One of the features of Chinese is that each syllable is associated with a meaning. The most common length of Mandarin words is two syllables, and a number of common word formation strategies exist which help to create and maintain the two syllable word.
1. The special status of the Mandarin syllable1.1 The syllable and meaningOne of the features of Chinese is that each syllable is associated with a meaning. For example, the Mandarin word for bus station/train station or bus stop/train stop is chēzhàn. The syllable chē means vehicle and the syllable zhàn means stand. Occurring together as a word, chēzhàn is very nearly the sum of its parts: vehicle stand.Some words in English have the kind of structure that Mandarin has, but for most English words, syllables need not have independent meaning. For example, the English word lettuce consists of two syllables let and tuce. These individual syllables do not have meaning on their own, and it makes no sense to ask about the meaning of ‘let’ or of ‘tuce’ in the word lettuce. In contrast, with very few exceptions, the individual syllables of Mandarin words have identiﬁable meanings, and when learning new words, it makes good sense to note the meanings of the individual syllables.NOTES
1. In Chinese, a small number of syllables are not associated with a meaning. The most common is the noun sufﬁx zǐ See 188.8.131.52. A multi-syllable Mandarin word is not always simply the sum of its parts. For example, the word gùshì ‘story’ is composed of the syllables 故 gù ‘former, previous’ and 事 shì ‘situation, incident.’
1.2 The syllable and Chinese charactersIn Chinese, the syllable is associated with a Chinese character as well as a meaning. When a syllable is associated with more than one meaning, it is generally the case that each meaning is written with a different character. For example, Mandarin has a number of meanings associated with the pronunciation zhàn. Each meaning is written with a different character:
Because of these differences, the status of the syllable is much more important in Chinese than in English. Conversely, the status of the word is less important in Chinese than in English.
|蘸 ||zhàn ||dip in liquid (like a pen in ink) |
|占 ||zhàn ||occupy |
|战 ||zhàn ||fight |
|栈 ||zhàn ||storehouse |
|绽 ||zhàn ||to split; to burst open |
|站 ||zhàn ||to stand; a stop, a stand |
2. Multi-syllable tendency in Mandarin wordsAlthough Mandarin syllables have meanings, they often combine to form words. Here is a short list of Mandarin syllables and words that they form.
|Syllable || || ||Word || || |
|学 ||Xue ||Study,study of || || || |
|生 ||shēng ||give birth to;grow ||学生 ||xuésheng ||student |
|出 ||chū ||Produce,go out ||出生 ||chūshēng ||to be born,birth |
|口 ||kǒu ||opening, mouth ||出口 ||chūkōu ||Export,exit |
|版 ||bǎn ||Printing block/printing ||出版 ||chubǎn ||publish |
|校 ||xiào ||school ||学校 ||xuéxiào || school |
|长 ||zhǎng ||head, one in charge ||校长 ||xiàozhǎng ||principal |
|中 ||zhōng ||middle ||中学 ||zhsngxué ||middle |
|图 ||Tú ||chart || || || |
|片 ||piàn ||a slice, a part ||图片 ||túpiàn ||picture |
|地 ||dì ||earth ||地图 ||dìtú ||map |
|书 ||shū ||book || || || |
|馆 ||guān ||Place for activities ||图书馆 ||túshūguǎn ||library |
|饭 ||Fan ||Rice ||饭馆 ||fànguǎn ||restaurant |
| || || || || || |
2.1 Strategies that create and maintain the two syllable wordThe most common length of Mandarin words is two syllables, and a number of common word formation strategies exist which help to create and maintain the two syllable word.
2.1.1 The sufﬁx 子 ziOne syllable words may be turned into two syllable words by the addition of the sufﬁx 子 zí. This sufﬁx adds little or no meaning to the word. It usually occurs in neutral tone (zi).Some nouns occur in contemporary Mandarin only with the zi sufﬁx, for example 孩子 háizi ‘child,’房子 fángzi ‘house,’ 屋子 wūzi ‘room,’ 本子 běnzi ‘notebook,’ 袜子 wàzi ‘socks.’Some words can occur with or without the sufﬁx. These include 车 chē ,车子/ chēzi ‘car,’ 鞋 xié ,鞋子 xiézi ‘shoe(s),’ 盘,盘子 pánzi ‘plate(s),’票 piào,票子piàozi ‘ticket.’NOTE
In the Beijing dialect of Mandarin, the sufﬁx 儿 (é)r is routinely added to words in many categories,especially to nouns and classiﬁers. 儿 r sufﬁxation adds a retroﬂex (r) sound but no additional syllable to the word. If a word ends in a ﬁnal consonant, the 儿 r sufﬁx replaces the ﬁnal consontant: fēn,fēr‘a portion,’ wán,wár ‘to play,’ diànyǐng,, diànyǐr ‘movie,’ etc. The sufﬁx may also replace a vowel in the ﬁnal: hái,hár ‘child.’In this book, we write -r sufﬁxed words in terms of their changed pronunciation. That is, we write wár and not wánr or wán’er.
2.1.2 Location sufﬁxesLocation words may be sufﬁxed with 头 tóu, miàn, 面 or 边biān to make them two syllable words: 下头 xiàtou ‘below,’ 外面 wàimian ‘outside,’左边zuǒbiān ‘left side,’ etc.In Mandarin spoken in southern China and Taiwan, the speciﬁers 这 zhè,那 nà,nèi and 哪 nǎ, něi are sufﬁxed with 里 when they are used as location words:这里 zhèlǐ ‘here,’那里 nàlǐ ‘there,’ and 哪里 nálǐ? ‘where?’
2.1.3 AbbreviationWords and phrases that are longer than two syllables are often abbreviated to two syllables. The two syllables that form the new, abbreviated word are typically the ﬁrst syllable of each of the words in the phrase or the ﬁrst two syllables of the ﬁrst word in the phrase, though other combinations occur.
|超级市场 ||chāojí shìchǎng ||supermarket ||超市 ||chāoshi |
|公共汽车 ||gōnggòng qìchē ||public bus ||公汽 ||gōngqì |
|飞机场 ||fēijrchǎng ||airport ||机场 ||jīchǎng |
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