Thursday, January 12, 2006

Gay mama

My two-year-old daughter is learning Swedish and Mandarin Chinese. Like most bilingual kids, she understands both tongues but avoids speaking the minority one. As my wife teaches her, a bit of Mandarin rubs off on me as well, but I make a lot of bizarre connections and I have the pronunciation of an intergalactic alien.

Laile, calls my wife: "coming". And every time, Eric Clapton's song "Leyla" starts playing in my head. Ni lei la?, meanwhile, means "You tired?", and off I go again, "Beggin' darling pleeeease, Leyla".

Gei mama, my wife says: "Give that to mother". A big fat gay mama!? Who? Where? Mama gei ni, "Mother'll give it to you", and there I am, thankful that mother's knee is the only part of her that is apparently gay.

When asking for soy sauce, you may get the reply, "mayo". No, they're not suggesting that you put mayonnaise on your mapo tofu: mei you means "there isn't any".

Mandarin distinguishes between a lot of sounds that English and Swedish treat as equivalent. Brother means the same when pronounced "bRRRotheRRR" as it does when pronounced "bwutha". This is particularly difficult with the tonality in Mandarin, where mere inflection will distinguish between for example whether weijing means "scarf" or "monosodium glutamate". But the spirants are tough as well: xiaoxin means "be careful", while Shaoxing is the name of a town famous for its rice wine.

It goes the other way around too, with Western languages observing strange distinctions between sounds. Some Chinese dialects, with millions of speakers, don't recognise the distinction between L and N. For someone from Jiangsu, neighbour and labour are just two ways of pronouncing the same word, and the difference is a mere quibble.

Luckily for me, my wife is a banana, a sleek machine running two cultural operating systems. She speaks better Swedish than I do, her pronunciation always crisp. I slur and drop syllables like an old drunk. To do that, you gotta be a native.

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Anonymous mugabe said...

Big fat mamas are back in style.

12 January, 2006 17:03  
Blogger Martin said...

Seems to be a good album! It's got songs named "Big Ten Inch Record" and "I Want a Bowlegged Woman". Mista Lova-Lova seems to have been around for a while.

12 January, 2006 22:41  
Blogger Morelli said...

What a rich man you are! and so is your daughter!
more chinese;
"HOW CHÖRR"...means great food
PING che cream
prenounced in sichuan chinese

14 January, 2006 09:30  
Blogger Martin said...

Yes, I am definitely one lucky guy. Hao chi!

14 January, 2006 10:04  
Anonymous Gay mama said...

I am the only Gay mama!

Gay mama

11 July, 2006 22:54  

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