​fēng​" - this was intentionally created as a loanword from English.   No, I'm talking about something odder.

Take, for example, the word 花 (huā​) which means 'flower'.

It has another meaning, and that is "to spend" - which I first heard in a ChinesePod* lesson. In English, we talk about "spending time" or "spending money". And this is the interesting thing ... in Chinese, when using the word 花 (huā​) - is is also used both for spending time and for spending money.

For example:

   Spend your money where it's needed most
   qián yào huā zài dāokǒu shàng

   Spend a lot of time
   hěn huā shíjiān

This realisation hasn't improved my Mandarin learning - oddities like this aren't common enough to rely on.  However, by the time you've finished reading this, you'll probably never forget: 花 (huā​) means flower, to spend time, or to spend money.

If you're feeling brave, can you work out for yourself how to say "I spent a bit of time deciding which flower to spend my money on".  My version** (with Yen's support) appears below.


* affiliated link
** 我花了一些时间决定花钱买哪种花

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