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Beijing dialect

Beijing dialect (北京话, pinyin: Běijīnghu) is the dialect of Mandarin spoken in the urban area of Beijing, China. The Beijing dialect is the basis of Standard Mandarin, the standard official Chinese spoken language that is used by both the People's Republic of China and Republic of China.

Although the Beijing dialect and Standard Mandarin are extremely similar, there are some differences that makes it easy for Chinese people to tell between a native of Beijing speaking homegrown Beijing dialect, and a non-native of Beijing speaking flawless Standard Mandarin.

Contents

Distribution

The term "Beijing dialect" usually refers to the dialect spoken in the urban area of Beijing only. However, linguists have given a broader definition for Beijing Mandarin (北京官话 Běijīng Guānhu) that also includes some dialects extremely akin to that of Beijing.

For example, the local speech of Chengde, a city north of Beijing, is considered sufficiently close to Beijing dialect to be put into this category. Standard Mandarin is also put into this category, since it is after all based on the local dialect of Beijing. Other examples include the local speech of Hailar, Inner Mongolia; Karamay, Xinjiang; and (increasingly) Shenzhen, Guangdong. Many of these cities are populated by recent Han Chinese immigrants from diverse linguistic backgrounds or their descendents. As a result, the residents of these cities have adopted standard Mandarin (or something very close to it) as the de facto common language.

Phonology

(The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) and Hanyu Pinyin will be used for the rest of this section to show pronunciation.)

In phonology, Beijing dialect and Standard Mandarin are almost identical. See Standard Mandarin for its phonology charts; the same charts apply to Beijing dialect.

However, there are some striking differences. Most prominently is the proliferation of rhotic vowel s. All rhotic vowels are the result of -儿 /-ɹ/, a noun suffix, except for a few words pronounced as /ɑɹ/ that do not have this suffix. In Standard Mandarin, these also occur, but nowhere near the ubiquity and frequency in which they appear in Beijing dialect.

Moreover, Beijing dialect has a few phonetic reductions that are usually considered too "slangy" for use in Standard Mandarin. For example, in fast speech, initial consonants go through lenition if they are in an unstressed syllable: pinyin zh ch sh /tʂ tʂʰ ʂ/ become r /ɻ/ , so 不知道 bzhīdo "don't know" can sound like brīdo (stress is on the first and third syllables); j q x /tɕ tɕʰ ɕ/ become y /j/, so 赶紧去 gǎnjǐnq "go quickly" can sound like gǎnyǐnq; pinyin b d g /p t k/ go through voicing to become [b d g]; similar changes also occur on other consonants. Also, final /-n/ and /-ŋ/ (-ng) can fail to close entirely, so that a nasal vowel is pronounced instead of a nasal consonant; for example, 您 nn ends up sounding like "nyih" (nasalized), instead of "nyeen" in Standard Mandarin:

Pinyin Standard Mandarin typical street pronunciation in Beijing
an n ɨ̃
ian iɛn iɛɨ̃
en ən əɨ̃
in in iəɨ̃
ang ɑŋ ɑɯ̃
eng ɤŋ ɤɯ̃
ing iɪŋ iɤɯ̃
ong ʊŋ ʊɯ̃

The tones of Beijing dialect tend to be more exaggerated than Standard Mandarin. In standard Mandarin, the four tones are high flat, high rising, low dipping, and falling; in Beijing dialect, the first two tones are made higher, the third one dips more prominently, and the fourth one falls more.

Vocabulary

Beijing dialect has a lot of words that are considered slangy, and therefore occur much less or not at all in Standard Mandarin. Non-Beijing natives often have trouble understanding what most of these mean. Many of these slangwords have the rhotic suffix -r. Examples include:

  • 倍儿 bir — very, especially (referring to manner or attribute)
  • 别价 bijie — do not; usually followed by 呀 if used as an imperative
  • 搓火儿 cuōhuǒr — to be angry
  • 嗬 h — interjection indicating surprise or doubt
  • 瘊儿 hōur — to an extreme extent; used of tastes
  • 抠门儿 kōumnr — stingy, spendthrift
  • 劳驾 lojia — excuse me; heard often on Beijing buses
  • 溜达 liūda — to stroll about; equivalent to standard Mandarin 逛街 or 散步
  • 怂 sng / 蔫儿 niānr — no backbone, spiritless
  • 消停 xiāoting — to finally and thankfully become quiet and calm
  • 辙 zh — way (to do something); equivalent to standard Mandarin 办法

Note that some of the slang are considered to be tuhua (土话), or "base language", that are carryovers from a older generation and are no longer used amongst more educated individuals, for example:

  • 迄小儿 qxiǎor — since a young age
  • 晕了菜 yūnleci — to be disoriented

Others, still, can be construed as neologistic expressions that are used amongst "trendier" crowds:

  • 爽 shuǎng — cool; compare with 酷 (k)
  • 套瓷儿 tocr — to toss into the hoop; used of basketball
  • 小蜜 xiǎom — girlfriend

Grammar

As with phonology and vocabulary, the grammar of the colloquial Beijing dialect utilizes more colloquial expressions than does Standard Mandarin. In general, Standard Mandarin is influenced by Classical Chinese, which makes it more condensed and concise; Beijing dialect is not influenced in this way, and can therefore seem more longwinded — though this is made up by the fact that Beijing dialect is spoken faster and has phonetic reductions (see Phonology section above).

An example:

Standard Mandarin:
今天会下雨,所以出门时要记得带伞。
Jīntiān hu xiyǔ, suǒyǐ chūmn sh yo jde di sǎn.

Beijing dialect:
今儿啊可能会下雨,所以呀你出门儿的时候可一定得记着带上伞!
Jīnr a kěnng hu xiyǔ, suǒyǐ ya nǐ chūmnr de shhou kě ydng děi jzhe dishang sǎn!
After having gone through Beijing dialect's phonetic reductions:
Jīnr ra kěnng wi yyǔ, suǒyǐ ya nǐ chūmnr re ri'ou kě ydng něi jre dirang sǎn!

It might rain today, so remember to bring an umbrella when you go out.

The Beijing dialect sentence would sound too long-winded if used in a context that requires Standard Mandarin (e.g. in writing, or formal speech), though it sounds fine if used among Beijing locals (with Beijing phonetic reductions in place). The Standard Mandarin pronunciation sounds fine if it is used in a context that requires it (e.g. among friends from different Chinese regions), but it is too stilted and short to be able to accommodate all the phonetic reductions of Beijing pronunciation and may be rendered incomprehensible as a result.

See also


Last updated: 02-10-2005 15:23:55
Last updated: 05-06-2005 01:27:49