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Saying “Where Are You?” in Four Chinese Provinces

April 29, 2011
Mad Macaque

I Wonder if the Emei Macaques had Good Mandarin? Photo by Tim Quijano.

In my traveling and working through different areas in China, I have come across various accents, dialects and languages of the Chinese language family. In an attempt to describe the regional differences in speaking, here are a few examples of areas with which I am familiar. First, let’s go over the grammar and vocabulary for readers who do not speak Chinese. Chinese questions are formed by stating the sentence in the normal (subject + verb + object) order with a question word in place of the information that is requested, so where are you in Chinese will be phrased, “you are where?” Now, let’s go over the vocabulary:

  1. ni = you

  2. zai = at/are at

  3. na + __ = where

I am leaving a space after the na as this is where the regional difference comes in. Furthermore, it is hard to define what exactly this particle does: add emphasis, express tone, communicate that the phrase is over; but, most native speakers would say that it sounds more genuine (didao) with these particles.*

  1. Guangxi – Ni zai nali aaa?**

  2. Yunnan – Ni zai nadia?

  3. Sichuan – Ni zai nar lo?

  4. Beijing – Ni zai naar ne?

Something else that is interesting to notice, is that each of these particles make the phrase end in a vowel. It is much more common for phrases in Chinese to end with vowels as opposed to consonants, thus sometimes when I was teaching English and I would ask my students to do something, they would respond, “ok ahhh.”


*Native speakers, please correct me if I am wrong.

**The mother tongue of the majority of locals in Guangxi is not Mandarin, but I am unfamiliar with the several different dialects and languages spoken in the province (Baihua, Beihaihua, Guiliuhua, etc.). Also, the tones for the Yunnan dialect may be different. Thus, I chose to represent the form of Mandarin that was spoken to me as a foreigner who didn’t speak the local dialect.

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 29, 2011 12:45

    Great post thanks for sharing. Family is something that I truly care about in life. You have a great blog here I enjoyed coming here today.

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