Copyright by Ellen Ning Zhao, 2007. Please ask for permission if you want to do anything other than reading by yourself and/or printing a copy for your own. Thanks!
Lesson 2: Plural and Questions
In this lesson we are going to learn two magic words which both handle some crosscutting concerns in sentence engineering like AOP does in software engineering.
In Lesson One we learnt how to say “Hello” and “I am John Smith.” in Chinese. Let’s have a quick refresh:
Hello == ni3 hao3; ni3 == you; hao3 == good, well;
I am John Smith == wo3 shi4 John Smith; wo3 == any form of the personal pronoun “I”; shi4 == any form of the verb “be”.
Now what if you want to say hello to more than one people? Here I introduce the first magic word “men2“. Semantically “men2″ is a symbol for plural form of a noun, pronoun and personal pronoun. It is similar to the “s” in English. What’s different is that in Chinese the plural form of noun/pronoun/personal pronoun is unified. The”men2″ is the _only_ symbol for plural form, while in English and German, literally each noun/pronoun/personal pronoun has their own plural form. In my humble opinion, the structure for plural form in the Chinese language has a much more effective abstraction from the point of view of semantics. Now attach the “men2″ to “wo3″, “wo3 men2″ means we/us. The “m” in “men2″ sounds like the “m” in the English word “map”. The combination of “en” in “men2″ sounds like the “en” in the English “pen”. And the “en” combination in Pin Yin always sounds like the “en” in “pen”, there is no exception. If you see the “en” combination in other words, feel confident to speak the same. And the “2″ means the second tone, which is a rising tone. Figured out how to say hello to more than one people? Yes, it is “ni3 men2 hao3″.
The English personal pronouns “he, she, it” have their own corresponding words in Chinese. When written down, they are different. But good news is that they all read “ta1″ in Chinese. The “t” in “ta1″ sounds like the “t” in the English word “tile” and the “a” in “ta1″ sounds like the stand-alone “a” in German or the “a” in the English word “car”. The “1″ means the first tone, which is a flat tone. Now, how to say “they” in Chinese? Yes! Attach the magic word “men2″ to “ta1″ and it becomes “they” in Chinese. There is one more personal pronoun to learn and we are finished with the complete set of personal pronouns in Chinese. In German there is a personal pronoun “Sie”, which means “you” in a respectful way. The German word “Sie” cannot be mapped to any English word but there is a perfectly equivalent word for “Sie” in Chinese. The same semantic, the same usage. This Chinese personal pronoun is “nin2″. We’ve learnt how to pronounce the “n” as the initial in a syllable in last lesson. It was in “ni3″, and the same in “nin2″ for “n”. The combination of “in” in Chinese Pinyin always sounds like the “in” in the English word “bin” or simply the same as the English word “in”. The “2″ in “nin2″ means the second tone, which is a rising tone. The plural form of “nin2″, namely “nin2 men2″, is not often used in Chinese but if you use it, it is not grammatically wrong.
Let me sort out the things here:
you == ni3; you in a respectful way == Sie/Ihnen (in German) == nin2; I/me == wo3; she/he/it/her/him == ta1;
you(pl.) == ni3 men2; we/us == wo3 men2; they/them == ta1 men2.
When you meet your friend, you might want to ask “How are you?”. Here I must introduce the second magic word “ma1″ to enable you to construct interrogative sentences in Chinese. Attach the word “ma1″ to a declarative sentence and you get a interrogative sentence. Since this rule has no exceptions at all, we can even write the structure of a Chinese interrogative sentence in the Backus-Naur form (BNF) notation (Please keep in mind all the rules here are applied to the Chinese language. To save the space I leave out all the “in Chinese” ) :
<interrogative sentence> ::= <declarative sentence> <interrogating word>
<interrogating word> ::= ma1
<declarative sentence> ::= rules to be introduced
How are you? == Wie geht’s Dir? == ni3 hao3 ma1?
How are you? == Wie geht’s Ihnen? == nin2 hao3 ma1?
How are you? == Wie geht’s Euch? == ni3 men2 hao3 ma1?
How is she?/How is he? == ta1 hao3 ma1?
How are they? == ta1 men2 hao3 ma1?
Are you John Smith? == ni3 shi4 John Smith ma1?
Is she Alice? == ta1 shi4 Alice ma1?
Is he David? == ta1 shi4 David ma1?
Congratulations! Today in our short lesson you have learnt the _complete_ set of personal pronouns in Chinese. There is no such concept as “subjective/objective personal pronoun” in Chinese. The position of where the personal pronoun is in a sentence decides whether it is a subject or object. Like I said in Lesson 0, subject comes at first and the object usually follows the verb. You’ve also learnt the unified plural form of any possible noun/pronoun in Chinese. And you are able to construct an interrogative sentence once you’ve learnt how to say a particular declarative sentence. What a leap in progress it is! Isn’t it exciting?
In the next lesson we are going to learn various answers to these questions. Other magic words will be introduced. Stay tuned!