两只老虎: The Chinese Frère Jacques Posted by Ayana on Aug 1, 2016 in Culture
The Chinese version of the well known nursery rhyme Frère Jacques (in English “Brother John”) is fun and catchy. Instead of a sleeping Jacques, the Chinese version features two running tigers. Therefore, unlike the English and the French tunes, the Chinese version’s tempo is a bit faster. Beside the context and the tempo, it is quite similar to the western equivalents. It is composed of only four grammatical sentences, but it’s more than enough to give us a peek into the Chinese language. In every line hides a basic Chinese grammar rule.
Before we delve into the grammar let’s enjoy the song:
Liǎng zhī lǎohǔ, liǎng zhī lǎohǔ,
pǎo dé kuài, pǎo dé kuài,
yī zhǐ méiyǒu ěrduǒ, yī zhǐ méiyǒu wěibā
zhēn qíguài! Zhēn qíguài!
Two tigers, two tigers
Run so fast, run so fast
One has no ears, one has no tail
Very weird! Very weird!
Fun, isn’t it? Now let`s take a closer look:
两只老虎 – Unlike English and most European languages, Chinese does not distinguish between singular and plural. Chinese nouns are simply abstract in number, using only the context to determine whether something is singular or plural. In order to specify a certain number of something, the Chinese language uses measure words. So if one has to count nouns, one has to combine the number itself with a measure word, followed by the noun. In Chinese, the measure word is called量子 (liàngzǐ). 量子 is a diverse group of specific classifiers to specific nouns. 只 (zhī) it’s only one of them, and it used to measure certain animals (e.g. tiger, rabbit, hen), certain containers (e.g. suitcase, box), small boats and one of certain paired things (e.g. sock, shoe).
Tā yǒu sān zhī xiāngzi
He has three boxes
Shù shàng yǒu liǎng zhī xǐquè
There are two magpies on the tree
跑得快 – Complements are a very common structure in Chinese. They follow the verb or adjective in order to provide additional meaning to the phrase. The Chinese language employs different types of complements to indicate several things, such as possibility, capability, result, manner, direction, degree etc. 得 is particle that connects between the two components: the verb (In this case 跑) and the complement (In this case 快).
Wǒ ná dé dòng
I can carry it
Xiě dé fēicháng hǎo
Very well written
一只没有耳朵， 一只没有尾巴 – 没有 is a negative phrase, simply means: not, not have. Spoken Chinese uses it quite often.
Wū li méiyǒu rén
There isn’t anyone in the room
Zhè bù diànyǐng méiyǒu nà bù diànyǐng yǒuqù
This movie is not as interesting as that one
真奇怪！– 真 is a common adverb in Chinese, means really, truly, indeed.
Shíjiānguò dé zhēn kuài!
How time flies!
Wǒ zhēn bù zhīdào
I really don’t know
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