Zhibo is a weekly column in which Beijing-based American Taylor Hartwell documents his journey down the rabbit hole of Chinese livestreaming app YingKe (Inke). If you know nothing about the livestreaming (直播; “zhibo”) phenomenon in China, start here.
This is one of those things you don’t – or at least, I didn’t – think about until you have to explain English to people all the time.
Just consider the nightmare that is the word “to.” Quick – no dictionary, no Wikipedia – can you explain what “to” means? If so, you’re already doing better than most. Now, consider the following sentences:
It’s a good idea to let the students write in class.
You should let the students to write in class.
Having a house in the South of France is my dream.
I dream to having a house in the South of France.
Go ahead, see if you can simply and straightforwardly explain to yourself why the correct sentences are ok and the incorrect sentences aren’t. This being the internet, I’m sure you all nailed it first try – but I myself find this sort of thing quite challenging.
And that’s not even considering that there are more than two to’s, too.
behold, the correct reaction
who do you think you are
I don’t know, Christina Perri. Who am I?
what’s wrong with you
Probably a lot.
you have a lot of nerve
can’t you do anything right
That is indeed the question.
yes, we ARE going to ignore the rest of the picture and focus on the comment, thanks for asking
As I’ve mentioned once or twice before, the Chinese are quite proud of their language and its 5,000 (footnote?) years of continuous (seriously, footnote?) history. So even though what we call Mandarin and is more accurately called putonghua is a reasonably modern invention based very heavily on the regional language of the people who were in power when it came time to codify modern “Chinese,” there is nonetheless a pretty big obsession with the *proper* or *standard* accent here in China. If you’re on TV, you’re expected to be speaking very, very standard putonghua – like, Siri-levels of standard.
I’m sorry, Dave. I didn’t understand you.
So when studying English, Chinese people are naturally quite interested in what constitutes a proper/standard English accent. Interestingly, British English is still light years ahead of American English in China’s battle of the textbooks, recordings, etc. – despite the fact that a.) most parents investing in early English education are doing so in the hopes of sending their kids to America and b.) we’re supposedly living in a post-colonial world where the yoke of imperialism has been thrown off and China is no longer forced to adopt all things British.
I should be clear to my British readers (and editor): It’s not that I have anything against your lovely and sophisticated-sounding accent – even if it was (much like Mandarin) invented quite a bit more recently than you’d have us believe. It’s great and charming etc. It’s just amusing to me that Chinese students everywhere are learning about rubbish tips and lorries and how the letter “r” is more of a suggestion than anything else even as their parents fill out their Harvard applications 15 years in advance.
[Editor’s note: This is our national response to the above paragraph]
But on the American English side of things, I am constantly told that my English is very *standard* sounding. Now, it’s true that I’m from the middle of the East Coast and don’t have any particularly strong regional accent, but it’s also worth pointing out that I’ve had parents and colleagues tell me they specifically prefer my “accent” to that of African-Americans and Asian-Americans who sound exactly like me.
The problem with judging what constitutes “standard” when you have a data set of, you know, four or so people, is that a.) you simply can’t judge accurately and b.) you inevitably allow other meaningless factors (skin color, attractiveness, blond-ness of hair) to seep into your judgment of what makes a “real” foreigner.
You might think someone calling me funny isn’t much of a big deal. But guess who this turned out to actually be?
that’s the one!
Will report back when and if there’s more to report.
You know what you just did?
I say “dumb,” but only with the assumption that the commenter knows and has chosen to ignore the fact that I’m located in Beijing (it shows your location on the picture they have to click to enter your streaming room, so that assumption isn’t much of a stretch). More generally speaking, however, it’s getting pretty hard to laugh off the idea that I must like guns because “Americans are crazy about their guns.”
We in the West are quick to label to the Chinese as *brainwashed* on a whole host of issues, but it’s pretty remarkable how quickly people here arrive at the inescapable logical conclusion of the gun control argument: um, your Constitution was written when guns fired one single inaccurate bullet once every five minutes, so how does it make any sense that you don’t have new, modern rules for something like an AR-15? Isn’t an AR-15 as different from a musket as a rocket launcher is from an AR-15? You can’t buy a rocket launcher, can you?
More from the weird and wonderful world of livestreaming in China:
Zhibo: The Great Qipao Kerfuffle of 2018
Zhibo: Schadenfreude and the Art of 厉害 Eye-Rolling
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