Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Culture, Language And Context

Yakun and I were walking to the supermarket last night when I told her: "context is something we really need to pay attention to when trying to understand each other, when trying to make a point English speakers like to explain themselves and then say their point, while most Chinese would say their point and then explain."

Earlier on in our relationship I said "I probably wont understand you if your trying to tell me something by "beating around the bush", if you tell me directly it will make life much easier for both of us".

Something Ken Carroll wrote in an article recently put this further into perspective for the both of us. And an article he referred to made me realize, if I'm speaking Mandarin then I need to place more importance on the social situation and implications that it may have contextually.

Whenever we're eating and I'm a little tired from leaning down to the bowl (our table isn't exactly set up according to fēng shuǐ standards) I may set my kuài zi down for a finger fatigue break. Its at this point that she will look over at me and ask "bǎo lē ma?" if its something shes cooked it may have a hidden meaning of "it doesn't taste good?" so when I reply with "no I'm just taking a break" it may sound like "yes, its not very good". Which would result in a disappointing sigh, and my preceding bewilderment.

I give her a lot of credit, shes been very direct when speaking English with me when she wants something and doesn't expect me to just "get it". And even though some may view this as a crutch for me, she is speaking English, and that's the way it should be done (most of the time). When speaking pǔ tōng huà I will keep in mind that I cant and shouldn't be direct as much as I should play with the social context to get my point across.

On an unrelated note, here is a classic Chinese cartoon representing 36 different characters. (thanks to Yakun for finding it)


  1. hmn, don't fake it when the food is not good, it won't help me improve my cookings,heihei.

  2. A list of Chinese American Marriage Tips I put together. 33 so far.

    #6 was on food

    Food - be adventuresome, and if your wife cooks it, eat it, or at least try it. Think of the Children's book, Green Eggs and Ham.

    A comment I heard all the time was how her Father always eats whatever my Mother-in-law cooks, not matter what. Of course when I cook, different rules apply!