Sunday, January 14, 2007

Language Problems

A funny thing happened when we were in Sichuan, China about 10 years ago. The accent in Sichuan, influenced by their own dialect, makes the Mandarin spoken there different than what we speak in Singapore - understandable, but different. One of the girls in the group got herself into a funny situation because of this difference.

We were stopped at a rest stop somewhere along our journey from Chengdu to Jiuzhaigou. My friend wanted a bottle of water. She asked the drinks-seller how much, and the stall keeper said, "Four dollars." In the Sichuan dialect, the number 4 is said in a tone very similar to the second/rising tone in Mandarin. To make matters worse, in Singapore, we tend to pronounce the "sh" sound as an "s" sound when we speak Chinese. The combination of these two different accents made my friend misunderstand what the drinks-seller had said. She heard the number 4 (in Mandarin, "si" with a falling tone) as the number 10 ("shi," in Mandarin, with a rising tone). Her very quick response was, "Ten dollars for two bottles." The stall keeper gladly agreed to this "special bargain," having a great time... at our expense.

Language learning has cost me a lot of money over the years, but none of the money spent hurt as much as my friend's 2 yuan that she lost that day.

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